The Cleveland Indians and the trade deadline: A cautionary tale for Philadelphia Phillies fans
By Mike Lacy
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
August 31st is fast approaching. If the Phillies are planning to make any deals before the end of the season, they only have a few days left to do it.
Based on what I’ve seen, many Phillies fans are eager for the team to trade away just about every player on the roster (Except for Ken Giles. He can stay). The thinking is that by trading away veterans in exchange for prospects, the Phillies would speed up the rebuilding process.
I have some sobering news: Baseball rebuilds are rarely quick endeavors, and any trades the Phillies make probably won’t make the process go much faster.
Want proof? Take a look at the Cleveland Indians from a few years ago.
In July 2008, the Indians were struggling. Despite employing two of the best pitchers in the American League, the Indians were having a poor season, and it was obvious that the team was not going to make the playoffs.
CC Sabathia. Image Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
One of those star pitchers – CC Sabathia – was due to be a free agent at year’s end. Realizing that they wouldn’t be able to meet his salary demands, they traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for a group of prospects.
It’s now been six years since that deal. Here’s what the players the Indians received have done:
Rob Bryson – Still yet to reach the major leagues.
Zach Jackson – Spent a couple of years with the Indians, and is now out of the major leagues.
Matt LaPorta – He was a top 20 prospect, but after a few unimpressive years with the Indians, he is no longer with the team.
Michael Brantley – After a couple of promising seasons, he had his first All-Star campaign in 2014.
When the trade was made, it looked like the Indians received solid value, and it was difficult to envision LaPorta being such a bust. But that shows the danger in trading for prospects: Even the “sure things” don’t always work out.
In the end, the Indians received only one player who could be qualified as “good,” and he didn’t start contributing until three years after the trade was made.
The following season, the Indians were struggling once again. Their other ace pitcher – Cliff Lee – was going to be a free agent after the 2010 season, and was reportedly looking for a massive payday of his own.
The team didn’t think that they’d be able to afford him anymore. Realizing that a rebuilding process was underway with or without Lee, they traded him to the Phillies for another group of prospects.
Here’s a look at how those players have fared:
Jason Knapp – Still in the minors after battling injuries.
Carlos Carrasco. Image Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Carlos Carrasco – He’s bounced in and out of the Indians rotation since 2010.
Jason Donald – The Indians used him as a backup infielder for a few years before trading him away.
Lou Marson – Served as the Indians backup catcher for a few seasons before being released.
At the time, it felt like the Phillies got the better of the deal. Five years later, that definitely seems to be the case.
In theory, it was a good idea to trade the aces. The team wasn’t winning with them, they were probably going to lose them soon anyway, and the prospects they received could speed up the rebuilding process.
That theory didn’t make it much more enjoyable for Indians fans though. It was especially grating when the starting pitching matchup for game one of the 2009 World Series was CC Sabathia vs. Cliff Lee. That was pretty depressing – even for Cleveland.
The Indians did make the playoffs in 2013 – four years after the Lee trade – and only one of the players received in the deals directly contributed to that appearance. It’s difficult to say that the trades sped up the rebuilding process.
So what if the Phillies had gone the same route over the past two seasons?
Cole Hamels. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
In 2012, Cole Hamels was due to be a free agent at the end of the season. It’s reasonable to think that he could have been dealt for a package similar to what the Indians received for Sabathia.
In 2013, the Phillies could have traded Cliff Lee or Chase Utley, and they might have gotten a decent return for those players as well.
Could those trades have made the Phillies next window of contention come sooner? It’s possible, but who is the better bet to be playing at a high level in say, 2016? Hamels, or any prospects they would have received in a trade?
On the other hand, by not trading their stars, the Phillies have made the past two seasons a bit more palpable. I know that it hasn’t been fun watching the team lose. But at least Hamels gives you a reason for optimism every five days. And we can still enjoy seeing one of the best players in team history at second base every day.
If you think this season is painful, imagine how bad it would be watching Utley star in the World Series for the San Francisco Giants.
Maybe the Indians are just a bad example. Maybe they mis-evaluated the players the receieved, or didn’t develop them properly, or were victims of bad luck. But there have been many other instances where teams have traded star players for prospects, and in most cases, you never end up hearing much from the prospects.
Keep in mind that the Indians traded two ace pitchers, which are generally the most sought after players in baseball. If the Indians couldn’t get instant impact players, why would anyone think the Phillies would receive any in exchange for Jonathan Papelbon or Marlon Byrd?
Maybe people want to see some trades just for some indication that the team is trying to do something. And it’s absolutely possible that even a low-level prospect might surprise us and become a valuable player.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that those moves are unlikely to make much of an impact on the rebuilding process. Trades or no trades, the Phillies still likely have a few lean years ahead of them.