Wednesday, June 28, 2006

June 28th, 2002

Bartolo Colon Traded

I'm pretty sure I've written at some point about how bad trades end up being over simplified. Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Dick Simpson and Jack Baldschun? That one is going down in history (and in Bull Durham) as Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas. Those deals are usually remembered by the name of the hot prospect at the time, and when said hot prospect fails to pan out, the deal is shortened for the sake of infamy.

Today's trade is a rarity in that while the top prospect included failed to pan out the trade is nonetheless regarded as robbery in favor of the team getting the prospects. The deal sent then Indians' ace Bartolo Colon (along with little known Tim Drew) to the Wild Card contending Expos for basically everything in the Expos' farm system not nailed down. Actually, the Expos sent Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee to Cleveland, along with Lee Stevens to help balance salaries.

Colon was good, but not great in Montreal, and the Expos fell well short of the Wild Card they were chasing and would unload Colon in the off-season. Indians' management, meanwhile, was thrilled with the trade. Sizemore and Lee were well-regarded players, but the real prize was Brandon Phillips. Seen as a "can't miss" prospect, Phillips was a twenty-one year old shortstop who had dominated Double-A most of the season. He posted respectable numbers during a late season call up with Cleveland in 2002, but that marked Phillips only effective time with the Tribe. Over four seasons he hit just .206 in limited time after being moved to second base and acquired a reputation as a sulky player unwilling to accept coaching. He was unceremoniously dumped to the Reds this spring in exchange for the ubiquitous player to be named later. (As it turns out, the still only twenty-four year old Phillips may yet have the last laugh; as of today he was hitting .308/.354/.456 for the surprising Reds while Cleveland has struggled.)

With the top prospect in the trade a bust--at least in Jacobs Field--the Indians would ordinarily be looking forward to years of being crucified for dealing their ace for seemingly nothing. (Mind you, said crucifixions are hardly uncommon in Cleveland, a franchise that has managed to trade away Jeff Kent, Pedro Guerrero, Graig Nettles, Joe Carter and Brian Giles just in the last thirty-five years; and to think people wonder why they haven't won jack in ages.) In this case however, Cleveland could honestly say they had fleeced Montreal, even with Phillips seeming flame out. Cliff Lee, the left handed pitcher acquired in the trade, won eighteen games last year, although he has struggled somewhat this year. Grady Sizemore meanwhile has become a legitimate superstar in center field, hitting .300 and slugging nearly .550 this year while playing Gold Glove defense. Sizemore is also hugely popular in Cleveland, with a "Grady's Ladies" fan club having been formed by Sizemore's female admirers.

Most times teams make a trade for a big prospect we either remember when it works brilliantly or when it fails miserably. Such determinations are usually made on the prospect in the trade, and that's how such deals are remembered. As the Indians, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore make it clear however, sometimes deals run far deeper than the big names.

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