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Who got the better deal? Get a calculator

March 26, 1997 GMT

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) _ The old-fashioned debate about the art of the deal won’t cut it this time.

It’s no use comparing Kenny Lofton and Marquis Grissom, wondering who will make more highlight-reel catches. How many home runs will David Justice hit at Jacobs Field? Forget it.

Analyzing this trade requires a calculator and a working knowledge of sports in the ’90s.

In a shocking deal that reshaped two of the game’s strongest teams, the Atlanta Braves sent Justice and Grissom to the Cleveland Indians for Lofton and pitcher Alan Embree Tuesday.

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Stunning on baseball terms alone, it was a rare trade in which All-Stars went from one dominant team to another.

``This is a trade of enormous magnitude for two very, very good franchises,″ Indians general manager John Hart said. ``We’re talking about franchise-type players.″

But the superstar-for-superstar trade was predicated on the economics of modern sports.

The Indians faced losing Lofton to free agency at the end of the year. The Braves, projected to have the majors’ highest payroll at $62 million, shaved more than $5.8 million from that figure so they can try to re-sign pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both free agents after this season.

``It’s painful in the respect that I think baseball in the ’90s is extremely apparent in this trade,″ Hart said. ``For both teams, not just the Indians.″

As for recent baseball trades involving so many star players, few compare.

Toronto and San Diego pulled off a big deal after the 1990 season, with Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar going to the Blue Jays for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez.

In late 1992, the Oakland Athletics sent Jose Canseco to Texas for Ruben Sierra, Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell.

The breakup of Cleveland’s 1995 AL championship team that lost to Atlanta in the World Series continued as Hart tried to avoid losing Lofton to free agency, the way he lost Albert Belle this winter. Fourteen players from Cleveland’s ’95 postseason roster, including Belle, Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Eddie Murray, are no longer with the team.

``We had to make this trade based on the fact that Kenny Lofton is a free agent at the end of the ’97 season,″ Hart said. ``We went through it last year with Albert Belle, and Albert left us. We were not prepared to let that happen again.″

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Lofton, winner of four straight Gold Gloves and five consecutive AL stolen base titles, was stunned by the deal.

``It’s like somebody stabbing you in the back,″ Lofton said. ``I don’t know what to say, to be honest with you. I mean, you guys might make some quotes about what I said or whatever. Whatever I said might sound kind of funny, because I don’t know how to think right now. I don’t.″

The most intriguing baseball trade in years was driven by finances and the prospect of Lofton’s free agency. The Braves shaved their payroll $5,844,000 by making the deal, and also will save about $1,870,400 in luxury tax.

``As far as Maddux and Glavine are concerned, it will allow us more flexibility,″ manager Bobby Cox said.

The trade raises Cleveland’s payroll from an estimated $52 million to nearly $58 million.

Grissom will make $4.8 million a year through 1999, while Justice will be paid $6 million this season and $6.5 million in 1998. Lofton will make $4.75 million in ’97, the option year of his contract. Embree makes only $206,000.

As news spread through the stands at Cleveland’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, it seemed even the fans were catching on to the business of baseball. Many of them strolled up to the press box and asked reporters questions like, ``How much does Justice make?″ and ``How long is Grissom signed for?″

``With the way salaries are going these days, baseball is kind of like a Monopoly game,″ said Indians catcher Sandy Alomar, teary-eyed but realistic about the trade. ``It’s like a rotisserie league.″

Lofton and Grissom are regarded as the two best center fielders and leadoff hitters in baseball. Both are 29, and both are coming off outstanding seasons.

Lofton batted .317 last year, setting career highs with 210 hits, 14 homers, 67 RBIs and 75 stolen bases.

Grissom, a native of Atlanta, batted .308 with 23 homers, 74 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .349, compared to Lofton’s .372.

Justice, 30, had his best season in 1993 with 40 homers and 120 RBIs, and hit the series-clinching homer in Atlanta’s 1-0 victory in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series against the Indians.

But he missed most of the ’96 season after dislocating his right shoulder May 15. He had surgery and appeared to have no lingering effects this spring.

``I’m in shock,″ said Justice, a senior member of the Braves and one of Atlanta’s most popular players. ``If I was supposed to shed any tears, it was when I said goodbye to the guys.″

The Braves, who have been to the World Series four of the last six years, gain Lofton for at least one season while making room for talented young outfielders Andruw Jones and Jermaine Dye.

Atlanta also adds Embree, a 27-year-old left-hander, to its bullpen.

``We think with Lofton we get an established center fielder and leadoff batter, one of the best in baseball,″ Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said. ``We think our 1997 team will be as strong if not stronger.″

The Indians, who acquired third baseman Matt Williams from the San Francisco Giants in another major trade in November, hope Justice will help make up for Belle’s lost power production.

The players were expected to join their new teams today. Lofton is likely to return to Cleveland as a visiting player in the All-Star game at Jacobs Field in July.