The Milwaukee Brewers are serious about trading for Indians left-hander C.C. Sabathia — more serious, perhaps, than any other club.
The Brewers' offer for Sabathia includes Class AA left fielder Matt LaPorta, according to sources with two other clubs that are interested in acquiring the pitcher.
Class AA shortstop Alcides Escobar also may be in the Brewers' proposed deal, one of the sources says.
And the Indians scouted the Brewers' Class A Brevard County (Fla.) affiliate on Wednesday night, looking at third baseman Taylor Green, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The Brewers likely would prefer to substitute a lesser player for Escobar, or perhaps would insist upon additional talent if the Indians demanded his inclusion. But if the Brewers indeed were willing to give up both LaPorta and Escobar, the Sabathia sweepstakes might be over before they started.
"I can not imagine anyone would top that," the first source said.
The second added, "That deal should get it done."
Sabathia, 6-5 with a 2.16 ERA in his past 14 starts, is scheduled to pitch twice more before the All-Star break. The Indians could act quickly to maximize their return or allow demand to build by holding Sabathia until closer to the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
LaPorta, 23, and Escobar, 21, would be a steep price for Sabathia, who is headed for free agency at the end of the season. But the Brewers, facing a potentially dramatic off-season makeover, are in a more urgent position than other clubs, rival executives say.
Right-hander Ben Sheets is almost certain to depart as a free agent; he and Sabathia would be the two top starting pitchers on the market. First baseman Prince Fielder, represented by Scott Boras, could be traded out of fear that he would not sign with the Brewers long-term.
The Brewers would collect four premium draft picks if Sheets and Sabathia signed with other clubs. They also could obtain two or three minor-league prospects if they traded Fielder. But they would not be as competitive in the NL Central next season, even with right-hander Yovani Gallardo returning from knee surgery.
The Rays, another team interested in Sabathia, are not as motivated to make such a short-term grab, sources say. The Red Sox, deep in starting pitching, believe that the price for Sabathia would not be worth the marginal upgrade that he would provide over a pitcher such as right-hander Clay Buchholz in the second half.
The Yankees are monitoring the Sabathia sweepstakes, but seem disinclined to offer major prospects when they can sign the pitcher as a free agent. The Phillies and Cubs both want Sabathia, but their farm systems are not considered to be as deep as the Brewers'.
LaPorta, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2007, is an American League-type player, rival scouts and executives say, a right-handed slugger who is below-average defensively. He was a first baseman at Florida, but the Brewers have converted him to left field — a position occupied by Ryan Braun, who is signed through 2015.
The Indians badly need power. Center fielder Grady Sizemore leads the AL with 21 home runs, but designated hitter Travis Hafner hit only four before going on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain on May 30 and catcher Victor Martinez had zero before going on the DL June 12 with a right-elbow injury.
LaPorta is tied for the Southern League lead with 19 homers and third in the league in OPS. Three of his Huntsville teammates — third baseman Mat Gamel, catcher Angel Salome, and first baseman Chris Errecart — rank first, sixth and seventh in OPS, respectively.
If LaPorta were traded, either Gamel or Errecart could emerge as the long-term replacement for Fielder. The inclusion of Escobar in a deal for Sabathia, however, would qualify as a surprise.
"He's not a little bit better than Hardy defensively — he's way better," one rival executive says, referring to the Brewers' starting shortstop, J.J. Hardy. "Escobar is a phenomenal shortstop, a show-stopper. Hardy has lost a step in the field."
The Brewers, if they preferred to keep Escobar, instead could seek to include Hardy in the deal. But Hardy, whose OPS ranks third among NL shortstops, will be only two years away from free agency at the end of the season, and less appealing to the Indians.