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Savran: Indians' big trade model for Pirates?

Saturday, June 29, 2002

The shock waves from the Cleveland Indians' decision to trade their No. 1 pitcher, Bartolo Colon, to Montreal probably won't drift much further east than Youngstown. But those who follow the Pirates should probably pay close attention to those headlines.

Although the teams are in different places -- and perhaps are headed in different directions -- the path the Indians have chosen also is open to the Pirates. It's bold, it's risky, but it can expedite the journey -- trade your best player. Or, at least, trade the player who will bring you the most in return.

In Cleveland's case it was Colon, a man with a 10-cent head atop a million-dollar arm.

Might Pirates General Manager Dave Littlefield follow that path with Brian Giles?

The concept is neither new nor novel. The Tony Pena/Andy Van Slyke/Mike LaValliere deal with St. Louis often is cited as a parallel.

To a lesser degree, so is the successful trade that brought Kip Wells, Josh Fogg and Sean Lowe from the Chicago White Sox for Todd Ritchie. Why not do it again?

If the Pirates, at least as far away as the Indians from contending, can obtain two everyday players -- and I don't mean just bodies to occupy positions -- wouldn't that facilitate the rebuilding process?

Making such a deal would allow Littlefield to leave his greatest resource, young starting pitching, untouched.

Before you decide to take the path and begin scouring major- and minor-league rosters to determine a good trading partner, note that while there are similarities between the Pirates and the Indians, there are also significant differences.

The Indians have been one of the most successful franchises of the past several years (if the definition doesn't extend to winning the World Series). Playing in a market not much larger than Pittsburgh, they understand they can't win with what they have and, like the Pirates, can't afford to buy what they need.

And, while Colon was their best pitcher, he wasn't their only good one. That's not to say he won't be missed, but they have others in place.

The Pirates cannot say the same about power-hitting outfielders.

There's no one to replace Giles now, or in the immediate future, so a replacement with the potential to reach his level of production would have to be part of the return.

That being the case, why trade him?

Because you could get two or more for the price of one.

Maybe you not only get the outfielder you're looking for in return, but also a legitimate leadoff man with the requisite speed as well.

Or maybe a big bopper for first base.

Maybe you get a middle infielder as good or better -- and cheaper -- than what you already have.

Maybe you get another starting pitcher to go with what you have.

Maybe you get a young arm for the bullpen who would provide dividends for years to come, long after graybeards Mike Fetters, Brian Boehringer and Mike Williams have departed.

The multiple "maybes" are the keys to the equation for even entertaining the thought of trading a guy like Giles.

If the return includes an all-star or makes you better at two or three positions and allows you not only to contend, but also contend more quickly than you might have with Giles, you've made a great deal.

If you're left with two Brant Browns and a Wil Cordero, you're tarred and feathered and run out of town. But as I said, deals like this are as risky as they are bold.

One other element working against a trade of this magnitude -- the labor climate.

If I'm running a team with a chance to win now and think Giles can push me over the top, I'm going to pursue it. But winning now means winning right now, this year.

What if there is no "this year"? What if, as many expect, there is no postseason? I've traded valuable commodities to win a championship that might never be contested.

Where am I next year, or whenever baseball resumes? If I'm the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves or the Los Angeles Dodgers and know I've got the wherewithal to compete whenever the strike ends regardless of the economic landscape, I've still obtained a great player.

But the volatile labor situation will at least restrict suitors, thus limiting the Pirates' leverage.

Giles has a limited no-trade clause in his contract. I think, however, he would expand his list of go-to teams, excluding an outpost in Siberia or Montreal, Tampa or Detroit, which is tantamount to the same thing, and be more than happy to facilitate his departure.

It all makes sense if the price is right. Littlefield has to at least be considering it.

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat at 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Net.

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