My Thoughts on the Sabathia Trade
by Trevor Whenham - 07/09/2008
By now the trade of CC Sabathia to the Brewers for three prospects and a player to be named later is old news. Heck, Sabathia has already made his first start. He pitched okay on Tuesday night, and he won, but it was only against the Rockies and he walked as many as he struck out (five), so it is too early to make a judgment based on direct evidence. If you are a committed baseball bettor, though, then I am sure you have run over this thing every which way in your mind. Now that a couple of days have passed, it's time for me to collect my thoughts about the deal from a betting perspective together.
1. The price was right for the Brewers. Matt LaPorta was the key asset they gave away. He was a high draft pick last year, and he is showing power in the minors as expected, but it is not at all clear that his fielding is ever going to be particularly good, and so there are more potentials way for him to contribute in the American League. Some teams couldn't afford to give up the bat, but one thing the Brewers aren't lacking is power. You don't get an asset like Sabathia for free, and this was a more than fair price. That math considers the likelihood that Sabathia doesn't sign with Milwaukee at the end of the year. That's the real brilliance of the deal - they get the first shot at signing Sabathia, but if they don't pull it off then they get two draft picks in compensation. Teams like the Yankees have long been experts in mortgaging the future for instant gratification, but Milwaukee managed to resist the temptation to do so.
2. There could be value in Milwaukee's NL Pennant futures. 5Dimes has the Brewers as the third choice to win the NLCS at +700. Philly is second at +400, and the Cubs are favored at +230. The Brewers have already beat the Cubs four times in six tries (all in Wrigley Field), and Sabathia would very likely get two starts in an NLCS, so there is little doubt that the odds should shorten a bit thanks to this move. If you like the Brewers then this might be the time to jump on them.
3. This should open the floodgates. Already as I write this the news has come out that the Cubs have countered by picking up Rich Harden from the A's (in a move, incidentally, that has the potential to benefit both teams nicely). The NL is very open, and there are still some good pitchers out there to be had, so July should be fun to watch from the trade perspective. Randy Wolf, A.J. Burnett, Joe Blanton, and Brian Fuentes are all guys who could be dumped by their teams for salary reasons, and Erik Bedard is a guy who could probably be pried out of Seattle and who would make any rotation he joined much better. These moves this early could make this a much busier trade season than we are used to. That will make it tougher as a bettor, but it will be fun.
4. The public isn't going to be fooled. You could perhaps have argued that there might have been some early value on Sabathia - his record doesn't look that impressive this year (though he has been as good as any pitcher in baseball since May) and pitchers like Johan Santana and Barry Zito have had high profile struggles in the senior circuit, so the public might not have backed Sabathia as much as he warranted. It's hard to know for sure because the first game was against the lowly Rockies, but it seems like the public is fully and enthusiastically aware of what he can do - Sabathia was at -225 to win at home in his debut.
5. I'm not sure how Cleveland will react. It's hard to read this one. On one hand, they have already had a terrible season - they are the least profitable team in the majors, and they are 14.5 games out of first in their division - so it seems hard to believe that they could get any worse. On the other hand, there couldn't possibly be a clearer sign that a team has given up on the season than this move. It would be very easy to assume that this team will just quit and pack it in for the rest of the season, but it would be lazy to come to that conclusion without seeing what happens for a while first. Maybe the team has enough pride to use this as a late season rallying point to climb a little bit closer to respectability. Or maybe not - in their only game since the trade they were blown out badly by Detroit.