Since the year 2000, the St. Louis Cardinals have won the NL Central nine times. They have appeared in the playoffs 12 times. They have played in National League Championship Series nine times, advancing to the World Series four times and ultimately hoisted the World Series trophy in 2006 and 2011. I haven’t enjoyed any of it. That’s not true. I did enjoy Game Six of the 2011 World Series. My favorite team was not involved in the game, I had no money on the game and I still found myself pacing around the apartment as it unfolded. It was a rough one on the ol’ ticker.
What interests me about the Cardinals? Since 2000, their team payroll usually floats around 10-12 overall in Major League Baseball. How have the Cardinals maintained this success with an only slightly-higher-than-median payroll? Whether it be the draft, free agency or trades, the Cardinals must be making some savvy decisions. I wanted to go through impact players for the Cardinals since 2000 and see if I could identify any trends related to how they were acquired. I looked at players with at least one season of around a 4WAR (according to baseball-reference.com) while playing for the Cardinals.
Let’s first take a look at some of the Cardinals’ key players acquired via free agency. To me, this list includes the following: Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Ryan Ludwick, Johnny Peralta, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Carlos Martinez.
Beltran received a two-year $26MM deal from the Cards for 2012-2013. It was his age 35 and age 36 season. The deal ended up looking good for the Cardinals as Beltran amassed a 6.2WAR during those seasons which saw the Cardinals lose in the NLCS and then lose in the World Series. Beltran walked as a free agent after 2013 and subsequently signed a three-year $45MM deal with the Yankees.
Berkman, similarly to Beltran, signed a two-year $20MM deal with the Cards for his age 35 and 36 seasons. Berkman had a very nice 2011 with a WAR of 3.5; helping the Cards win the World Series. Berkman missed almost all of the 2012 regular season and all of the postseason due to injury.
Matt Holliday was actually traded to the Cardinals in 2009 for Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson and Brett Wallace. After that season, he signed with the Cardinals as a free agent, which has kept him in St. Louis until now. There is an option on his contract in 2017. It will be interesting to see if Holliday becomes a trade candidate at the deadline if the Cardinals have a subpar season. I don’t mean “subpar” in the golf way. Holliday has been an all star with the Cardinals four times, with his best season coming in 2010 with a 5.9 WAR. Holliday is not known for his defense.
Ryan Ludwick and Jhonny Peralta are two players where the Cardinals may have actually made some mistakes. Peralta, who signed a four-year deal in 2014, posted a 5.7WAR in 2014 and declined to 1.8 in 2015 even though his triple slash remained pretty stable at .263/.336/.443 vs. .275/.334/.411. Two years remain on Peralta’s deal and he will miss the first half of 2016 with a thumb injury. Not a great start to the second half of this deal. What’s notable about Ryan Ludwick is the 2010 three-team trade that saw the Cardinals send him to the Padres and the Padres sent Corey Kluber to the Indians. How does that one taste, Padres?
Only three pitchers appearing on my list were acquired by means of free agency. And only one of those three were what I would call a traditional free agent. Kyle Lohse signed with the Cardinals in 2008 after seven years in the Bigs. He spent five years in St. Louis where he was part of the 2011 World Series and had a couple nice seasons, most notably 2012, where he finished 7th in Cy Young voting.
Carlos Martinez was signed as a free agent by the Red Sox in 2009. This signing was then voided. The Cardinals subsequently signed him as a free agent in 2010. Martinez made his debut in 2013 and was an all star in 2015. Martinez has electric stuff and I believe would be as good as anybody if he can hone his command.
Chris Carpenter is a free agent signee that makes one think, “why, oh why, didn’t my team do that?”. Carpenter went 15th overall in the ’93 draft to the Blue Jays. The Cardinals signed Carpenter to a $300,000 deal for the 2003 season, anticipating he would return from elbow surgery midseason. While rehabbing in the minors, it was found that he had a torn labrum and never returned to the Bigs in 2003. The Cardinals again signed him to a $300,000 deal for the 2004 season and then Chris Carpenter became Chris Carpenter. He won the 2005 Cy Young and was instrumental in helping the Cardinals win the 2006 and 2011 World Series. In addition to missing all of 2003, Carpenter did miss almost all of 2007 and 2008, but, still.
