It was twenty years ago on December 11, 2001 that Mark Shapiro, who had just recently became the new general manager of the Cleveland Indians (Guardians) decided to start what would become the start of the rebuild and the end of a dominant run by the organization that saw six division titles and two American League Pennants in a seven-year span.
Cleveland sent shockwaves around the baseball world when they traded All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets in an eight-player deal.
Cleveland would send Alomar along with pitcher Mike Bacsik and minor leaguer Danny Peoples to New York in exchange for outfielder Matt Lawton, prospects Alex Escobar and Billy Traber, pitcher Jerrod Riggan, and first baseman Earl Snyder.
Alomar signed as a free agent in Cleveland following the 1998 season and formed a legendary infield duo with Omar Vizquel who each won the Gold Glove at their respective positions during their three seasons together. During his three seasons in Cleveland, Alomar had a line of .323/.405/.515 with 63 home runs, 309 runs batted in, and 106 stolen bases. He was voted to the All-Star team in each season.
Shapiro and fairly new owner Larry Dolan saw that Cleveland wasn’t going to be as competitive as they had been and wanted to start rebuilding not only the major league roster but also the farm system that wasn’t as strong with guys like Richie Sexson, Jeremy Burnitz, and Brian Giles being used as trade assets to try and extend the competitive window during the seven-year run.
At the time, the Indians got quite the haul with the main centerpieces being Alex Escobar and Billy Traber who were prized prospects in the Mets system. They also got a solid player in Matt Lawton who had contributed for the Mets after they acquired him during the 2001 trade deadline.
However, the deal never worked out for either side.
Alomar’s production dropped off significantly once he arrived in New York. His OPS dropped over .200 points from .956 to .708 in 2002 including a .266 batting average, his lowest since his rookie season in 1988. Injuries derailed his final two major league seasons and Alomar retired prior to the 2005 season.
Matt Lawton turned out to be the best player for the Cleveland side of the trade despite having shoulder problems throughout his tenure. In his three seasons with the team, he hit .257/.352/.414 in 363 games with 50 home runs and 181 runs batted in. He also represented the Indians in the 2004 All-Star Game in what was his best season in Cleveland with 20 home runs, 70 runs batted in with a line of .277/.366/.421.
Escobar never lived up to the hype once he got to the major leagues appearing in just 74 games over two seasons for Cleveland and was waived during the 2004 season. After stops in Chicago and Washington, Escobar was out of the major leagues by 2008.
Traber, who was the Mets’ first-round pick in 2000 appeared in 33 games (18 starts) during the 2003 season posting a 6-9 record with a 5.24 ERA. Injuries derailed his career and by the end of the 2009 season he was out of baseball.
It’s safe to say no one truly won this deal but looking at the headlines and listening to the media clips, it’s funny how parallel they look just like the reaction to the Francisco Lindor trade that was made between the two organizations just about a year ago. Much like the Alomar trade, we’ll see as the years come how much the Lindor trade will pay off for the Guardians.