July 31st is right around the corner and that signals one thing – the MLB trade deadline. In the day and age of parity, there are usually a lot more buyers than sellers. This year is no exception. Remember the days when the Indians were on the other end of the spectrum? Let us look back at some of the memorable and not so memorable moves made by GM’s John Hart and Mark Shapiro during the Jacobs Field era. This is part one in a three part series.
July 1st, 1994 – Indians acquire RHP Jeff Russell from Boston for RHP’s Chris Nabholz and Steve Farr – The first big trade deadline acquisition came actually came a month before ’94 date when the Indians, looking for a closer, snagged the former Rangers closer from the Red Sox. Russell, then 32, saved five games and had a spotty 4.97 ERA before the strike ended the season with the Indians and White Sox just one game apart for the AL Central lead. My one memory of the Jeff Russell era was watching him blow a save by being taken deep by the light-hitting Texas SS Manny Lee, who had just one homer entering the game.
Nabholz, a left-handed who was the fifth starter for a stretch in ’94, was certainly not missed. He went 3-4 with a 6.64 ERA in eight starts in Boston and played just one more year in the majors, 1995 with the Cubs. Farr, a longtime veteran reliever who actually began his career in Cleveland, finished out the year in Boston with a 6.23 ERA in 11 appearances and never saw a major league mound again.
Because of the strike, the impact of this trade will never be known.
July 27th, 1995 – Indians acquire RHP Ken Hill from St. Louis for IF David Bell and P Rick Heiserman – Despite the Tribe running away with the Central crown, they traded for the veteran starter on their way to a 100-44 record. Hill came over during an off-year for him. The previous four seasons in St. Louis (1) and Montreal (3), he posted sub-four ERA’s, including a 16-5 ’94 campaign when the Expos had the best record in baseball. In his ’95 return to St. Louis, he was up and down, going 6-7 with a 5.06 ERA.
As an Indian, Hill was exactly what John Hart was looking for. A veteran stabilizer in the middle of the rotation. He made 11 regular season starts, posting a solid 4-1, 3.98 ERA record. Hill’s best moment as an Indian was clearly the gem he spun in the ALCS against Seattle – seven scoreless innings – and helped the Indians reach their first World Series since 1954.
Hill went on to sign as a free agent in the offseason with Texas. As for David Bell, he found his niche in St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia as a utility man. Interestingly, the Cardinals waived him in 1998 and he was claimed by the Indians, only to be a part of another deadline deal for the cancer that was 2B Joey Cora. He retired after the 2006 season at the age of 33.
August 31st, 1996 – Indians acquire IF Kevin Seitzer from Milwaukee for OF Jeromy Burnitz – This was the start of a disturbing trend for the Indians which eventually began the gutting of the system. In a post-waiver deadline deal, the Indians grabbed “the professional hitter” in Seitzer to be a right-handed bat backing up Jim Thome at third, while DH’ing and playing some first base as well.
Seitzer, then 34, could always hit, and he certainly didn’t disappoint in ’96. In 83 AB’s with the Tribe, he hit .386 with 16 RBI’s. Yes, the Indians only won one playoff game in the ALDS loss to Baltimore, but Seitzer hit .294 in the series.
The main issue with this trade was who they gave up to get him. Burnitz was a power hitting left-handed bat who was ready for everyday duty, but couldn’t crack a Tribe outfield with Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, and Manny Ramirez. Meanwhile, during the winter of ’96, Albert Belle walked to Chicago, leaving a void in left-field that still to this day has never been completely filled. Burnitz, who’s job it would have been in ’97, played every day in Milwaukee and started a run of seven seasons (97-03) where he averaged 30 home runs and 91 RBI’s.
July 31st, 1997 – Indians acquire LHP John Smiley and IF Jeff Branson from Cincinnati for IF Damian Jackson, RHP Danny Graves, RHP Scott Winchester and RHP Jim Crowell -Like the Seitzer trade, this is another one which in hindsight the Indians would have loved to take back.
