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Cleveland Indians: Looking back at the acquisition of Kenny Lofton

How the Tribe acquired another Hall of Fame caliber outfielder and another lopsided trade in club history.

Kenny Lofton hustling like he always did
Kenny Lofton hustling like he always did
David Seelig/Getty Images

Even though Kenny Lofton seems like started his Major League career with the Indians, he was not originally a Cleveland draft pick. Lofton actually got his first taste of fame, playing in the Final Four with University of Arizona in 1988. After the Final Four, he displayed his speed in the outfield in a few softball games on campus.

Lofton had been a two-sport star back in East Chicago, Indiana and was feeling the itch to play baseball again. He approached the Wildcats baseball coach, who liked enough of what he saw to add him to the team even though the season was basically over. He played in just five games, mostly as a pinch runner, but that smidgen was enough for a Houston Astros scout, Clark Crist, to recommend drafting him on the basis of just one collegiate at bat.

Lofton signed and played the rest of the summer with the Auburn Astros in the New York-Penn League (A-). He had just a .559 OPS, but 26 steals with just four caught stealing. He skipped the Instructional League that winter to complete his degree and also play in the Sweet Sixteen in 1989 with the Wildcats. But after that, he was back to baseball only.

He showed marked improvement after his promotion to Asheville (A) in 1990 and swiped 62 bases for Osceola (A+) with an .802 OPS in 1990. He leapfrogged all the way to a familiar place, Tuscon (AAA) in 1991 and had a 784 OPS as a 24-year-old. The Astros gave him a cup of coffee that September and he struggled mightily (469 OPS in 79 PA).

Heading into that offseason, Lofton was effectively blocked by the 26-year-old Steve Finley. Luis Gonzalez played left for the Astros but right field was open. As Lofton was more of a true center fielder, general manager Bill Wood probably didn't consider him for right. Additionally, incumbent catcher Craig Biggio was moving to second base for the upcoming season, so the Astros were in the market for a catcher.

Enter the Tribe. In April 1991, the Indians had claimed catcher Eddie Taubensee off waivers from the Oakland A's. He played mostly at Colorado Springs (AAA) and the elevation definitely inflated his numbers (924 OPS). He didn't hit all that well with the Tribe (591 OPS) but it was just in 73 PA and he was still only 23. Someone in the Tribe organization, perhaps some coaches for the Sky Sox, saw enough of Lofton to know his skills should translate, at least the speed. So the Indians traded Taubensee and pitcher Willie Blair to the Astros for Lofton and infielder Dave Rohde.

Blair had been acquired from the Blue Jays the previous winter for Alex Sanchez, another pitcher. Blair was still only 26 but basically a throw in. Rohde was an all glove no hit backup infielder.

As they say, the rest is history. Lofton would go on to be one of the best centerfielders of his generation. He was robbed of a Rookie of the Year Award in 1992, led the league in steals five years in a row and provide Gold Glove defense until he was dealt away prior to the 1997 season. Rohde played in just five games with Cleveland in 1992 and played three more minor league seasons before retiring.

Blair played just one year for the Astros, with a decent 3.42 FIP in 78.2 IP. But he was left exposed in the expansion draft the following winter and grabbed by the Colorado Rockies as the 21st pick. Taubensee was the starting catcher in 1992 and 1993 and hit below average. Just 5 games into the 1994 season, he was traded to the Reds. He played seven years there before finishing off his career in Cleveland of all places in 2001.

The final totals on the deal:

Astros

Ed Taubensee

G

PA

2B

3B

HR

BA

OPS

OPS+

bWAR

wRC+

fWAR

1992

104

331

15

0

5

222

622

81

0.9

82

1.1

1993

94

312

11

1

9

250

688

87

0.5

84

0.9

1994

5

10

8

0

0

100

200

-46

-0.2

-56

-0.1

Total

203

653

26

1

14

234

647

82

1.3

83

1.9

Willie Blair

G

GS

IP

WHIP

K%

BB%

LOB%

bWAR

FIP

fWAR

1992

29

8

78.2

1.889

14.5

7.6

57.5

-1.1

3.42

0.5

Naps/Indians

Dave Rohde

G

PA

2B

3B

HR

BA

OPS

OPS+

bWAR

wRC+

fWAR

1910

5

9

0

0

0

000

222

-32

-0.2

-56

-0.1

Kenny Lofton

G

PA

2B

HR

SB

BA

OPS

OPS+

bWAR

wRC+

fWAR

1992

148

651

15

5

66

285

726

107

6.6

108

5.8

1993

148

657

28

1

70

325

815

121

7.6

125

7.0

1994

112

523

32

12

60

349

948

145

7.2

142

6.6

1995

118

529

22

7

54

310

815

110

4.1

109

3.8

1996

154

736

35

14

75

317

817

107

5.5

107

4.6

Total

680

3096

132

39

325

316

819

117

31.0

117

27.8

Net Result:

The Tribe definitely wins this transaction as well. By a ton.