MILWAUKEE — With one XXL-sized move, the Milwaukee Brewers hope to transform themselves from scrappy underdogs to a big, bad pitching powerhouse intent on chasing down the Chicago Cubs and making the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
The Brewers obtained AL Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia in a trade with the Cleveland Indians on Monday, giving up four prospects in a gamble that favors the present over the future.
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”I'd say we're going for it,“ Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. ”That's the way I look at it.“
The deal stacks the Brewers' deck with a pair of aces, Sabathia and Ben Sheets — but only for a few months.
Barring blockbuster contract offers from a small-market team that already is stretching this year's payroll into the $90 million range, both will become free agents after the season.
Sabathia said that's a concern for the off-season. Right now, he's trying to blend in and get back to having fun on the mound — something he didn't do in the post-season last year.
”If anybody's ever seen me pitch, I'm out there laughing and having fun,“ said Sabathia, who went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA last season but lost two games to Boston in the ALCS. ”When we get to the playoffs, I'll definitely be doing that.“
Still, the deal hardly assures the Brewers an easy road to the post-season. Milwaukee is 4 games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The Brewers began Monday a percentage point ahead of St. Louis for the second-best record in the NL.
”This is still a calculated risk,“ Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said. ”The other teams in our division aren't going to sit back and look at this and say, "Oh, now the Brewers have got CC Sabathia. Let's just roll over.'“
The football player-sized Sabathia — slugger Prince Fielder offered to lend him a pair of uniform pants — is the first reigning Cy Young winner to be traded since Roger Clemens was dealt to the New York Yankees in the off-season from the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998.
For Cleveland, it's a sign of surrender that hardly anyone would have imagined going into the season.
”We all headed into this season with what we feel are well-founded expectations for a championship-contending season,“ said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. ”Four core players on the DL — tough for almost any franchise to overcome — as well as disappointing performances from many components of our team, most noticeably in the bullpen, leave us at the juncture we're at.
”There wasn't much doubt or question in our mind that it was nearly impossible for us to become a contending club this year.“
Sabathia arrived in Milwaukee before Monday night's game against Colorado and is scheduled to pitch against the Rockies on Tuesday night. He also is expected to pitch against Cincinnati on Sunday, giving him a pair of starts for his new team at home leading into the All-Star break.
Milwaukee sent Cleveland outfielder Matt LaPorta, pitchers Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson and a player to be named. Shapiro said the player to be named would be one of two specified in the deal.
Attanasio said the acquisition of Sabathia will push the team's payroll around $90 million this season. Attanasio said the move might prevent the club from seeing a profit this year, but it was made possible by increased fan support and sound financial decisions in recent years.
”We'd always love to go for it,“ Attanasio said. ”But you can go for it in a stupid fashion, and Doug and his group have never done that.“
Sabathia had a slow start but is 6-8 with a 3.83 ERA. Cleveland scored two runs or fewer in 11 of his 18 starts.
Milwaukee's starting pitching has been thin ever since Yovani Gallardo went on the disabled list May 2 with a torn knee ligament that required surgery. Rehab was supposed to take four months.
Sheets (10-2, 2.77 ERA) is off to the best start of his career, but the All-Star righty is in the final year of a $38.5 million, four-year contract. He said he's glad the Brewers are going for it now.
”It's hard to tell people in years past, "Three years from now, we're going to be good,'“ Sheets said. ”We want to win now.“
The Indians, who fell one win shy of the World Series last year, are in need of power-hitting corner outfielders and LaPorta is expected to fill that void. He hit .288 with 20 homers and 66 RBI in 84 games for Double-A Huntsville.
Sabathia rejected a $72 million, four-year extension from the Indians during spring training and announced he wouldn't negotiate until after the season.
He said he wasn't going to worry about his contract until the end of the season.
”I'll focus on that when it comes. Right now, I'm worried about pitching tomorrow.“
No periods, period: Sabathia no longer wants periods after the initials he uses for his first name. From here on out, Carsten Charles Sabathia is just ”CC“ Sabathia — not ”C.C.“
Associated Press writer Joe Milicia in Cleveland contributed to this report.