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ON BASEBALL

Brewers decide they're past due

July 08, 2008|Bill Shaikin

You can live off the past for so long, and then you're just selling history.

In Milwaukee, the past is 1982. Those Jim Gantner bobblehead dolls are cute, but every nod reminds you that the Brewers haven't won since 1982.

"It's nice to unlock your tradition," Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said, "but you'd like some of your own to celebrate."

So Attanasio, in his third year, decided to play for 2008. The Brewers won the grand prize in this year's trade deadline sweepstakes Monday, acquiring CC Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians for four prospects, and Milwaukee went nuts.

"It's almost a disbelief," Attanasio said by telephone from Milwaukee. "It's been so long people can't believe something good is happening."

In L.A., that past is 1988. The Dodgers are selling history all season, celebrating their 50th anniversary in Los Angeles, but Kirk Gibson borders on irrelevance to the generation of fans born after Ronald Reagan left the White House.

The Dodgers passed on Sabathia, opting once again to put their faith in a core of young players nurtured for four years now. The Dodgers are in an awkward spot, waiting for the kids to succeed, antsy for the kids to succeed. They wouldn't trade Matt Kemp for Sabathia, the right call, and Kemp alone would not have gotten the deal done.

The Brewers left their major league roster untouched. They traded four minor leaguers, including slugger Matt LaPorta, who could play first base for the Indians as soon as next season. The Dodgers offered various packages of minor leaguers, but the Indians wanted an impact position player close to ready for the majors, and the Dodgers don't have anyone in their farm system even close to LaPorta.

Ned Colletti, the Dodgers' general manager, would not discuss specific players but said he could not have completed a deal without disrupting the major league roster.

"We'd be filling one hole and creating two others," Colletti said. "That's not something we're interested in doing."

As if to prove the point that a starting pitcher is not the Dodgers' greatest need, Hiroki Kuroda pitched a one-hit shutout against Atlanta on Monday night. And, had the Indians said yes to their offer of minor leaguers for Sabathia, the Dodgers would have lost the prospects they'll probably need for what Colletti calls the top priority, a trade for a shortstop.

They've targeted Jack Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with less interest in David Eckstein of the Toronto Blue Jays -- they would have minimal range up the middle with Eckstein at shortstop and Jeff Kent at second base -- and no apparent interest in Omar Vizquel of the San Francisco Giants.

They'll ride Nomar Garciaparra as long as they can -- at shortstop for now, at third base if they trade for a shortstop. For now, as youngsters Andy LaRoche and Blake DeWitt man the position, Colletti said he is not looking for a third baseman.

"I'm not sure that's our primary issue right now," he said. "If we can find somebody to upgrade the offense and give us coverage up the middle, that would be a priority."

By casting their lot with the young players, the Dodgers might as well write "October or bust" on the side of the team bus. With the Dodgers under .500 as the youngsters get extended major league exposure, are the kids losing their trade value?

"Good question," Colletti said.

He wouldn't answer, wisely. So we tried another way: Do all the youngsters have the same trade value they did last year?

"We have a few players that clubs are very high on," he said.

Sabathia, the defending American League Cy Young award winner, might get here anyway. He reinvented himself in true California fashion on Monday, dropping the periods that follow his initials. He's just CC now, same as the line below "to" on your e-mail.

He grew up in the Bay Area, but the Giants already have their Barry Zito albatross, and we can't imagine Oakland GM Billy Beane spending $100 million on a pitcher. Frank McCourt might, and the Dodgers might be as close to home as Sabathia can get in free agency this fall.

The Brewers have no illusions about retaining him. Ben Sheets, their incumbent ace, also is eligible for free agency.

"You have to be realistic about the price of premium pitching," Attanasio said. "The likelihood is that we will not get either one."

But that's two draft picks for Sabathia, two more for Sheets, their own pick and whatever talent the Brewers pick up should they trade first baseman Prince Fielder next winter.

They had five of the top 54 draft picks this year, so that's 10 premium selections within two years for scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who stocked the Brewers' system with LaPorta, Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart. That's the kind of imagination we seldom see from the Dodgers -- or the Angels, for that matter.

This is not to say the Brewers will win. The Atlanta Braves won the grand prize in last year's trade deadline sweepstakes, Mark Teixeira, and they failed to make the playoffs.

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