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Tribe Missed Out on Saberhagen in 1993

Tribe Missed Out on Saberhagen in 1993

| On 30, Aug 2014

Indians owner Bill Veeck said, after a deal stalled to deal player-manager Lou Boudreau, that sometimes the best deal is the one you don’t make.

After the 1993 season, the Indians were wheeling and dealing. Although the nucleus of players that would make the Tribe an AL Central powerhouse were in place, General Manager John Hart was wheeling and dealing.

On Dec. 2, pitcher Dennis Martinez was signed. Five days later, the Indians signed Eddie Murray as a designated hitter, occasional first baseman, and clubhouse presence. Both had made their mark in Baltimore as members of the 1979 team that won the American League pennant and the 1983 World Champions. Martinez, who had battled substance abuse problems, also pitched for the Expos, highlighted by a perfect game at Dodger Stadium in 1991.

But Hart wasn’t done yet, and the Indians were in talks to get another starter: two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen.

Saberhagen went 20-6 for the Kansas City Royals in 1985, leading them to their first and to date only World Series title and winning the Cy Young Award. He won his second in 1989, going 23-6 – including a two-month stint where he went 14-1. Saberhagen had a star-crossed 1990 season (although he was the winning pitcher in that year’s All-Star Game) before being shut down because of injury.

He went 13-8 in 1991, and threw what remains the last no-hitter thrown by a Royals pitcher, against the White Sox on Aug. 26. After the season, Saberhagen – who was making almost $3 million annually for the Royals – was dealt to the Mets. Saberhagen went 10-12 in two seasons in Queens, but the Indians were looking for starting pitching. Names that came up in Hart’s quest included Doug Drabek, who had won a Cy Young Award in Pittsburgh and left for Cleveland, and David Wells, who was released after winning a World Series with Toronto in 1992 and picked up by the lowly Detroit Tigers.

The Mets were interested in one of the Indians’ pitching prospects, including Albie Lopez, Julian Tavarez or Chad Ogea. They also expressed interest in shortstop Felix Fermin, and were willing to pick up part of Saberhagen’s $15 million contract. New York media said the deal was still a viable one long after it was all but dead in Cleveland. “I’m not going to do something just to do it,” Hart told the Plain Dealer. “I’m going to do something that makes sense.”

Saberhagen went 14-4 for the Mets in 1994, but the season was cut short by the players strike. He won only seven games in 1995, losing in his only postseason appearance that year as the Braves beat the Rockies, and didn’t play in 1996.

The following year, Saberhagen signed on with the Red Sox, and in 1998, he went 15-8 to be named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. The following year, he went 10-6, and faced the Indians twice in the American League Division Series. He took the loss in Game 2, and got shelled in Game 5, leading fans to start thinking of another ALCS appearance. But Pedro Martinez came on to save the day for the Crimson Hose, who went on to lose in the ALCS to the Yankees.

Eventually, Hart did deal Fermin, but it was to Seattle for another slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop named Omar Vizquel, who went on to serve as a mainstay for the Indians through the 1990s. It’s really difficult to imagine the Indians being as successful as they were without him.

So the Saberhagen deal, if it happened, might have solved a problem for the Indians. But it could have created another.


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