Looking Back: Bartolo Colón traded to Montreal
The 2002 season was one of not a lot of success and it eventually culminated in a 74-88 record, 3rd in the AL Central, and of course missing the playoffs. However, the 2002 season would be significant for Cleveland in a way they wouldn’t realize until 2005.
Let’s get the details of “The Trade of the Decade.”
On June 27, 2002, the Cleveland and the Montreal Expos struck a deal, which led to the Expos acquiring pitchers Bartolo Colón and Tim Drew. In exchange, Cleveland received pitcher Cliff Lee, infielder Brandon Phillips and outfielder Grady Sizemore. At first, fans and even certain players were upset to see Colón go, with star short Omar Vizquel stating that Cleveland had lost the next Bob Feller. Quite the monumental compliment from Visquel to compare Colón to Feller, who of course was elected into the Hall of Fame first ballot, had his number retired by the organization and won the World Series with the team in 1948.
Bartolo was having an extremely impressive season by the time Montreal had traded for him. Colón, who was 29, was considered an ace for Cleveland but fell victim to a selling team at the deadline. He was 10-4 on the season with a 2.55 ERA, with 75 K’s in 116 innings. He would continue his play with the Expos, but couldn’t quite get to the level he was pitching with Cleveland. The remaining part of the 2002 season saw Colon go 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA with 74 K’s in 117 innings. Following the 2002 season, he was shipped off to the White Sox for Orlando Hernández, Rocky Biddle, (Cleveland alumni!) Jeff Liefer and cash.
As for Tim Drew, who was also traded by Cleveland in the Colón deal, he played his final game in MLS in 2004 after a 2-4 career record with a 7.02 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 84.2 innings. Drew would only play a year and a half in Montreal, before finishing off his MLB career in Atlanta. He would play for the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic League in 2008, before retiring from professional baseball, going 3-3 with a 7.46 ERA in 13 games played.
After the 2004 season, the Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals, where they remain today.
For Cleveland, this trade aged like a fine wine. Cliff Lee, who was the pitching prospect in the deal, would make his major league debut in September of 2002, keeping a shutout until the 6th inning. By 2004, Lee was in Cleveland’s starting rotation, with his first win coming in a 6-3 win over their division rivals, the Minnesota Twins. In 2005, Lee went 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA and K’d batters 143 times in 202 innings. Lee led all of baseball in wins as well. Cleveland would eventually see Lee at his full potential for the 2008 season, with Lee being selected for the MLB All-Star Game. By July, Lee held a 12-2 record with a 2.31 ERA and started the game for the American League, striking out three batters in two innings. But Lee’s whole 2008 campaign was nothing short of incredible, finishing with a 22-3 record and a 2.54 ERA in 31 starts, striking out 170 batters in 223 innings. He also played four complete games and two shutout games. Due to these performances, Lee was not only awarded the Comeback Player of the Year, following injuries and stints with Triple-A Buffalo, but also the AL Cy Young Award.
The next year, 2009, would see the end of Lee’s time in Cleveland, with the 31-year-old being traded to the Phillies on July 29. Cleveland would acquire catcher Lou Marson, infielder Jason Donald and pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco. That trade would also become influential in Cleveland history, but that is a story for another day!
For Grady Sizemore, he would not make his MLB debut until July of 2004, before becoming one of baseball’s best CF prospects in 2005. He finished the season batting .289 with 22 home runs, 81 RBIs and 22 SB. In 2006, Sizemore was selected to the MLB All-Star game as a reserve outfielder. In April of 2007, Sizemore hit a three-run inside-the-park home run and was featured on the front page of Sports Illustrated, with the general manager Mark Shapiro stating “[Sizemore is] without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation.” That season, Sizemore hit .277/.390/.462 with 24 home runs and 78 RBIs and finished 12th in MVP voting and winning his first golden glove. After the 2007 season, Sizemore would struggle with injuries and would eventually leave Cleveland after the 2012 season and remained a free agent until he was ready to play again following a series of back and knee surgeries, before signing with the Red Sox in 2014. His final game in the MLB was with the Rays in October 2015. It is a mystery what could have been if Sizemore had not struggled with injuries.
The final piece of the trade was Brandon Phillips, who would switch back and forth between the major league and minor leagues for Cleveland before being traded to the Reds for Jeff Stevens in 2006. After the trade, Phillips would develop into one of the best second basemen in baseball, winning four golden gloves, a silver slugger, and was selected to three NL All-Star Games. In 2016, he was traded to the Braves for two minor-league pitchers. He would play for the Angels and Red Sox before retiring from the major leagues in 2018.
Overall, despite Bartolo’s excellent play in 2002, it must be admitted that Cleveland definitely won the “Trade of the Decade.” But, in a perfect world where Sizemore doesn’t struggle with injuries and Phillips isn’t traded, where could Cleveland have been? What could have been for Eric Wedge’s team? Could 2007 have led to more for Cleveland after a 96-66 record in real life?
We will never know.