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 unravelled 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 Friday’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 mid-season 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 off-season.
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.