Back on July 29th of 2009, the Indians sent Cy Young award winning starting pitcher Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. At the time, the Phillies were streaking towards the postseason while the Indians were in full regression mode. It was the second consecutive year in which the Tribe dealt their best assests to reload with prospects. Lee was their biggest chip and it was of the utmost importance that they cashed in on him big time.
The Phillies were flush with top tier prospects. In 2009, everyone knew their best guy was AA starting pitcher Kyle Drabek. Next on the list were a pair of outfielders, Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor. The Indians tried everything they could to hold out for Drabek, but the Phillies refused to include him. Brown and Taylor were intriguing, but at the time, the Tribe thought they were set long-term with Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, and a soon to be ready Michael Brantley in the outfield. They wanted arms. So they settled for the next best options.
In the deal, they received young starter Carlos Carrasco, who had spent enough time in AAA and was ready to hit the majors, along with the second best pitching prospect in the Phillies system at the time, a 19-year old Rookie ball pitcher named Jason Knapp. Also included in the deal were AAA SS Jason Donald and Catcher Lou Marson. Donald came over with a David Eckstein-type grinder reputation, but looked more like a utility player option for the Tribe. The book on Marson was that he was a terrific defensive catcher but may not ever be able to hit enough in the bigs to be an every day guy.
Everyone in our city freaked out. “They didn’t get nearly enough for a Cy Young winner with a year left on his deal” we all said. You know what, we were all correct. But looking deeper into that deal, had things turned out differently, we would probably be sitting here more than two years later with the exact same results.
What we currently have after the deal:
Carrasco – At times Carlos looked like a complete stud and the steal of the trade last season. Don’t forget, in the month of June, he ran off an incredible six start streak where he allowed just four earned runs in 37 innings and was dominant. He was just 24 years old at the time as well. As it turned out, his late July struggles came with a reason – a sore elbow. The elbow needed to be surgically repaired and Carrasco was shut down. He will be missing the entire 2012 season. If this hadn’t happened, Carrasco would be in the Tribe’s rotation and the Kevin Slowey acquisition may have never been made.
Knapp – The Indians took a big risk grabbing this flame-throwing 19 year old kid who had already had shoulder issues. As it turned out, the Phillies probably rooked them with Knapp. He needed shoulder surgery after just a handful of minor league starts in 2009. In 2010, still recovering from the shoulder, he made just nine starts. A season later, he was shut down again and went under the knife a second to take care of that same right shoulder. He never threw a pitch in a game. He is still just 21, but this spring still hasn’t been able to throw. My guess is we never see him in an Indians uniform.
Donald – I am a JD fan. He has turned himself into a very versatile option for Manager Manny Acta. He handles the bat well and can play anywhere on the infield. The Tribe has even given him a shot in center field to maximize his value. A keeper.
Marson – Lou is who he is, a stalwart defensive catcher with little pop in his bat. Nobody handles a pitching staff better and he hit left-handed pitching well last season (.297). However, righties owned him (.191). As I said before, he is who he is – a backup catcher.
But looking deeper into the deal, what has happened with the three guys the Indians didn’t get?
Drabek – In 2009 he was the hottest pitching prospect in the game. After the season, the Phillies decided to trade him to the Toronto Blue Jays as a part of the package to get Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. So they wouldn’t give him up for Lee, waited five months, and then sent him to the Blue Jays.
After a solid 2010 season in AA (14-9, 2,93 ERA), he was going to become an option for the Jays in their 2011 rotation. He didn’t make the club out of spring training and actually struggled for the first time in his career in AAA (15 starts, 5-4, 7,44 ERA). The Jays called up Drabek for the last two and a half months of the season. He made 14 starts and didn’t exactly set the world on fire. He was just 4-5 with an ERA of 6.06 and a WHIP of 1.80. He’s still just 24 years old, but it is not as if he burst onto the scene and was a stud from the get-go.
Brown – The left-handed hitting outfielder was a minor league hitting machine. He was a beast in two different levels in 2010, finishing with totals of .327/.391/.980/20 HR/68 RBI in just 93 games. The Phillies brought him up for a September look. By 2011 with the team letting Jayson Werth walk via free agency, it seemed as though Brown’s time to take over was there. The Phillies decided to go in another direction, giving most of the right field at-bats to Ben Francisco. Brown stayed in AAA to start the season. Halfway through, the Phillies gave him his shot and he had a rough go of it. In 56 games, he hit .245/.333/.725/5 HR/19 RBI.
Instead of sticking with their prospect, the Phillies dealt for All-Star Hunter Pence at the deadline and sent Brown back to AAA. 2012 is supposed to be his year. Instead yesterday, Brown was sent back to AAA and won’t be making the big club again, as the Phillies will most likely use John Mayberry Jr next to Pence and Shane Victorino.
Like Drabek, he’s 24 and will be heard from at some point, but its very surprising he hasn’t made his mark as of yet.
Taylor – Like Brown, he was a guy on a lot of teams radar screens. The former Stanford Cardinal hit .320/.395/.925/20 HR/84 RBI/20 steals in 2009 and would have been a perfect guy for the Tribe to add. The Phillies used him along with Drabek as bait to get Halladay that offseason. As part of that three-team deal, Taylor was spun off to the Oakland A’s.
Interestingly, the A’s kept Taylor in AAA for both the 2010 (.272/.348.740/6 HR/78 RBI) and the 2011 (.272/.360/.816/16 HR/64 RBI) seasons. He got a cup of coffee in Oakland in September, hitting .200 in 11 games. He’s now 26 years old and should be ready to be a regular at the big league level, except the A’s must not think that highly of him. They spent their offseason adding outfielders. They resigned Coco Crisp for two years and $14 million, then traded for Boston’s Josh Reddick, who is a guy the Indians had looked into this Winter. To top it all off, they gave a four-year, $36 million deal to Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. They also added Seth Smith from the Rockies and stud prospect Colin Cowgill from Arizona. Taylor is on the outside looking in.
Its almost three years later, but we all know the Indians did the right thing at the time by trading Lee. He wasn’t staying here long term and the Indians were in a rebuilding mode. They found a team flush with prospects, but how many of those have worked out to become instant studs?
Judging by what you read, I’d say none of them.