Detroit acquires Chet Lemon from Chicago in exchange for Steve Kemp
On November 27, 1981, the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox exchanged two young All-Star outfielders. Steve Kemp had made the All-Star team in 1979 and had received MVP votes the year prior in 1981. He was just entering his age 27 season, and looked like a future star for the Tigers.
Lemon had also made two All-Star games and was a tad younger, but both looked like they were on a similar path to super-stardom. However, only one of them would pan out. Fortunately for the Tigers, it was Lemon.
After the trade, Lemon immediately inserted himself into the starting lineup in centerfield. He played for the Tigers all the way through 1990, hitting .263/.349/.437 with a 117 OPS+ and a 30.7 bWAR.
What Detroit Gave Up
Kemp’s career went the opposite direction. He had a productive 1982 season with the White Sox, hitting .286 with 19 home runs and seven steals. He became a free agent after that and signed with the New York Yankees, only hitting .264 in two partial seasons before getting traded again, this time to the Pirates. Two years in Pittsburgh and one final year in Texas and Kemp was out of baseball.
His 3.5 bWAR post trade was nearly 1/10 what Lemon earned with the Tigers, making this trade one of the best the franchise ever completed.