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Cleveland Indians: Looking back at the trade of Kenny Lofton

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Previously we discussed how the Indians stole Kenny Lofton from the Houston Astros. This time we review if the Indians won the trade when he was dealt to Atlanta.

Something is seriously wrong with this picture
Something is seriously wrong with this picture
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Back in November, we reviewed the initial trade where the Tribe acquired Kenny Lofton in a fortuitous sequence. When Lofton arrived in 1991, the Indians were a moribund franchise. But through the guile of Hank Peters and John Hart, the Indians turned the corner in a big way in 1994 and landed in the World Series in 1995 for the first time in 41 seasons.

Kenny Lofton was one of the instrumental factors in the turnaround. His Gold Glove defense and his basepath acumen led the Tribe to be one of the most prolific offenses ever. And his bat wasn't too shabby either.

As everyone likely remembers, the Tribe lost to the pitching-rich Atlanta Braves in 1995. Then in the 1996 playoffs, they lost to the Wild Card Baltimore Orioles in the  Division Series 3-1.

Although Joh Hart had acquired and groomed a lot of talent, the 1996 offseason was going to be the start of some tricky decisions for the core of the team. Albert Belle had already eschewed the Tribe's $40 million offer and elected for free agency. Kenny Lofton was the next player that the front office would look to retain.

Hart had offered Lofton a five-year deal worth $44 million after the season, but Lofton and his agents quickly rejected it. Hart, feeling depressed, had called up his friend and fellow GM, John Schuerholz of the Atlanta Braves, knowing Belle had flown the coop, and Lofton was to follow him out of town the next fall.

They shockingly started discussing a deal with Lofton and David Justice as centerpieces. Hart was intrigued because Justice could be the bat to replace Belle, but was coming off shoulder surgery that had cost him all but 40 games in 1996. Center fielder Marquis Grissom was also discussed as a possible replacement for Lofton. Schuerholz was tempted because he was going to need salary space to ink Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Both of them eventually backed down, realizing a trade of that magnitude would shake both team to the core.

But Hart never let the idea fully slip from his conscience. By spring training, he was calling Schuerholz regularly, pitching the deal again. He was uneasy on Lofton having a farewell tour after watching Belle do it the season before. Hart kept scouts hot on the Braves games all spring. Finally, with a just week before the season starting, Schuerholz relented, but wanted pitching prospect Alan Embree added.

Hart confirmed the deal with manager Mike Hargrove and owner Richard Jacobs, called back the Atlanta GM and did the deal. It was announced the next day as a complete shock as fewer than ten people knew of the deal, and not a single agent had any inkling.

Lofton was caught completely off guard by the deal. He did play very well for Atlanta in 1997, but struggled in the playoffs. He filed for free agency and eventually re-signed with Cleveland for four seasons at $30.5 million. Embree only lasted one-and-a-half seasons in Atlanta, before heading to Arizona and then six more teams before retiring after the 2009 season.

Grissom also only lasted one year in Cleveland due to Lofton coming back. He was traded to Milwaukee that offseason. Justice stayed in Cleveland for 3.5 seasons before being traded to the Yankees in 2000.

The final totals on the deal:

Braves

Kenny Lofton

G

PA

2B

3B

SB

BA

OPS

OPS+

bWAR

wRC+

fWAR

1996

122

564

20

6

27

333

837

119

4.9

125

5.2

Alan Embree

G

GF

IP

WHIP

K%

BB%

LOB%

bWAR

FIP

fWAR

1996

66

15

46.0

1.217

23.7

10.5

79.5

1.2

2.87

0.9

1997

20

5

18.2

1.768

21.8

11.5

62.9

-0.6

4.10

0.1

Total

86

20

64.2

1.376

-

-

-

0.6

-

1.0

Indians

Marquis Grissom

G

PA

2B

HR

SB

BA

OPS

OPS+

bWAR

wRC+

fWAR

1997

144

622

27

12

22

262

713

83

1.9

84

2.0

David Justice

G

PA

2B

HR

RBI

BA

OPS

OPS+

bWAR

wRC+

fWAR

1997

139

582

31

33

101

329

1013

158

3.8

158

4.2

1998

146

625

39

21

88

280

839

114

2.1

113

1.7

1999

133

530

18

21

88

287

889

124

3.1

125

3.2

2000

68

288

14

21

58

265

943

133

1.9

129

2.0

Total

486

2025

102

96

335

294

918

132

10.9

-

11.1

Net Result:

The Tribe wins this transaction, but that is mainly because of the time spent Justice spent in Cleveland.  For 1997, the WARs are basically a wash. But if the four years that Lofton spent back in Cleveland are added in (which they won't be in any of the articles because it opens a lot of  possibilities), then Cleveland wins hands down. I believe the only reason Lofton returned in 1998 was because of the trade to Atlanta.