They called it the "Trade of the Decade."
On June 27, 2002, the Indians traded a 29-year-old Bartolo Colon and Minor Leaguer pitcher Tim Drew to the Expos for first baseman Lee Stevens and prospects Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore. Colon, 10-4 with a 2.55 ERA, was a certified ace and pegged to help the second-place Expos make a run at the postseason. The disappointing Indians, in third place, were looking to rebuild with the young trio of prospects.
Cleveland fans warned of riots, with star shortstop Omar Vizquel claiming they lost "the next Bob Feller." Expos fans and GM Omar Minaya, on the other hand, were dreaming of championships.
Colon pitched well for Montreal down the stretch -- tallying a 3.31 ERA and 74 K's over 117 innings. Unfortunately, the 'Spos' 83 wins weren't enough to contend in October. Colon, then 30, moved on to the White Sox and the Expos would leave Montreal two years later.
The Indians, as we all would later learn, struck gold with Lee and Sizemore. The 23-year-old hurler ended up winning 90 games for Cleveland including a Cy Young Award in 2008, while the 19-year-old Sizemore became one of the best outfielders in baseball from 2005-08. The team made it to the ALCS in 2007:
Phillips, then 21, spent four years in Cleveland's organization, but his career didn't really take off until he was traded to the Reds (for Jeff Stevens) -- making three All-Star teams and winning four Gold Gloves.
So, by the late 2000s, it seemed that the three prospects had been the prize of the 2002 trade and all three might end up having better careers than Colon. But let's zoom ahead to the year 2015, because, well, that's where we presently are:
Cliff Lee is on the 60-day DL and may not pitch in the Majors again. His career WAR stands at 43.3.
Grady Sizemore has suffered serious injuries over the last few years and is playing for the Rays in Triple-A. He holds a career WAR of 26.9.
Brandon Phillips is still a great option at second base and fantastic judge of swag, but his numbers have diminished over the last two years. His career WAR is currently at 27.1.
Colon, at 42, is second in the National League in both wins and K/BB. Thirteen years after the veteran was traded for a trio of young prospects, he's probably the one with the highest trade value. His name might be more recognizable to a casual baseball fan than any of the others. He has a Cy Young, he's learned to pitch without high-90's heat and he's delighted fans at the plate. All hail the Once and Future Bartolo:
His career WAR stands at 44.7 (26.8 since the trade).
Who knows what'll happen next? Will Sizemore somehow return to the player he once was? Will Lee make a miraculous recovery and get back on the mound? Will Colon pitch until he's 85? All we know is that this trade has had varying twists, turns and degrees of separation -- stay tuned for details on that next week ...