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When CC Sabathia Put A Team On His Back

We’re 12 years removed from one of the highest-impact trade deadline deals in recent history. On July 7, 2008, the Indians parted with homegrown star and pending free agent CC Sabathia, sending the left-hander to the Brewers for first baseman/outfielder Matt LaPorta, southpaw Zach Jackson, righty Rob Bryson and a player to be named later who became outfielder Michael Brantley. In hindsight, it may have been a win-win transaction.

When the Brewers made the bold move to acquire Sabathia, they were mired in a seemingly interminable playoff drought that went back to the early 1980s. But the team and then-general manager Doug Melvin saw a way out when they picked up Sabathia, who joined a roster that was 49-40 at the time. There were some terrific players on that club – Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Mike Cameron, J.J. Hardy and Ben Sheets were among them – but Sabathia became the face of the franchise down the stretch and all but willed the Brewers to the postseason.

Already a three-time All-Star and the reigning AL Cy Young winner when he became a Brewer, the 28-year-old won 11 of his 13 decisions and posted a 1.65 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 after heading to Milwaukee. His workload was enormous, too, as Sabathia amassed 130 2/3 innings across 17 starts in Milwaukee and piled up seven complete games in the process. Sabathia’s final complete game of the year came when he pitched the Brewers to the playoffs in their regular-season finale with nine innings of one-(unearned) run ball in a victory over the Cubs (here are Bob Uecker and Brian Anderson’s calls of that triumph for Milwaukee).

The Cubs did take the National League Central with ease, finishing with 97 wins to the Brewers’ 90, which set the Brew Crew up to face the Phillies in the NLDS. That proved to be the end of the line for the Brewers, who were no match for the eventual World Series winners and fell in four games. As excellent as he was during the season, Sabathia had nothing left against the Phillies, who battered the workhorse for five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in Game 2 – his lone appearance of the series. That proved to be the final Brewers outing for Sabathia, as he left for a far bigger payday than they were able to offer in the next offseason. Sabathia signed with the Yankees for seven years and $161MM, and the now-retired 39-year-old further continued to make a resounding Hall of Fame case while wearing pinstripes.

While Sabathia wasn’t a Brewer for long, they don’t regret his magical run in their uniform or the long-awaited return to respectability he helped provide as a member of the team. That’s not say they came away from the trade unscathed, though. None of LaPorta (a once-promising prospect), Jackson or Bryson were impactful in the majors, but Brantley has been outstanding for the most part. A seventh-round draft pick of the Brewers and now a soon-to-be 33-year-old member of the Astros, Brantley has put together a lifetime line of .297/.354/.439 in 5,120 plate appearances. The majority of the damage has come in an Indians uniform, but they weren’t contenders in 2008 and weren’t going to re-sign Sabathia, so selling him for the best possible return made sense.

Losing Sabathia certainly hurt for Cleveland, but getting several productive seasons out of Brantley made for a nice consolation prize. Conversely, it must have stung the Brewers to see what Brantley turned into, but neither they nor their fans will ever forget what Sabathia gave them over a couple incredible months.

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