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The Big Deal, Part 1

The Indians have traded starting LF Coco Crisp to the Boston Red Sox for elite 3B prospect Andy Marte. The deal has many other details, many of which have not been revealed yet, but that is the main thrust of it.

The Red Sox also receive backup C Josh Bard and RHP David Riske, a top middle reliever. The Indians also receive solid C prospect Kelly Shoppach and RHP Guillermo Mota, a seasoned setup man coming off a down season with injuries. The Red Sox are also sending the Indians more than $1 million in cash and a low-level prospect to be named later. It is believed that the exact amount of cash and/or the exact prospect are tied in some way to the amount of time that Mota spends on the disabled list this season, if any.

As this deal, along with yesterday's trade with the Phillies, involves at least eight players and has a lot of ramifications, I'm going to break it down piece-by-piece across several posts. First up ...

Andy Marte and the Trouble With Third

Marte immediately becomes the #1 prospect in the Indians organization, filling a longstanding need that had grown almost desperate. Perhaps even more than other positions, recent contracts given to Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus, Eric Chavez, Corey Koskie and even David Bell indicate the high price of failing to develop a quality player for the hot corner.

Marte is the most advanced hitter at his age that the Indians have had since Manny Ramirez in 1991. Like Ramirez, Marte prospered at Triple-A at age 21, and like Ramirez, Marte stumbled in a brief major-league callup of less than 60 at bats. Indians like Jim Thome, Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta did not reach this level until a year later, and players such as Crisp, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner didn't reach it for several more years. Marte does not have the prodigious knack for pure contact hitting that Ramirez had, but he does show a similar profile for power hitting and plate discipline -- both traits that tend to project well from Triple-A to the majors. Marte is also considered well above average as a defender.

The Indians have not developed a starting 3B since Thome in 1993, with the dubious exceptions of Russ Branyan and Casey Blake, neither of whom stuck as a starting 3B. In fact, their efforts to do so have taken on almost tragic proportions, starting with the selection of Corey Smith in the first round of the 2000 draft. In five years with the organization, Smith failed to produce even one impressive season at the plate while averaging nearly 40 errors per season in the field. The Indians finally gave up on him a year ago, shipping him to San Diego for 3B/2B Jake Gautreau -- a more advanced player, but also a first-round disappointment who has not yet solved Triple-A pitching on a consistent basis.

The Indians tried again in the supplement first round of the 2002 draft, selecting high schooler Matt Whitney, who as a raw hitting talent was compared excitedly to Manny Ramirez. After a solid Rookie-league debut, Whitney broke his leg in an accident and missed the entire 2003 season. While he is still a prospect, Whitney has never shown signs of fully recovering from his injury and missed development time, and he finished 2005 with mediocre numbers at Lake County, still four full levels below the big leagues. Other recent prospects such as Pat Osborn and Kevin Kouzmanoff have enjoyed some degree of success but have also been hampered by both injury and mediocrity -- and none had the kind of raw talent possesed by Smith, Whitney and Marte.

Just 84 days older, Marte's career in many ways represents the most optimistic projections we might have had for Whitney. After a mediocre Rookie-ball debut at age 17, Marte turned in strong performances in low-A at age 18, in high-A at age 19, in Double-A at age 20, and finally in Triple-A at age 21. Facing older competition at every level, Marte put up a consistent profile as a hitter: solid contact, excellent power and outstanding plate discipline. His rise through the minors has been so steady and unyielding as to almost be boring. He did miss time at the start of 2004 with a strained ankle, but he returned to hit 24 HR in less than 400 AB, a performance similar to Peralta's in Akron in 2002, at the same age -- only a little better.

Over the last three seasons, Marte has put up an average line of .278/.370/.500. The Indians have no need to rush him, as Aaron Boone is under contract for this season and is expected by many to have a solid, bounce-back year at the plate. Still, most scouts believe that Marte has little if anything left to prove in the minors, and most statistical projections indicate that Marte may already be a better hitter than Boone -- and for that matter, Crisp. Marte is widely expected to begin the season in Triple-A, waiting for an opportunity to arise on the big-league level.