The Indians announced today that they’ve released right handed pitcher Jason Knapp. Even though he never made it past Class-A Lake County with the Indians organization, this still is a pretty big deal. Knapp was part of the Cliff Lee trade in 2009, that sent Lee to Philadelphia and brought the Indians Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson; many considered Knapp to be the centerpiece of the deal, the one component that the Indians simply “must have” in order to part with Lee. Even though he was only at Class-A at the time, Knapp had dominant stuff and a number of analysts thought he was a potential number one pitcher. A second-round pick with the Phillies in 2008, Knapp was just 19 when the Indians traded Cliff Lee on July 29, 2009.
Knapp’s short career has been devastated by injury. According to Paul Hoynes at the Plain Dealer, Knapp was on the DL at the time of the trade with what the Indians believed was bicep tendinitis. The injuries were much more severe, and led to two different shoulder surgeries – the second shoulder surgery caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Knapp hadn’t played at any level since 2010, where he split time between Arizona Rookie League Indians, and the Lake County Captains. At both levels that season, he was 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 47 strikeouts. From 2008 to 2010 in the minors, Knapp was 6-10 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 208 strikeouts over 156.1 innings pitched.
The Knapp deal just goes to show that sometimes there is no such thing as a “sure” prospect. Part of me wants to cut the Indians some benefit of the doubt since he only fell apart due to the injuries, it’s not like he was a typical bust. The other part of me wonders why the Indians didn’t further investigate his injury back in 2009, particularly since his first shoulder surgery took place not long after the initial trade. You’re trading away the reigning Cy Young winner, when he still has another year on his contract beyond the current season. I just can’t believe there wasn’t a closer analysis of his shoulder, and his medical records in general, at the time of the deal. Perhaps there was more consideration, but they just figured the injuries weren’t that severe.
Even though the Indians still have Marson, Donald, and Carrasco to show for the deal, Carrasco has also sustained serious injury and is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. Unlike Knapp, Carrasco did pitch with the Indians (and with some success) before he was shut down last season. Marson and Donald appear to be backups at their respective positions, and even though Marson is quite good as a backup catcher, you’d hope to get more in return when you trade a pitcher like Cliff Lee.
Ross Atkins, the Indians’ director of minor league development, said that it was time for Knapp to move on and decide what he wanted to do with his life after going through two surgeries. It’s unclear whether or not Knapp will choose to retire, or if he’d attempt a comeback elsewhere. He’s only 21-years-old, so it’s possible that he could catch on with another organization. I’m guessing that if the Indians let him go, they felt he was leaning toward retirement, or that he’d never be the same pitcher after all of his medical procedures. It’s also possible that they made yet another error in judgment. Part of me secretly hopes that’s the case, and not just so us fans have another chance to mock them for a bad decision. Knapp had so much promise, I’d like to see him battle back and pitch again somewhere.