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Indians Indians Archive The 16 Greatest Trades In Cleveland Indians History
Written by Rich Swerbinsky

Rich Swerbinsky
Established in 1901, the Cleveland Indians have made hundreds and hundreds of trades during their 107 years of existence. Which one was the greatest ever? I've put together the following list, with my thoughts on the 16 best trades in team history, ranked in order of how great I percieved the trades to be. The Tris Speaker deal? Jefferson and Fermin for Omar? Colon for Sizemore, Lee, and Phillips? Which is your favorite? Visit our Indians message forum to chime in with your thoughts. 1. 1916 - Sad Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and $55,000 cash to the Red Sox for Tris Speaker

After nine fantastic seasons in Boston, Tris Speaker had a falling out with Red Sox president Joe Lannin, who wanted him to take a pay cut from $15,000 a year to $9,000 a year since his average had fallen to a mere .322. On April 12, 1916 Lannin dealt Speaker to the Cleveland Indians for Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and $55,000.

During his 11 seasons in Cleveland (1916-1926), Speaker finished with a batting average over .350 ten times, and in 1916, finally ended Ty Cobb's amazing run of nine consecutive AL batting titles by batting .386 to Cobb's .371. Speaker is baseball's all-time leader in doubles (792, led league eight times) and outfield assists and retired with 3,515 hits and a .344 career batting average. In 1937, Tris became the seventh player elected into baseball's Hall of Fame, and he is generally regarded as one of the two or three greatest players in Cleveland Indians history.

2. 1993 - Reggie Jefferson and Felix Fermin to the Mariners for Omar Vizquel

In the winter of 1993, Indians general manager John Hart rolled the dice and dealt his starting first baseman and starting shortstop to Seattle for a slick fielding, singles hitting, Venezuelan shortstop named Omar Vizquel. The trade will go down as one of the greatest in the history of Indians baseball, and perhaps the greatest deal the team has made in the last 90 years.

Jefferson would play just one season in Seattle. Fermin would be out of baseball two years later. Omar would go on to win eight consecutive gold gloves as the defensive leader for the great Indians teams of the nineties, and also developed into a fine two hole hitter that went to three All-Star games and scored 84 runs or more for each of those eight gold glove seasons.

3. 1991 - Eddie Taubensee and Willie Blair to the Astros for Kenny Lofton

Best known as the sixth man on the 1998 Arizona Wildcats basketball team that reached the Final Four, Lofton didn't even play baseball until his senior season at Arizona, and was a late round pick of the Houston Astros. John Hart liked something he saw in the speedy Lofton, and dealt catcher Eddie Taubensee and relief pitcher Willie Blair for him in the winter before the 1992 season.

Lofton would go on to become the Indians all time stolen bases leader in three stints with the team, hit a career high .349 in 1994, and earned four Gold Gloves and five All-Star game appearances as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the Indians.

4. 1948 - Joe Haynes, Eddie Klieman, and Eddie Robinson to the Senators for Early Wynn and Mickey Vernon

In 1948, after he went 8-19 with the Senators, the Indians acquired Early Wynn along with Mickey Vernon in exchange for Ed Klieman, Joe Haynes, and Eddie Robinson. Wynn would go on to become a key cog of an Indians rotation that also included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Mike Garcia. A rotation widely considered one of the greatest in baseball history.

Wynn enjoyed eight straight winning seasons for the Indians, including four 20-win seasons, and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1972. Klieman and Haynes accomplished little, and Robinson would be traded again after a season and a half.

5. 1910 - Bris Lord to the Athletics for Morrie Rath and Shoeless Joe Jackson

After playing just a couple of seasons in Philadelphia, legendary Athletics manager Connie Mack dealt the talented (and now infamous) "Shoeless" Joe Jackson to the Indians in the middle of the 1910 season. The move was unpopular with fans, but Jackson and Mack did not get along and Jackson's awkward southern habits made him an outcast with his Philadelphia teammates.

Shoeless Joe hit .375 in five and a half seasons for Cleveland, topped by a .408 mark in 1911. Jackson led the AL in hits (226) and triples (26) in 1912 and hits (197), doubles (36) and slugging (.551) in 1913. He would be dealt to the White Sox in 1916, where he would spend the final five years of his career before being banned from the sport of baseball for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis after being one of eight players accused of fixing the 1919 World Series.

6. 1989 - Joe Carter to the Padres for Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Chris James

The trade that began the turnaround of the Indians franchise in the nineties was a risky one. Set to become a free agent after the 1990 season, Joe Carter was the best player on a bad Indians baseball team. Convinced the team had little to no chance to resign him, GM Hank Peters dealt Carter to the San Diego Padres for catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., infielder Carlos Baerga, and outfielder Chris James.

Sandy was injured often, but when healthy was the heart and soul of the '90s Indians. His magical 1997 season, 30-game hitting streak, All-Star MVP, and ALDS-turning homer off Mariano Rivera will never be forgotten. Before partying his way out of Cleveland, Baerga set batting records not seen for a switch-hitting second basemen since the days of Rogers Hornsby.

