CLEVELAND — Looking ahead, here’s a safe prediction for the 2009 season: The Cleveland Indians won’t trade a Cy Young Award winner.
They don’t have any left. They may soon be low on All-Stars, too.
Faced with the potential of losing ace Cliff Lee as a free agent after next season and desperate to cut payroll, the Indians, whose season unraveled months ago, dealt the AL’s reigning Cy Young winner to the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday for four minor leaguers.
The deal came a year after the Indians traded CC Sabathia, the 2007 Cy Young winner, to the Milwaukee Brewers before last season’s deadline.
With the trades, the Indians, who have already made four deals this season and are listening to offers for All-Star catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez before today’s non-waiver deadline, made history — just not the kind to be proud of.
Cleveland is the first team to trade incumbent Cy Youngs in consecutive seasons, according to STATS LLC. Lee joined Sabathia, Frank Viola (1988) and David Cone (1994), as the only winners to be dealt in midseason the year after getting the award, STATS said.
Cleveland’s decision to trade Lee — a move panned by the majority of Indians fans — came after general manager Mark Shapiro was informed by ownership that he would not have significant money to spend on overhauling his roster in the upcoming offseason.
Although the Indians held a club option on Lee for 2010, it was evident they were not going to be able to sign the left-hander to a long-term extension, so they made the move.
Shapiro was in a similar spot last year, but Sabathia was eligible to leave after the 2008 season so there was a greater sense of urgency to get quality players in return. Shapiro defended his shipping Lee for prospects, three of whom he believes are major-league ready, as necessary to get the Indians back into contention in the winnable AL Central.
“It’s not going to be wait, wait, wait and see,” he said. “I think we’ll be playing championship baseball again and that we’ll do it quickly.”
Shapiro has rapidly changed the face of the Indians, who just two years ago were within one win of a trip to the World Series.
Instead, they’re rebuilding — again.
In dumping Lee ($9 million), reliever Rafael Betancourt ($5.4 million), first baseman Ryan Garko ($2 million) and Francisco (about $600,000) for eight prospects, the Indians have slashed nearly $18 million in payroll for next season. Martinez has a $7 million option for 2010.
From the outside, the moves appear to be nothing more than cost-cutting measures, with attendance dropping due to a dreary economy and disappointing team.
Shapiro said it’s all about securing the future.
“There has been no directive from ownership to move salary,” Shapiro said.
That may have been the case in 2002, when Shapiro sent No. 1 starter Bartolo Colon to Montreal for Lee, center fielder Grady Sizemore, second baseman Brandon Phillips and first baseman Lee Stevens. At the time, the blockbuster signaled a turning point for the Indians, an acceptance that they were no longer a championship-caliber club and it was time for a major makeover.
Back then, Cleveland fans, accustomed to playoff appearances, braced for the worst. They thought, how could Shapiro give up the present for an uncertain future? That’s what they’re saying now, but Shapiro feels he added talent to an already deep pool of players in Cleveland’s system.
“We’ve been through it before in a much worse situation with much less in the player-development cabinet and much less talent under control on the major league team,” Shapiro said. “Ultimately, we provided fans with two contending seasons after that trade. We hope to get back into it for a longer period of time.”
That’s little current comfort for Indians fans, who have seen stars like Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome leave as free agents and now must deal with their second straight Cy Young pitcher getting traded. Cleveland went 35 years between Gaylord Perry’s Cy Young win in 1972 and Sabathia’s honor.
They only waited one more year for Lee to win and now he’s gone, too.
Shapiro appreciates fans’ frustrations.
“I understand and sympathize with the fans’ focus, and their desire is always in that moment and that juncture in time,” Shapiro said. “Like any other decision we make, we have one eye on the immediacy of the moment and one eye on building a team that’s going to win a championship.”
- Who: Cleveland vs. Detroit
- Time: 7:05
- Where: Progressive Field
- Pitchers: Carmona (2-6, 7.42 ERA) vs. Jackson (7-5, 2.59)
- TV/radio: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM