Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Better Trade: Harden or Sabathia?

This week we've had two big name pitchers traded from floundering AL teams to competitive NL Central teams: CC (apparently the periods have been tossed) Sabathia from the Indians to the Brewers, and Rich Harden from the Athletics to the Cubs. Which deal figures to be a better move for the team that acquired its respective starter? Let's investigate.

Your first thought should be, "Wait, this isn't even close. Sabathia is a defending Cy Young award winner, a proven, healthy, dependable starter that could be a number one for all but a few teams (and a number three on Arizona; Webb and Haren are insane). What has Rich Harden done but gotten hurt?" And you're absolutely right. There can be no debate about who the better pitcher is; it's Sabathia, without question.

Harden is certainly pitching well right now, though, and comes at a substantially cheaper price than Sabathia. Harden (along with Chad Gaudin) was acquired for Matt Murton, Sean Gallagher, and Eric Patterson (three major-league ready but unexceptional young players) and 2007 supplemental first rounder (#48 overall) Josh Donaldson. Yes, one of those players might develop into something, but the Cubs gave up essentially nothing to get one of the most impressive pitchers in baseball this year.

Meanwhile, to acquire Sabathia, the Brewers had to give up three legitimate prospects, including Matt LaPorta, the jewel of their farm system, and Rob Bryson, arguably their 2nd-best minor league pitching prospect. LaPorta has been playing in AA Huntsville, but with an OPS near 1.000 and the dearth of power in Cleveland's lineup, don't be surprised if LaPorta is starting in a corner outfield spot for the Indians by Labor Day.

So who made the better deal? Despite what they gave up, the Brewers still did the right thing. There's not a ton of room in their outfield with Corey Hart and Ryan Braun locked into two spots, and their need for another solid pitcher was much more severe than the Cubs. Sabathia also gives Milwaukee another left-handed starter, and in fact one who dominates left-handed hitters.

And if you're wondering whether the Brewers faithful are behind the deal, have a look at this article. Notice how LaPorta isn't even mentioned until three-quarters of the way down the page? And the other prospects aren't even mentioned by name.

One final thought. Sabathia seems like a perfect fit for the Brewers, doesn't he? The portly pitcher joining the team with big Prince Fielder, and daily sausage races? It just feels right.

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