7. 2002 - Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to the Expos for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Lee Stevens, and Brandon Phillips

Faced with an aging roster and a depleted minor league system, Indians GM Mark Shapiro made a bold move in 2002 and traded the Indians best pitcher to the Montreal Expos for three prospects and veteran Lee Stevens. Despite the fact that the Indians got three very strong prospects from the Expos and their GM Omar Minaya, the deal was very unpopular here in Cleveland and officially signaled the beginning of a rebuild after a decade of contention since the opening of Jacobs Field in 1994.

Sizemore has gone on to become one of the game's biggest stars. Lee has been up and down and in and out of the Indians rotation. Had the Indians not dealt away the emerging Brandon Phillips to the Reds before the start of the 2006 season, this trade may go down as the greatest in team history.

8. 1976 - Jackie Brown to the Expos for Andre Thornton

Acquired from the Expos in 1977, the Indians gave "Thunder" Thornton his first full-time job and he blossomed, launching 28 homers that season. Tragically, that October, the van he was driving skidded off a road and into a ditch, killing his wife and young daughter. Devastated, Thornton relied on his strong Christian faith to help him through the aftermath. Amazingly, he set a career-high in 1978 with 33 homers, while driving in 105 runs. In 1979, the quiet Thornton was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award for his character on and off the field, as well as his commitment to helping those in need.

Andre hit 20 or more homers six times for the Tribe, earning two All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger Award. Despite his powerful swing, Thornton was selective at the plate, walking more than he struck out during his 14-year career. He was the most popular player on the Indians during lean years for this franchise, and retired among the all-time Cleveland leaders in homers and RBI.

9. 2002 - Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese to the Rangers for Travis Hafner and Aaron Myette

With Rafael Palmeiro at first base, Juan Gonzalez at DH, and promising prospects Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira on the come ... Texas had a log jam at the corner infield spots in the winter of 2002. A log jam that caused old friend John Hart to contribute to this list once again, this time as General Manager of the Rangers. Hart sent the stone gloved yet powerful Hafner to the Tribe along with relief pitcher Aaron Myette for catcher Einar Diaz and starting pitcher Ryan Drese.

Hafner has gone on to slam 148 HR's in five seasons as an Indian as was rewarded with a lucrative multi-year deal last season. Diaz fizzled as the Rangers backstop in 2003 and was out of baseball a couple of years later. Drese was waived by the Rangers in 2005 after 53 less than stellar starts, and is now out of the game as well.

10. 1983 - Len Barker to the Braves for Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby, Rick Behenna, and $150,000 cash

In a tight race with the Dodgers for the 1983 NL West pennant, the Braves approached the Indians about the availability of Len Barker, the Indians top starting pitcher, and a guy who won the AL strikeout title in 1980 and hurled a perfect game in 1981. The package of prospects was too much for the Indians to pass on, and the deal ended up being one of the best in team history.

Both Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby went on to start nice careers in Cleveland. Butler was with the team for four years, batting a career high .311 with the Tribe in 1985, and averaging 99 runs scored and 41 steals per season in his time with the team. Jacoby played the hot corner for nine years for the Indians, earning All-Star berths in 1986 and 1990, and evolved into a fan favorite.

Barker on the other hand struggled mightily in Atlanta. He won just 10 of his 44 starts for the Braves and was released by the team in 1985 with three years still remaining on his contract.

11. 1973 - Sam McDowell to the Giants for Gaylord Perry and Frank Duffy

From 1964 through 1971 McDowell may have been the best pitcher in the American League. But as Sudden Sam began to struggle mightily with control and drinking issues, the Indians cut bait at the right time on the 6'5 left hander and sent McDowell to San Francisco for Gaylord Perry and shortstop Frank Duffy.

For the Indians, their return on Gaylord Perry was a steal. He won the American League Cy Young award in his first season with the Tribe in '72, and over a three year period he won 64 games while working over a thousand innings. Gaylord would eventually move on ... all the way to Cooperstown. Trade throw in Frank Duffy would be the Indians' starting shortstop for a few years too.

McDowell struggled with the Giants, went on to the Yankees and struggled there too, and was out of baseball by 1975.

12. 1978 - Jim Kern and Larvell Blanks to the Rangers for Bobby Bonds and Len Barker

After a disastrous year in 1977, the Indians felt they needed to shake things up as they headed into the following season. So the team traded Jim Kern (one of their top relievers) and Larvell Blanks (utility infielder) to Texas for young starting pitcher Len Barker and veteran slugger Bobby Bonds.

While Barker had four and a half mostly productive seasons for the Tribe, the true value in this deal would be the return that they would get on both players in separate "sell high" trades later down the road. Bonds played one season in Cleveland (25 HR, 85 RBI) and was sent to Philly (where he played one more year before retiring) for John Denny. Barker was sent to Atlanta in a deal we already mentioned above.

Kern had one more productive season before flaming out. Blanks' MLB career ended about a year after the deal.

