Houston Astros Worst Trades #3 – The Kenny Lofton Trade

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Jun 19, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians former members Charlie Nagy, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Mike Hargrove, Julian Tavarez and Chad Ogea during a pre-game celebration for the 1995 Indians team before the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 19, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians former members Charlie Nagy, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Mike Hargrove, Julian Tavarez and Chad Ogea during a pre-game celebration for the 1995 Indians team before the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /
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The worst trades in the history of the Houston Astros franchise

The recent DFA of Carlos Gomez has caused many Houston Astros fans, and for that matter, baseball fans to consider the 2015 pennant drive trade for Gomez to be an abject failure. For long-time Houston fans, this has brought to mind some of the not-so-great deals of years past.

This is the third in a series of articles taking a look at those trades which did not work out well for the Astros. In the first article, we looked at the “Joe Morgan Trade”. Here we will consider the “Kenny Lofton Trade.”

The Trade

December 10, 1991 – Astros trade OF Kenny Lofton to the Cleveland Indians for C Eddie Taubensee and P Willie Blair

This trade was made for all the right reasons. The Astros were preparing to move all-star C Craig Biggio to 2B for the 1992 season. By any measuring stick, the Astros did the right thing there as he went on to develop what would become a career that culminated with him enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

The Astros’ Side

The Stros needed a catcher. To get something good, you have to give up something good. Ok, this is where the trade went awry. At the time, the organization didn’t have a stable of catchers ready to step into the role. The top of the class included Tony Eusebio, who would later serve the team in a reserve role for some years but never had the skills to be an everyday catcher.

Scott Servais was considered the up-and-coming catching prospect, but he was deemed not quite ready. The only other catcher at the top levels of the minors was Carl Nichols (I’ll pause while we say a collective “who???”).

Related Story: Houston Astros’ Worst Trades #2 – The John Mayberry Trade

Taubensee had a solid year at AAA for the Cleveland Indians. He hit over .300 and hitting 13 HR, and spent some time with the big league club in 1991. Houston GM Bill Wood evidently was convinced that Taubensee was ready for the big time and would be the answer at catcher.

Taubensee spent three years with the Astros, two as the primary catcher. In 203 games, he hit 14 HR and had 70 RBI, batting .234. He threw out 30% of runners trying to steal, so he was decent behind the plate.

Willie Blair was, in retrospect, likely the throw-in to even out the deal. He appeared in 29 games in his only season with the Astros, starting eight games for a team that was in the midst of a total rebuild. He finished with a 5-7 record. Blair had a 10-year career in the majors, mostly as a middle reliever. 

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The Indians’ Side

To be fair, we have to speculate on GM Bill Wood’s thinking process. Lofton had been a basketball player at Arizona State and was a very promising CF prospect in the Astros’ organization. He had a trial run in the majors in 1991, hitting .203 in 74 at-bats. He was always considered outstanding defensively. But the question was whether he would ever be able to be a significant offensive contributor, outside of his outstanding speed.

As I said earlier, you have to give up something to get something. Steve Finley had just completed a solid rookie season in CF for the Astros, hitting .285 with 34 SB, which would be a hindrance for Lofton with the big league club. The organization had a few other OF prospects, so Wood likely felt he was dealing from a position of strength.

The Results

Making a trade is always risky because you never know how the players are going to play for another organization, especially young players. As it turns out, Taubensee lost playing time in year two with the Astros and was only with the club for three seasons.

Lofton turned into a perennial all-star and .300 hitter over the next 16 seasons, helping Cleveland to the World Series in 1995. With the Astros on the rise in 1992, an outfield with Lofton and Finley, alongside young Luis Gonzalez, could have been an anchor for several years, but we’ll never know.

What other trades, in your mind, are some of the worst in Houston Astros’ history?

***Statistics by Baseball Reference***

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