With the Cleveland Indians in the process of considering offers for Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, the Milwaukee Brewers -- who seemingly match up better with Cleveland than any other team in the Indians' need for young position players -- restructured their offer for the left-hander Saturday, sources said.
But the Brewers are simultaneously preparing for the possibility they may not be the team that lands the veteran left-hander, beginning the process of generating a B-list of alternatives.
The Brewers and Indians have had extensive talks about Sabathia, and if a deal is made, it is likely that Double-A outfielder Matt LaPorta, who has 20 homers for Huntsville, would be in the middle of the package sent to Cleveland. According to sources, the Brewers have been reluctant to part with two of their best prospects, preferring the Indians fill out the trade from a group of players not considered to be at LaPorta's level. The Brewers' Double-A team at Huntsville is loaded, from shortstop Alcides Escobar to third baseman Mat Gamel to catcher Angel Salome.
The Philadelphia Phillies, who recently demoted Brett Myers to Double-A, are looking to upgrade their rotation, and they appear to be lurking in these talks as the primary alternative to the Brewers if Milwaukee cannot finish the deal with Cleveland. The Phillies don't have position players that are considered blue-chip talents at the upper levels of their farm system, but they do have a group of intriguing prospects in lower levels, such as shortstop Jason Donald. If the Indians choose to deal with the Phillies, Cleveland would probably be opting for a larger volume of talent -- but not necessarily getting any players who had a chance to help significantly in the majors next year.
Pat Gillick, the Philadelphia general manager, has a history of making stealthy trades. During the 1992 season, he stunned other teams in the AL East by acquiring David Cone in a deal with the Mets, and Cone went on to make four postseason starts as Toronto won the World Series.
Meanwhile, the Indians have maintained contact with a broad array of suitors, including the Tampa Bay Rays, who are also loaded with prospects, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the Rays may not be as motivated to make a Sabathia trade as the Brewers, and may instead choose to focus on other needs (a right-handed hitting outfielder). The Dodgers have frustrated other teams with their style of deal-making, which presents a constantly moving target and makes it unclear to other teams who, among the Dodgers' prospects, is actually available. The Dodgers do not appear anywhere close to making a deal for Sabathia, sources indicated on Saturday evening.
After 237 starts and 106 victories, Sabathia's time with the Indians could soon come to an end. He is eligible for free agency this fall, after contract talks broke off last spring, with Sabathia reportedly turning down an offer that would have been worth a total of about $85 million. If the Brewers don't make a deal for the lefty, their other options would be less costly, but also less dynamic, with greater performance risk. As the Brewers compile that Plan B list of possible targets, it might include the Padres' Randy Wolf, Seattle's Erik Bedard, Oakland's Joe Blanton and Rich Harden, San Francisco's Matt Cain and Toronto's A.J. Burnett.
Buster Olney is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.