Here are the key players I’ve identified that the Cardinals acquired via trade: Jim Edmonds, David Freese, Troy Glaus, Jason Heyward, Mark McGwire, Edgar Rentaria, Scott Rolen, John Lackey and Adam Wainwright. Of course, since I’m only looking at very good players for the Cardinals, all of these trades are most likely going to seem very lopsided in favor of the Cardinals. I would probably have to focus on poor players for the Cardinals in order to find the trades the Cardinals flubbed up. I don’t have time for that.
Jim Edmonds is interesting because he was eventually traded away for David Freese. Freese is a St. Louis native who became the hero in the aforementioned 2011 Game Six. You can’t make this stuff up.
Troy Glaus was eventually traded by the Blue Jays to St. Louis for Scott Rolen.
Jason Heyward was traded for Shelby Miller. Everyone seems to want and then not want Shelby Miller, although I can’t blame the Braves for not wanting Shelby Miller since the Diamondbacks are stupid, amirite?
Lackey was received via trade for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Kelly was taken in the 3rd round of the ’09 draft by the Cardinals.
Mark McGwire, you may remember his time with the Cardinals. He was traded for Eric Ludwick, TJ Mathews and Blake Stein – those are real baseball players that I didn’t just make up. Maybe it was a salary dump by the A’s.
Wainwright was drafted 29th overall in ‘00 by the Braves. The Braves traded him to the Cardinals in 2003 in exchange for J.D. Drew.
Finally, let’s look at the players acquired via the draft. That’s what this is all about, right? The following are the players I’ve identified who fit the criteria: Matt Carpenter, J.D. Drew, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Matt Morris, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha.
Matt Carpenter was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. He debuted for the Cardinals during the 2011 season but did not play in the postseason when the Cardinals eventually won the World Series. He became a full-timer in 2012 and was an all star in 2013 and 2014. It is nice to find all stars in the 13th round.
J.D. Drew was selected 5th overall in the ’98 draft and ended up playing in 14 games that season for the Cardinals. He had a 5.5WAR in 2001 and was traded after the 2003 season with parts to the Braves in exchanged for Adam Wainwright and parts.
Yadier Molina was taken in the 4th round of the 2000 draft. Molina made his first all star game in 2009 and has been selected every year since. He was part of both the recent World Series wins for the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the ’99 draft. He was taken right after Alfredo Amezaga and just before Marc Bluma, but you probably already knew that. Albert Pujols was a good baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals. He left the Cardinals after the 2011 season as a free agent. This might be one of the better decisions the Cardinals have made since 2000.
Jaime Garcia was drafted in the 22nd round of the ’05 draft. Jaime started two games in the 2011 World Series – both no decisions. He went 10 innings and gave up two ER. He had his best season in 2015, giving the Cardinals 129.2 innings and accumulating a 3.9WAR. Jaime is signed through the 2016 season, so he could also be a trade candidate if the season goes south.
Lynn was taken by the Cardinals with the 39th pick of the ’08 draft. He went to Brownsburg High School in Brownsburg, Indiana, so I think that means he probably knows Mark Titus. Lynn had a 3.7WAR in 2014 and a 3.5WAR in 2015. Unfortunately, he will miss the 2016 season due to Tommy John. Do you ever wonder what we’d be calling Tommy John surgery if it was first performed on someone named Rufus Dostoevsky?
Shelby Miller was the 19th pick of the ’09 draft. He had a 3.4WAR in 2014 and was flipped for Jason Heyward.
Matt Morris was selected in the 26th round of the ’92 draft but did not sign. He was then taken 12th overall in the ’95 draft by the Cardinals. Good things come to those who wait. Actually, good things come to those who work hard. If you just sit around like a goon and wait, nothing really happens.
Trevor Rosenthal was selected in the 21st round of the ’09 draft. He has been a dominant closer since 2012. His lowest Ks/9 posted since 2012 is 9.9. He made his first all star team in 2015.
Michael Wacha, the likely Opening Day starter for the 2016 Cardinals, was selected 19th overall in the 2012 draft. He burst onto the scene in 2013 when he was named the NLCS MVP.
So, what have we learned? I don’t know, the Cardinals have been hitting nicely recently on the pitching prospects they have drafted. Also, it’s good to find players like Albert Pujols in the 13th round. Haha. “Players like Albert Pujols.” Not many of them. Did I crack the Cardinals’ code by doing a few hours of research on baseball-reference.com? Of course not!!! I’d probably need the Cardinals’ password to hack into their system in order to learn all their best strategies.