Cleveland gets Lofton from Rangers in trade for minor-leaguer
CLEVELAND -- Of the 11 uniforms Kenny Lofton has worn during a 17-year odyssey around the majors, there's only one he never wanted to take off.
He's wearing it once more.
Lofton returned for his third stint with Cleveland -- and another playoff run -- on Friday as the Texas Rangers traded the 40-year-old outfielder to the Indians for minor-league catcher Max Ramirez.
"I missed being in Cleveland," a beaming Lofton said after arriving at Jacobs Field. "It's the city that got me going."
The Indians, who entered the weekend 1½ games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central and leading the wild card race, had been in the market for a left-handed hitter with speed for the past few weeks as the July 31 non-waiver deadline neared.
They knew exactly where to find one.
"We went down the list objectively," general manager Mark Shapiro said, "and the best one for our lineup was Kenny."
Lofton was a five-time All-Star in nine seasons (1992-96, 1998-2001) in Cleveland, the leadoff catalyst for the Indians, who dominated their division throughout the 1990s but haven't made the playoffs since he left as a free agent following the '01 season.
Sometimes moody off the field but never a problem on it, Lofton was always one of Cleveland's most popular players and has not spent more than one season anywhere else. Since getting a 20-game trial with the Houston Astros late in the 1991 season, Lofton has played for 10 other teams.
Although he's near the end of his career, the Indians believe Lofton can help them get back to the postseason. With David Dellucci on the disabled list and Trot Nixon slumping, Cleveland needed another outfielder. Lofton was having a solid season -- his 17th in the majors -- batting .303 with seven homers and 23 RBIs for the Rangers.
"It's amazing what he can still do," said Indians manager Eric Wedge, who had Lofton batting second and in left field for Friday's series opener against the Minnesota Twins. "He brings a lot to our lineup and a great deal of experience to our clubhouse."
With Grady Sizemore set in center, Wedge plans to play Lofton in left, a spot he can only remember playing in an All-Star Game when he and Ken Griffey Jr. took turns playing center and left.
Lofton doesn't expect to have much of a problem adjusting.
"When it gets hit, I'm going to try to go get it," he said.
Lofton, who had 21 steals with Texas, will immediately give Cleveland's lineup a needed boost of speed at the top. He's Cleveland's franchise leader in steals (450) and ranks third in club history in runs (951). In nine seasons with the Indians, Lofton batted .300 and won four straight Gold Gloves in center field.
Since signing with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in 2002, Lofton, a .299 career hitter, has played for seven teams as he tries to win an elusive World Series ring. He doesn't want to be remembered a player who never won a title.
"I don't want to put a notch down because I haven't won a championship," he said. "I want to win a championship."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said it will be interesting to see how Lofton blends in with Cleveland.
"It looks like a pretty good fit, but you have to see if it is," Gardenhire said. "He's been a quality player for a long time with a lot of postseason experience. Some players fit in right away, some don't."
Dealing Lofton could be the first of several moves by the Rangers, who are again in last place in the AL West. There had been plenty of interest from contending teams in Lofton and also Mark Teixeira, their 27-year-old switch-hitting slugger who has won two Gold Gloves at first base.
"We've had conversations with a lot of clubs," Daniels said Friday, without elaborating.
Any team that acquires Teixeira would get more than a rent-a-player for the rest of this season. While he will be eligible for salary arbitration after making $9 million this season, he can't become a free agent until after 2008.
The Indians acquired Ramirez last season from the Braves in exchange for closer Bob Wickman.
With Lofton gone, Marlon Byrd will become the regular center fielder. The Rangers recalled corner outfielder Nelson Cruz from Triple-A Oklahoma, where he hit .352 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 45 games.
"This gives us an opportunity to evaluate Marlon Byrd in center, a question we need to answer going forward," Daniels said. "We can also bring back Nelson, another question we have to answer."
Ramirez will be assigned to Class A Bakersfield.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press