Cliff Lee: Cy Young To Sayonara

Indians fans are upset that their team has traded away two consecutive Cy Young Award winners in CC Sabathia in July 2008 and Cliff Lee on Wednesday. In return, Cleveland has received eight prospects that management hopes will turn the club into a contender in the foreseeable future. Whether or not the players with potential turn into stars of substance will determine whether or not it was right.

Dealing away a Cy Young winner within a year or two after the big season on the mound is not without precedent, however.

The very first winner of the award, Don Newcombe in 1956, was dealt on the trading deadline in 1958.

Newcombe went 27-7 for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 at age 30 and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for four players on June 15, 1958. That was after he went only 11-12 for the Dodgers during their last season in Brooklyn and opened the team's first year in Los Angeles in 1958 with an 0-6 record and unsightly 7.86 ERA. He went 7-7 the rest of that year with the Reds, but was out of the game by 1960. Ironically, his final team was the Indians. He went 2-3 in 20 games including two starts for Cleveland at age 34.

Lee had a dream season in 2008, compiling a 22-3 record and AL-leading 2.54 ERA. He was 7-9 with a 3.14 ERA in 22 starts for Cleveland this year at age 30.

The previous two Cy Young winners in the AL -- Sabathia and Minnesota's Johan Santana, were traded because their teams could not pay them.

Santana went 19-6 with a league-leading 2.77 ERA for the Twins in 2006 and was 15-13 for them in '07 before being traded to the New York Mets for four prospects.

This deal is similar to the Indians dealing away consecutive Cy Young winners in Sabathia and Lee since Santana had won two awards. He also won in 2004, when he went 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA.

The alternative often is to lose an award-winning pitcher to free agency. That has happened to the Oakland Athletics twice. They lost Hall of Famer and 1974 winner Jim (Catfish) Hunter to the New York Yankees in 1975 and 2002 winner Barry Zito to the San Francisco Giants in 2006.

In Zito's case, however, the Athletics may be grateful. The left-hander signed a multi-million contract, but has gone only 27-40 for the Giants.

That fact makes the Atlanta Braves' ability to keep their Cy Young winners all the more remarkable. From 1991 through 1998, the Braves' Greg Maddux (four), Tom Glavine (two) and John Smoltz (one) won seven of the eight awards presented. None of them bolted for free agency.

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