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Today in Cubs history: The time the Cubs almost traded Mark Grace for Kevin Appier

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What would that have done for the Cubs as contenders in the 1990s?

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Mark Grace was a Cub for 13 seasons and had 2,201 hits in a Cubs uniform, which ranks fifth in franchise history. He’s a team icon and popular to this day.

Did you know GM Larry Himes nearly traded him to the Royals just four years into his Cubs tenure?

The Cubs had hoped to contend in 1991 after the the free-agent signings of George Bell, Danny Jackson and Dave Smith. Only Bell had a good year with the Cubs (and then was traded for Sammy Sosa), and the team, barely over .500 entering September, went 12-19 the rest of the year and finished 77-83.

Thus Himes wanted to shake things up for 1992. Mike Morgan was signed as a free agent and, as reported December 10, 1991 by Andrew Bagnato in the Tribune, Himes had a major deal in the works with the Royals:

The Cubs’ chance to improve their rotation collapsed when Kansas City landed free-agent first baseman Wally Joyner, wiping out the need to trade for the Cubs’ Mark Grace.

Cubs officials went to bed Sunday night thinking that the deal — which reportedly included Rey Sanchez, Jerome Walton and Todd Benzinger — would be finalized in the morning. But Kansas City General Manager Herk Robinson telephoned Cub GM Larry Himes in the morning to tell them the Royals had found another first baseman.

So per that article, the Cubs were to trade Grace, Walton and Sanchez to the Royals for Appier and Benzinger. Benzinger would have taken over first base from Grace and Appier would have joined the rotation.

Benzinger had put together decent years for the Red Sox and Reds from 1988-90, but by 1996 was out of baseball. (He was also a lousy defender at first base, while Grace won four Gold Gloves.) Walton was a bench player by 1992 and Sanchez stuck around as a defense-first infielder until 2005.

So this deal came down to Grace for Appier.

The Cubs had two really good starters in 1992 in Greg Maddux, who won his first Cy Young Award, and Morgan, who posted 5.4 bWAR, his best MLB season. They allowed 624 runs, middle of the pack in the NL, while scoring 593, a figure better than only two teams (Giants and Dodgers), and finished 78-84.

Would a third really good starter have been enough for the Cubs to contend in 1992? Probably not — but Appier was just 24 in 1992 and pitched well for another decade. Maybe they play well enough to contend in subsequent seasons and maybe well enough in ‘92 that Himes could have squeezed more money from Tribune Co. coffers to keep Maddux around.

In any case, this deal nearly happened, and it was reported in the Tribune 30 years ago today.