Melvin 'going for it' with Sabathia trade
Giving up prospect LaPorta risky, but reward could be great
MILWAUKEE -- Three months from now, Doug Melvin might be known fondly as the general manager who ended the Brewers' 26-year postseason drought.There's an equal chance that, three years from now, he'll be known not-so-fondly as the bum who traded away Matt LaPorta. In the end, when Melvin pulled the trigger Sunday on a trade that sent LaPorta and three other prospects to the Indians for top-of-the-rotation starter CC Sabathia, the Brewers' baseball boss decided that the risk was worth the reward. "We all want it to end," Melvin said of the Brewers' playoff drought, which stretches back to Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. "We're going for it. There's a lot of baseball left, but we're playing well right now and we feel good about the team. ... "This is a huge boost to the fans, who have had a long drought here. Maybe they never thought that this kind of thing could happen. We felt we needed to go for it at this point. We feel this is a year that gives us a chance." Here's five reasons why: 1. They had prospects to deal. The Brewers have enjoyed a lot of success in the First-Year Player Draft under amateur scouting director Jack Zduriencik, and LaPorta was part of a Double-A Huntsville club stocked with prospects. The Phillies, Dodgers and Rays were also reportedly interested in Sabathia, but none of those clubs could match Milwaukee's offer of LaPorta, and the Brewers were able to make a deal while holding on to other top Double-A prospects, including third baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alcides Escobar. "If we didn't have a very deep farm system, we couldn't even think about this because, let's face it, this is still a calculated risk," Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said. 2. They had money to spend. The Brewers are 12th in average attendance this season among the 30 Major League clubs, despite playing in the league's smallest media market. They set a club record for attendance last season and could top three million for the first time ever this year. That revenue will help the Brewers pay Sabathia just over $5 million over the remainder of the season. 3. They had a clear priority. Losing right-hander Yovani Gallardo to a knee injury in early May was a devastating blow to the Brewers' postseason hopes. Gallardo is a top-of-the-rotation talent and is probably lost for the season, though club officials are not ruling out his availability for the postseason. 4. They are playing well. Entering Monday's series opener against the Rockies, the Brewers were 29-15 since May 20, the best record in the National League over that span. Only the red-hot Rays (29-13) were better.
Sabathia joined a Brewers team in a virtual tie with the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central, 3 1/2 games behind the front-running Cubs."A lot of time you base this stuff off instincts and how your team is playing," Melvin said. "Ned [Yost, Brewers manager], the coaching staff and the players have given me the confidence to go out and take the next step to make sure that we have the best opportunity as we can to get to the postseason." 5. It's now or never. Ben Sheets, like Sabathia, is a free agent at season's end who will almost certainly exceed the Brewers' means, especially since first baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Corey Hart are due enormous bumps in salary in the first years of arbitration. Even with Gallardo expected to recover well in advance of 2009 and left-hander Manny Parra quickly establishing himself as another solid Major Leaguer, the Brewers decided that this was their best opportunity to make a run. "There will be teams out there that [ask whether] we gave up a lot for a player that might only be here for half a season," Melvin said. "Sure, there are going to be those kinds of comments. But a couple of GMs called me back and said, 'Gee, you got a heck of a pitcher and it looks like you're going for it.' That's the mentality we want. "The fans allowed us to do that. I believe that they wanted us to go for it. We owe it to them to go for it and that's what we're doing." Melvin and the Brewers hope Sabathia makes an impact similar to the one Don Sutton had in 1982. The circumstances were decidedly different; Sutton did not arrive until the end of August, and the Brewers had him for parts of two more seasons after 1982. But Sutton did serve as the final piece of an '82 Brewers team that won the American League pennant and went to a decisive Game 7 in the World Series. If Sabathia can help deliver Milwaukee back to the postseason, Melvin's gamble will have paid off. Neither he nor Attanasio sounded exceedingly optimistic about the Brewers' chances of convincing Sabathia to stay beyond the rest of this season, and Sheets will be similarly tempted to test free agency. "I'll worry about next year at the end of [this] season," Melvin said. "I know that you need pitching depth in the second half of the season. We're protected if somebody did have a minor setback. "It was all about, 'now,' more so than next year."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.