A painful swing by the Cleveland Indians’ Víctor Martínez on Wednesday could have significant ramifications for the Yankees. An elbow injury to Martínez all but ended the Indians’ flickering playoff hopes, and will probably lead to a trade of the ace left-hander C. C. Sabathia.A few years ago, the analysis would have been simple: The Indians give up Sabathia, and the Yankees empty their farm system for him. Of course it doesn't work that way anymore. Prospects are much more valuable than they used to be, and no one is all that eager to sell the farm for a guy about to hit free agency.
If Sabathia is on the trade market, the Yankees will have strong interest . . . He can be a free agent after the season, and the Indians have not given up hope of signing him. But the going rate for a pitcher like Sabathia, who turns 28 in August, would probably be six or seven years at $19 million or $20 million a season, a price tag well out of Cleveland’s range.
The Yankees, who are shedding more than $75 million in salaries this winter, could afford to re-sign him. They also have the prospects Cleveland would want and the motivation to deal.
The Yankees, however, may still feel the need to pretend its 2002. Passing up on Johan Santana may have been the "right move" in light of today's new prospect calculus, but given Hughes and Kennedy's implosions this year, the Yankees are probably wishing they hadn't. What's more, beyond this year, they have Wang, Chamberlain, and maybe one of the Methuselah brothers -- Pettitte and Mussina -- in the rotation. It's certainly too late to give up on Kennedy and Hughes, but if you're the Yankees, don't you want to be damn sure you have a championship argument as you move into your new stadium next spring?
The Indians need bats far more than they need arms, so I'm skeptical that Mark Shapiro would be all that interested in Hughes or Kennedy. Given Cleveland's problems at second base, Kepner mentions Robinson Cano, but in light of how poorly he's playing this year that would be a tough sell too. The Yankees' have a couple of young slugging prospects the Indians are probably drooling over -- Jose Tabata and Jesus Montero -- though given how old the big club is, I'm having trouble imagining Cashman giving them up. Steinbrenner would probably do it, though. From Cleveland's perspective, those guys are still several years away from the bigs, so it's possible that even Shapiro would balk if he thinks the Tribe's contending window doesn't extend much past, say, 2010. Still, talent is talent.
Obviously I'm out of my league here. I don't know the Yankees' system that well and I'm actually pretty bad at playing GM. But the larger point -- that the Yankees may overpay for Sabathia right now -- remains, and if I'm Mark Shapiro I tell them to make me an offer.
If it happens, it may very well be the last of the old-line star-for-prospects trades we'll see in a while.