Brewers net Sabathia for four prospects

Brewers net Sabathia for four prospects

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers traded away a big piece of tomorrow for a chance to win today.

They dealt top prospect Matt LaPorta and three other young players to the Indians for reigning American League Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia, a left-hander who will slide into the Brewers' starting rotation on Tuesday night for a run at the franchise's first postseason berth in 26 years.

"We're going for it," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said.

Sabathia's stay in Milwaukee will probably be a short one. Like Ben Sheets, Sabathia's new co-ace, he is a free agent after the season who almost certainly will out-price the Brewers in the offseason.

In addition to LaPorta, a former first-round Draft pick and a fabulous power hitter at Double-A Huntsville, the Brewers gave up Triple-A left-hander Zach Jackson, Class A right-hander Rob Bryson and a player to be named later. According to reports, that player could be reigning Brewers Minor League player of the year Taylor Green, a Class A third baseman.

Indians GM Mark Shapiro said the Indians are choosing between two players for the latter portion of the deal, and that they have until the end of the Minor League season to make their pick.

Sabathia joins Sheets atop Milwaukee's rotation as the team bids to overtake the Cubs and Cardinals in the competitive National League Central, which currently boasts the NL's three best records. That the Brewers have not played a postseason game since 1982 figured into Melvin's decision to part with LaPorta, who has 20 home runs and 66 RBIs in 84 games for Double-A Huntsville and was the Brewers' first-round Draft pick last year.

Sabathia's record this season is undistinguished at 6-8, but his secondary numbers are once again strong. He has a 3.83 ERA, has struck out 123 batters versus 52 walks and already has worked 122 1/3 innings.

It helps that he's also a fabulous hitter. Since Interleague Play began in 1997, Sabathia leads all American League pitchers in RBIs (seven), hits (12), batting average (.300, minimum 25 plate appearances), and slugging percentage (.475). He has hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games with an at-bat.

Last year, Sabathia went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA to win AL Cy Young honors. He turns 28 on July 21 and was apparently due for a change. Sabathia asked the Brewers to leave out the periods in "CC."

"We don't want to put pressure on CC to think he is the guy that's going to take us to the next level, because the team still has to play well," Melvin said. "It takes 25 players and beyond."

C.C. Sabathia

Like Sheets, Sabathia will be a free agent at year's end and there is a strong chance he will prove a three-month rental for the Brewers. The Indians reportedly offered him a four-year extension worth $72 million earlier this year, but Sabathia rejected it.

Should Sabathia sign elsewhere in free agency, the Brewers would net two extra first-round Draft picks. Likewise, should Sheets move on.

Neither Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio or Melvin gave any indication Monday that the Brewers would even attempt to re-sign Sabathia.

"I told CC yesterday to just come over here, have fun, enjoy Milwaukee and being in a Brewers uniform," Melvin said. "Pitch his best and we'll worry about it at the end of the year.

"That's the way I feel about the entire free agent process at this point. Our focus needs to be on winning ballgames. Most trades in July are going to be 'rentals.'"

First contact between Melvin and Shapiro was "two or three weeks ago," according to Melvin, but talks heated up over the weekend. Early on, the sides settled on LaPorta as the centerpiece.

LaPorta, 23, was just named the Brewers' Minor League Player of the Month for June. He hit .381 (40-for-105) for the month with two homers and 24 RBIs in 26 games and was named to the prestigious All-Star Futures Game. He will play first base for the U.S. team and also could be picked for the Olympic Summer Games.

"We knew from Day 1 that it was going to cost us a premium player," Melvin said. "That's how I approached it. I said I wasn't going to try to shortchange [Shapiro] and the Indians on a deal and go back and forth and try to wiggle a Cy Young pitcher with lesser players. I was aggressive on Day 1 on it."

"We're giving up a terrific young player and young man in Matt LaPorta," Attanasio said, "in order to take a shot for this team and this city over the next 3-4 months."

The deal pushes the Brewers' payroll to about $90 million, according to Attanasio, and means the team will likely operate at a loss this season. But the trade was possible partly because of strong attendance this season; the Brewers rank 12th of the 30 Major League teams in average attendance (35,301) despite playing in the league's smallest media market.

Sabathia's arrival should boost ticket and merchandise sales, Brewers executive vice president Rick Schlesinger said. The team formed a small working group some time ago to prepare for Sabathia's potential arrival, allowing the Brewers to unveil Sabathia t-shirts, scoreboard graphics and other features on Monday night.

As of Sunday, about 30,000 tickets were sold for Tuesday night's game against the Rockies, which Sabathia will now start. Fans had gobbled up 3,000 of the 12,000-or-so open seats before the Brewers' 11 a.m. CT press conference to announce the deal.

"We're expecting what I call a, 'CC surge,' because the phones have been ringing off the hook this morning," Schlesinger said. "With CC scheduled to start [Tuesday] night, we're expecting a good crowd out there."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.