Indians Would Do Well to Remember Lessons of Alomar Trade with Mejia

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one: The Indians and the Padres make a deal that involves a catcher that might be destined for great things but doesn’t have a shot at breaking into the starting lineup.

That happened last week, when the Indians dealt Francisco Mejia to San Diego for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. But it also happened after the 1989 season – the Indians, seeing that Joe Carter was on the verge of leaving for free agency, dealt him to San Diego.

The centerpiece of that deal was Sandy Alomar Jr., a young catcher with a baseball bloodline (his father and namesake had a 15-year major league career). Sandy Jr. was signed as an amateur by the Padres, but found his path behind the plate blocked by Benito Santiago, who was National League Rookie of the Year in 1987 and was known for being able to throw out baserunners from his knees.

So Sandy ended up in Cleveland, along with Carlos Baerga and Chris James. He played the bulk of his career as a catcher for the Indians and now has served as a coach for the team since 2009. The worst thing you can say about Sandy’s time in Cleveland – playing and coaching – is that it hasn’t resulted (yet?) in a World Series championship.

Mejia, like Alomar with the Padres, probably wasn’t going to get a chance to be an every day catcher with the Indians – at least not in the short term. Yan Gomes has returned to form, even getting an All-Star nod this year, and he’s capably backed up (on the field, if not quite in the batter’s box) by Roberto Perez.

But the Indians, even with Eric Haase still in the minors, would do well to learn from the Padres’ example. Santiago soured on San Diego, and ended up signing with the Florida Marlins in their expansion year of 1993. He spent another 12 years in the majors, but by his own admission, never reached the heights he did during his time in San Diego.

The Padres suddenly found the cupboard bare, and cycled through a series of catchers, winning the National League West in 1996 and 1998, and even advancing to the World Series in the latter year, but remained mired at the bottom of the division for the better part of the next decade after Santiago’s departure.

There’s always a risk of mortgaging your future for short-term gain in a trade like that, but for the Padres, it was REALLY short-term. Carter played just one year in San Diego, being traded with Sandy’s brother Roberto Alomar to Toronto for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, who also had short stays in San Diego. McGriff was part of the Braves team that beat the Indians in the 1995 World Series, and Fernandez spent a year in Cleveland – in 1997, when he was a large reason why the team advanced all the way to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series.

Photo: AP Photo/Ben Margot

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