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Transactions: The Big Trade, Part I

Traded LHP CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for 1B/OF Matt LaPorta (AA), two unnamed prospects, and a PTBNL

Trading Sabathia was not a difficult decision to make. Sabathia has been pretty steadfast in his willingness to test the free agent market, and even if the Indians are still interested in signing him, there was no point in keeping him around to pitch for a last-place team when there were impact prospects to be had. The one real advantage to keeping a free agent through the end of the season is that you can get early-round draft picks, but if you're out of the race and the player's good enough, you might as well deal him for a more advanced prospect or three. Keep in mind that Brad Snyder and Adam Miller, the prospects the indians drafted with the compensatory picks from losing Jim Thome, still haven't spent one day on the major-league roster; they were drafted five years ago. 

Those who've followed the Indians know how valuable a pitcher CC Sabathia is. He's always been a durable pitcher (at least 28 starts every season since 2001), but in the past 3-4 seasons, he's become a dominant one. Last season, he refined his command, which did two things: it allowed him to go deeper into games, and upped his strikeout rates. He's a godsend for a team with a shallow bullpen, and makes a team with a good bullpen almost unbeatable on that given day. He's had zero arm problems in his career, and is now well past the injury nexus for young pitchers. Unlike Barry Zito, Sabathia is getting better heading into free agency. Whoever signs him will be getting four or five seasons of the best pitcher in baseball.

But even with such a valuable player to trade, you still have to find a team with both the motivation to deal and the prospects you want. Unlike the Dodgers, who had prospects but other priorities, or Philadelphia, who wanted Sabathia but didn't have the prospects, the Brewers filled both requirements. Brewers GM Doug Melvin has made it perfectly clear that he views 2008 as a real opportunity for his team to win it all. Staff ace and oft-injured Ben Sheets is healthy, but in the last year of his contract. For a small-market team, it's difficult to gather and keep a talented core together, and Melvin has decided to use his deep farm system to win now.

But even a team with a deep system would normally be reluctant to trade a prospect like Matt LaPorta. The Brewers drafted LaPorta in the first round (7th overall) of the 2007 draft, and Matt's done nothing but hit, and hit, and hit. He started his first full professional season in AA Huntsville, and he's put up a .988 OPS with 43 extra-base hits in 296 at-bats. Keep in mind he ended 2007 in the South Atlantic League. The way I see it, he looks like he'll be ready for the majors by early 2009 at the latest. The major reason an advanced hitting prospect like LaPorta was even made available is the logjam ahead of him. The Brewers (and probably the Indians as well) view him as a first baseman, and in the Brewer organization, that means he's blocked by Prince Fielder. The Indians' organization is deep on pitching prospects but very thin in high-level hitting prospects. And there's more of speed bump (Ryan Garko) than a road block at first base. If the Indians feel that LaPorta is really an outfielder, there is effectively nothing preventing him playing in the majors this season.

Now that these crucial pieces were in place, just the details remained in order to complete the deal. The Brewers understandably wanted to finalize the trade as soon as possible in order to get as many starts for Sabathia possible before the end of the year. And with Sabathia due to pitch on Tuesday, Sunday night became a de facto deadline for both teams: for the Indians, to maximize the return on the deal, and for the Brewers, to get two Sabathia starts in before the All-Star Break.

So, in review, how did this trade get done so quickly?

The Indians were committed to trading CC Sabathia

The Brewers were committed to winning now, and had position prospects to trade.

The Indians need position prospects.

Top prospect Matt LaPorta was very close to the majors, but blocked at first base by Prince Fielder.

A de facto deadline of Sunday evening was in place because of Sabathia's pitching schedule.