With his free agency pending following the season, the Cleveland Indians send star outfielder Kenny Lofton and reliever Alan Embree to the Atlanta Braves for outfielders David Justice and Marquis Grissom.
It was a move that benefited both teams. Atlanta received a Gold Glove and All-Star center fielder in Lofton, who was arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball, while adding strength to their bullpen in Embree. It also created playing time for a pair of young, promising outfielders in Jermaine Dye and Andruw Jones.
“Quite candidly, I think we made a good baseball trade that was motivated by baseball economics on both sides,” John Schuerholz, Atlanta’s general manager, shared in the next day’s edition of the New York Times.
“We went through it last year with Albert Belle, and Albert left us,” John Hart, the Indians’ general manager, said at a news conference in nearby Winter Haven about the decision to deal Lofton in the final year of his contract. “We are not prepared as an organization to let that happen again.”
In Grissom and Justice, the Indians added two players with multiple years remaining on their contracts and two-thirds of Atlanta’s starting outfield from 1995 and 1996. Grissom had won Gold Gloves for his play in center in each of the last four seasons and was twice an All-Star while with the Montreal Expos. He had slowed some in recent years but had stolen 76 and 78 bases in 1991 and 1992 and had hit a career-best .308 in 1996. Justice was a power threat but coming off of an injury-shortened 1996 season, when he played just 40 games. He was a two-time National League All-Star and the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year.
“I never planned on testing the market,” Lofton was quoted in the same New York Times piece. “That didn’t come out of Kenny Lofton‘s mouth. The Indians decided that.”
Lofton would not remain gone long, as he would re-sign with the Indians as a free agent following his 1997 NL All-Star season. The Indians would get to the final game of the World Series without him in that ’97 season, as Grissom’s play would earn him an ALCS MVP award in the process.