Smiley, a left-handed veteran starter, was brought in to attempt to stabilize the middle of the rotation the way Ken Hill did a year before. The ’97 Indians rotation battled several injuries and had such stalwarts as Jason Jacome and Terry Clark actually making rotation turns. Branson, was a left-handed hitting utility man – a Jamey Carroll type.
The problem here was Smiley (who was 9-10, 5.23 ERA in Cincinnati), made just six starts, going 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA. Worst of all, when warming up for his seventh start in Kansas City (I remember, because I was actually there), Smiley snapped his arm in several places, and never pitched again.
To make matters worse, Graves became the Reds closer after a solid ’98 campaign as a set-up man (3.32 ERA in 81 games). The baby-faced right-hander saved 27 or more games in five of six seasons between ’99 and ’04. Jackson was also a speedy serviceable utility man in San Diego.
July 31st, 1997 – Indians acquire RHP Jeff Juden from Montreal for LHP Steve Kline -The man who took Smiley’s start that fateful day in Kansas City, was Juden. The 6’8 right-handed starter was having a career year in ’97 for the Expos. He was 11-5 with a 4.22 ERA in 22 starts. The Indians were desperate for some rotation depth. He made just five starts, posting zero wins and a 5.46 ERA. Juden is however the answer to a Tribe trivia question – he is the only pitcher to ever wear a single digit number for the Red, White, and Blue – #7.
Again, the Tribe gave up a player who could have helped them the next season. Kline, a left-handed reliever, went on to become one of the most dependable specialists in the game over the next eight seasons. In Montreal, he posted a 2.76 ERA in 78 games in 1998. From 99-01, he led the league in relief appearances for the Expos and Cardinals, including a 1.81 ERA in ’01. He was the kind of bulldog reliever the Indians would have loved to have had in their pen during his run of excellence.
August 30, 1997 – Indians acquire IF/OFBip Roberts from Kansas City for P Rolandde la Maza – 1997 brought Bip Roberts to play second and platoon in left field with Brian Giles. Bip was best remembered for begging out of game seven of the ALCS because of a minor injury and game seven of the World Series because of a bad cold. Really, what more needs to be said here? de la Maza never became anything.
July 23, 1998 – Indians acquire RHP Steve Reed and OF Jacob Cruz from San Francisco for RHP Jose Mesa, LHP Al Mormon, and IF Shawon Dunston – Here is perhaps the most intriguing of the deadline deals the Indians made during the 90’s. Mesa had reached the point of no return with Tribe fans who would not forgive him for blowing the ’97 World Series (and we still don’t and never will!). Dunston was supposed to be the every day second baseman, but the career shortstop could never get comfortable making the turn to his right and was a disaster signing. Mormon was a throw-in, but was a solid second lefty during the ’97 season and playoffs.
The Tribe looked to Reed for a different look in the pen to Paul Shuey and Eric Plunk. The Side-winder spent three forgettable seasons in Cleveland and certainly didn’t help in ’98. His 6.66 ERA in 20 games proves that. Cruz, the young outfielder they hoped would maybe take over left-field or become the center fielder of the future, never could hit enough to make a difference.
August 27, 1999 – Indians acquire DH Harold Baines from Baltimore for a Player to be Named Later – The 40 year old career DH and “professional hitter” like Seitzer, seemed to be a big time steal. The Player to be named later never turned into anything, and Baines was a left-handed DH who ended up in a platoon with Wil Cordero (version 1.0).
While he did drive in 22 runs in 28 games down the stretch, in truth, he was acquired strictly for the playoffs. He hit a whopping .357 with a homer and four RBI in the ALDS loss to Boston. The shame is this was Baines’s best shot at a ring. He was looking real good after the Indians jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series, only to have the season completely botched after Dave Burba’s forearm injury in game three caused Manager Mike Hargrove to panic, calling for game four starter Jaret Wright to pitch out of the pen.
Wright imploded, leaving Grover with Bartolo Colon and Charles Nagy to both start on three days rest. Colon last two innings in the 23-4 blowout loss in game four, Nagy just three plus in the 12-8 loss in game five.