CLEVELAND — Kenny Lofton was a member of five of the Indians’ last six teams to make it to the postseason.
He’s back to try to make it six of seven.
In a move to bolster their offense while adding playoff experience in the clubhouse, the Indians acquired Lofton via a trade with the Texas Rangers on Friday for minor league catcher Max Ramirez.
Lofton, one of the key contributors to the Indians’ championship success in the mid- to late-’90s, is making his third stop in Cleveland after breaking into the majors and establishing himself as one of the game’s elite players during his first trip.
Both he and the Indians are hoping it pays off with a World Series title, which would be the first in the 40-year-old Lofton’s 19-year career and the first for Cleveland since 1948.
“We hope the third time will be a charm for Kenny,” said general manager Mark Shapiro. “We hope we’re able to get Kenny that ring, and that he helps us get one as well.”
Lofton, who hit .303 with seven home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 84 games with the Rangers, arrives in Cleveland with only C.C Sabathia as a familiar face from his last stint with the Indians in 2001 – the last time the team qualified for the playoffs.
“It’s the new Tribe from what I’m used to,” said Lofton, who said he spoke with old Cleveland teammate Sandy Alomar upon hearing the news Friday morning. “I think you have to put a little old with the new. I guess I’m that piece.”
Lofton, who hinted that he could end his career with the Indians, brings an extensive resume, much of which he acquired over nine seasons in Cleveland. He is a six-time All-Star (five with the Indians) and a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, entering this year with a lifetime .299 batting average. He has played in 18 playoff series and two World Series — once with the Indians in 1995.
Lofton, who began his first stint with the Indians after a trade with Houston in 1992, is still the franchise leader with 450 stolen bases, and ranks third with 951 runs. He is the majors’ leader among active players with 620 steals.
Lofton has slowed with age, but not much, still serving as an above-average outfielder at the plate and in the field. It’s what makes him attractive to teams at the trading deadline, such as the Indians — one of 11 clubs Lofton has logged time with, Cleveland being his ninth since 2002.
“I just go out and do what I do,” Lofton said. “I just go out every day and play hard and take care of myself. I think teams see I’m still competitive.”
“He looks like the same guy,” Sabathia said.
Lofton was under a one-year, $6 million contract in Texas, with Shapiro saying that the Indians would be responsible for around $2.5 million of the package.
Rumors that Lofton could be coming to Cleveland surfaced some two weeks ago, with the Indians putting him on the radar after outfielder David Dellucci went down with a serious hamstring injury.
“At some point, we felt that one thing we wanted to add was a left-handed bat,” Shapiro said. “The guy whose bat we felt fit our lineup best and complemented the rest of our players, was Kenny’s.”
The Indians pursued Lofton this offseason but he wanted to play center field, something the team obviously wasn’t willing to oblige with All-Star Grady Sizemore already filling the position.
With the Rangers out of contention and the Indians leading the AL wild card race, Lofton changed his tune.
“That’s what I do, play center field,” he said. “But if the situation warrants it, like it does now, the bottom line is that I want to win.”
Indians manager Eric Wedge said that initially Lofton would play left field against right-handed pitching, while batting second behind Sizemore. That’s where he was Friday night, with Wedge saying he did not consider hitting Lofton, a leadoff man for much of his career, first.
“We’ve got two months left,” said Wedge. “We don’t want to go making wholesale changes. The dynamic with Kenny and Grady at top, that’s something I really want to see play out.”
Left field will be new territory for Lofton, who said he could only remember playing the position in All-Star Games.
“If the ball’s hit, I’m going to try and go get it. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
During his playing days in Cleveland, Lofton could be cantankerous with the media and opposing players. Wedge thinks the more-mature Lofton will gel with an already tight Indians roster.
“I think he’s going to add to it,” Wedge said. “We’ve added a great deal of experience. That can only help us. I think it just brings additional leadership to our lineup.”
Shapiro said the Indians still have financial flexibility to add more players by the July 31 trading deadline, possibly a late-inning reliever or another bat.
“I’m looking to make this team better any way possible,” Shapiro said.
He took what he hopes is the first step on Friday.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.