13. 1997 - Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree to the Braves for Marquis Grissom and David Justice

With Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine approaching the ends of their contracts with the Braves, General Manager John Schuerholz was looking for a way to free up money to resign his ace starters ... all while trying to stay competitive with a talented ball club. In the Indians, he found a perfect trade partner, and the two teams pulled off a blockbuster deal just a couple weeks into the 1997 season. The trade would go on to become one of the worst in an otherwise stellar career for Schuerholz as Braves GM.

The Braves achieved their goal of freeing up some money by letting go of Justice and Grissom and got a player in Lofton who was in the last year of his deal. The move cut the team's payroll by almost $6 million in 1997. Grissom had three years remaining on a four-year $19.2 million deal and the Braves owed Justice $6 million in the fourth year of a five-year, $27.5 million deal. The team resigned both Maddux and Glavine that summer.

Grissom and Justice went on to become key cogs to the '97 Indians team that came within a whisker of winning the team's first World Series since 1948. Grissom was traded to Milwaukee (along with Jeff Juden in exchange for Ben McDonald, Mike Fetters, and Ron Villone) a couple months after the World Series loss. Justice had three and a half fine seasons in Cleveland before being dealt to the Yankees for Jake Westbrook and others. Lofton struggled in Atlanta, and then resigned with the Indians that off-season.

14. 1979 - Paul Dade to the Padres for Mike Hargrove

While Mike Hargrove is a familiar name to all Indians fans, many forget the hot start his career got off to, and also the manner in which the team acquired him back in 1979. "Grover" was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1974 after hitting a career high .323 with the Rangers and was also a member of the AL All-Star team in 1975. Unhappy in San Diego after signing with them in 1979 the Padres dealt him 52 games into the season to Cleveland for Paul Dade, a utility player that had a couple decent seasons for the Tribe in '77 and '78.

Grover went on to hit over .300 as the first baseman for the Indians in each of his first three years with the team, and played a total of six and a half seasons in Cleveland. He then went on to embark on a managerial career with the team, working his way through the Indians minor league system, being named manager of the big league club on July 6, 1991, a post he would hold for eight seasons. Dade's major league career ended not even halfway through the 1980 season.

15. 1992 - Kyle Washington to the Orioles for Jose Mesa

Desperate for pitching help as the team began to improve and readied itself for the Jacobs Field era, the Indians traded minor league utility infielder Kyle Washington to the Baltimore Orioles for a talented and erratic 26-year old starter by the name of Jose Mesa. Mesa would make 48 starts for the Indians during the '92 and '93 seasons before the team moved him to the bullpen before the start of the '94 campaign.

The rest is history. Mesa took over the closer role during the 1995 season and had one of the most prolific stretches of any Indians relief pitcher in history, saving 101 games over the course of the next three seasons. However, his inability to hold a one run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series was a black mark on his career, and the Tribe traded him mid-way through the following season. Washington would never ascend past AA ball.

16. 1978 - Cardell Camper to the Phillies for Joe Charboneau

It was an afterthought of a deal to most Indians fans, an exchange of minor leaguers between the Indians and the Phillies in the winter following the 1978 season. Pitcher Cardell Camper would never make it to the big leagues in Philly. "Super" Joe Charboneau would go on to have an exciting, albeit short career in Cleveland.

Super Joe broke in with the Tribe in 1980, hit .289, slammed 23 HR's, and was named American League Rookie of the Year ... exciting the fan base as much as any one player had in many years. The season started out with Charboneau getting stabbed with a pen by a rogue fan, and also included several different hair colors for Joe as well as tales of him opening beer bottles with his eye, drinking the beer through his nose using a straw, and doing his own dental work with a pair of pliers and a bottle of Jack Daniels. For at least one season, Joe was a rock star in Cleveland.

The following season could not be more opposite from the first. Charboneau injured his back in a headfirst slide in spring training the following year, and was sent to the minors halfway through the 1981 season after hitting only .210, becoming the first Rookie of the Year to find himself back in the minors the following season. Joe only appeared in 22 games in 1982, underwent back surgery twice but never fully recovered, and the Indians released him in 1983.

Also considered ...

1954 - Bob Chakales to the Baltimore Orioles for Vic Wertz

1976 - John Lowenstein and Rick Cerone to the Toronto Blue Jays for Rico Carty

1980 - Gary Alexander, Victor Cruz, Rafael Vasquez and Bob Owchinko to Pittsburgh for Bert Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen

1981 - Jorge Orta, Larry White, and Jack Fimple to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Rick Sutcliffe and Jack Perconte

1983 - Von Hayes to the Phillies for Manny Trillo, George Vukovich, Jerry Willard, Julio Franco, Jay Baller

1983 - Jerry Dybzinki to the Chicago White Sox for Pat Tabler

2000 - David Justice to the Yankees for Jake Westbrook, Rickey Ledee, and Zach Day

2004 - Milton Bradley to the Dodgers for Franklin Gutierrez and Andrew Brown

2007 - Eduardo Perez to the Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera

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