In the summer of 2003, new manager Dusty Baker had his team in the hunt. Thanks to the power pitching of starters Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs were looking at their first playoff appearance since 1998. A one-sided trade would push them over the top.
On July 23, 2003, the Cubs acquired 3B Aramis Ramirez and CF Kenny Lofton from the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Matt Bruback, IF Jose Hernandez, and IF Bobby Hill. For what it’s worth, I have a clear memory of Cubs fans being upset that Jim Hendry would dare part with a prospect the caliber of Bobby Hill. We’ll discuss the true value of prospects another time.
In case your memory is slipping, the deal couldn’t have worked out better for the Cubs. At age 36, Lofton more than filled in for the injured Corey Patterson, to the tune of .327/.381/.471. Ramirez provided needed power at the hot corner, swatting 15 home runs in 232 at bats. Both players helped the Cubs clinch a playoff spot, which as we know, ended just short of the World Series.
For all the heat Jim Hendry takes, we have to give him credit for this absolute fleecing. Though Kenny Lofton moved on the next year, he was a key to the Cubs second-half success in 2003. Despite a shaky glove, Aramis Ramirez has been a solid power hitter for the last several seasons. His bat was a big part of playoff runs in 2007 and 2008.
As for the Pirates, Matt Bruback never threw a pitch in the majors. Jose Hernandez knocked around the league until 2006, never hitting more than 13 home runs. The great Bobby Hill (who Chip Caray once called “an All Star for years to come”) was out of baseball at age 27. His career numbers: .262/.343/.350.
Looking back at this lopsided deal, the one phrase that comes to mind is, “I guess you can have your cake and eat it too.” Come to think of it, that’s what the Texas Rangers said when they traded for Rafael Palmeiro in December of 1988.
We can’t blame Jim Hendry for that one.