Sports Outside the Beltway

Tribe Acquire OF Kenny Lofton

CLEVELAND — Kenny 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.

Lofton was expected to arrive in Cleveland and be in the lineup for their series opener against the Minnesota Twins.

The Indians entered the weekend 1½ games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central and leading the wild card. They’ve been in the market for a left-handed hitter with speed and had been scouting Lofton the past few weeks with the July 31 non-waiver deadline nearing.

Lofton was a five-time All-Star in nine seasons 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 2001 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.

But although he’s near the end of his career, the Indians believe he can help them get back to the postseason. With David Dellucci on the disabled list and Trot Nixon slumping, Cleveland needed another outfielder and Lofton was having a solid season — his 17th in the majors — batting .303 with seven homers and 23 RBIs for the Rangers.

Lofton also has 21 steals and will immediately give Cleveland’s lineup a needed boost of speed at the top. The Indians have stolen only 54 bases.

Manager Eric Wedge will likely play Lofton in either right or left, flanking All-Star center fielder Grady Sizemore.

Lofton is 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.

In his final game for the Rangers on Wednesday, Lofton homered and drove in three runs in a 7-6 win over Seattle.

With Texas again in last place in the AL West, there had been plenty of interest from contending teams in Lofton and Mark Teixeira, their 27-year-old switch-hitting slugger who has won two Gold Gloves at first base.

Atlanta, the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly the most interested teams.

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 likely become the regular center fielder for the Rangers.

Byrd didn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training but going into Friday night’s game at Kansas City had hit .350 since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma on May 26. He had a career-high six triples and 34 RBIs in 54 games and his 50 starts had been split among all three outfield positions, six in center.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

Great move by Cleveland! This is a huge boost to their offense and Lofton brings energy to this team. Lofton is said to be playing in either left or right field but doesn’t have the arm for right. He should get most of the playing time in left.

I also think this move will allow the Tribe to possibly send a veteran bat like Trot Nixon to a contender for a reliever. The Tribe need another reliever to sure up the back end of the bullpen.

The Rangers got a good young catcher in Max Ramirez. Ramirez, 22, can be groomed to be the catcher of the future for the Rangers. Ramirez is tearing up high-A ball to the tune of .303/.418/.505 in 77 games with 20 doubles, 12 homers, 62 RBI, 46 runs, a 53/63 BB/K ratio, and one stolen base.

This may be the beginning of a fire sale. Look for others like closer Eric Gagne, 1B/OF Brad Wilkerson, and even 1B Mark Teixeira to be on the trading block. I think Gagne will be gone for sure and Teixeira could be had for the right group of prospects.

*******Other Trade Rumors 7/27/07*******

- Mark Teixeira is almost certain to be traded away from the Rangers, with the Braves considered the most likely destination, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. A likely deal would bring C/1B Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Texas, along with a couple of prospects, perhaps a pitcher and an infielder.

The Angels were the most recent to tweak their offer. The Angels had originally offered 1B Casey Kotchman and a choice of outfield prospects Nathan Haynes or Terry Evans. It is believed they have now added a pitcher to the mix, but the level of pitcher could vary widely from a young prospect with a high ceiling (20-year-old right-hander Nick Adenhart) to an experienced but struggling major leaguer (recently demoted Ervin Santana) to a prospect on the verge of pitching in the majors (lefty Joe Saunders).

The Dodgers, thought to be one of the teams interested in Teixeira, say they intend to go forward with James Loney as their first baseman.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are believed to still be in the hunt for Teixeira, the Boston Globe reports. Teixeira was drafted by the Sox in the ninth round in 1998, but chose to attend Georgia Tech. He then was drafted by the Rangers in 2001 with the fifth overall pick. Currently making $9 million per year and arbitration-eligible next season, he can become a free agent after 2008.

Don’t expect Teixeira to end up in the Bronx. Without giving up Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees have little chance of acquiring Teixeira from the Rangers, The New York Times reports.

Texas wants promising young talent in return for Teixeira, the Dallas Morning News reports.

-Don’t expect the Twins to trade Torii Hunter before the deadline. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, there have been indications that the club is prepared to offer him a contract extension after the season.

Larry Reynolds, Hunter’s agent, said Thursday that he hasn’t spoken with GM Terry Ryan lately and is not worried about a possible deadline trade. Hunter, a potential free agent, has a limited no-trade clause that blocks deals to six teams.

“Anything can happen,” Reynolds told the newspaper. “Am I expecting [a trade]? No. Will I be surprised if it happens? Not really.”

Hunter probably could get five to six years and $80 million to $90 million on the open market.

- There are rumblings that the Padres might be interested in Mark Loretta, the San Diego Union Tribune reports. “I haven’t heard anything other than the rumors,” Loretta told the newspaper.

Loretta played three seasons (2003-05) in San Diego, and many believe Loretta would be a perfect fit for the Padres, who have been looking for a right-handed bat to give Adrian Gonzalez an occasional rest at first and help at second.

The Mets, Phillies and Tigers are believed to be interested in Loretta as well.

- Add the Cubs to the list of teams interested in Ty Wigginton, the St. Petersburg Times reports. The Dodgers, Twins, Yankees and Red Sox also have their eye on the utility infielder.

The Devil Rays are looking to improve their beleaguered bullpen, possibly with the addition of several relievers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Talks with the Yankees have included right-hander Scott Proctor, though the deal might have to be expanded. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Twins all have several young pitchers who would be of interest to the Rays.

Wigginton, 29, is open to signing a long-term deal. His salary is expected to exceed $4 million next season through arbitration.

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