St. Louis Cardinals: Trade chains to remember — and one to forget

The Ken Bottenfield deal brought Jim Edmonds and, indirectly, David Freese. Another few swaps brought two MVPs to the St. Louis Cardinals. What are the ups and downs of some of the greatest and worse trade chains in Cardinals’ history?

By saying goodbye to reliever Dominic Leone on Nov. 25, the St. Louis Cardinals stuck a toe tag on what may have been their greatest chain of trades. Craig Edwards of fangraphs.com expertly detailed the series of deals that began with the 2000 swap that sent Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy to the Angels for Jim Edmonds.

In 2007, the club traded a diminished Edmonds to the Padres for David Freese. In 2013, Freese and Fernando Salas went to the Angels for Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos. In 2018, Grichuk joined the Blue Jays in exchange for Connor Greene and Leone; and on November 25th, Leone was released.

The upshot: For a one-year mirage (Bottenfield, 30, went 18-7 for the Cards in 1999) and a decent young infielder, the Redbirds received eight seasons and 40 WAR from Edmonds, then flipped him for Freese, the hero of the 2011 postseason, and then turned Freese into Grichuk, who gave the team four so-so years. This trade chain played a part in the team winning the 2006 World Series (with Edmonds) and 2011 World Series (with Freese).

Here are two of the franchise’s most memorable, and one of its most forgettable, trade chains, starting with the 1966 swap that resulted in two players winning MVPs for the Redbirds.

The Cardinals had another exceptional series of deals that began in 1966 and resulted in two players winning MVPs for the Redbirds.

THE RAY SADECKI CHAIN
1966: SP Ray Sadecki to the Giants for 1B Orlando Cepeda
1969: Cepeda to the Braves for 1B-3B-C Joe Torre
1974: Torre to the New York Mets for SP Tommy Moore and SP Ray Sadecki
1975: Sadecki and RP Elias Sosa to the Braves for SP Ron Reed and OF Wayne Nordhagen
1975: Ron Reed to the Phillies for OF Mike Anderson

The first two trades made this a huge win for St. Louis. A year-and-a-half after the Sadecki for Cepeda swap, the latter won National League MVP. Two-and-a-half years after Cepeda for Torre, the latter won NL MVP. This might be the only trade chain that ever brought a team two players who’d win MVPs for them.

Cepeda compiled an 8.7 WAR with St. Louis from 1966 to ’68 while Sadecki mustered just a 2.9 WAR with the Giants over that span. In his 1967 MVP season, Cepeda hit .325 with a league-leading 111 RBIs and led the Cardinals to a World Series Championship over the Red Sox.

Primarily a catcher with the Braves, Torre was two years younger than Cepeda with none of the Baby Bull’s knee issues. Playing first and third base for the Redbirds, Torre drove in 101 and 100 runs his first two years in St. Louis. Then, in 1971, he hit .363 with 230 hits and 137 RBIs, winning the MVP by a cozy margin over the Pirates’ Willie Stargell. Torre had a 21.3 WAR from 1969 to ’74, while Cepeda, wrapping up his career, had a 4.4 WAR over the same stretch.

Three years later, Torre was traded to the New York Mets for a forgettable pitcher named Tommy Moore and … Ray Sadecki. Dealing Sadecki a second time netted Ron Reed, who had a career year for the Cards in 1975 (9-8, 3.23 ERA, 2.8 WAR).

The club should’ve held onto the 6-foot-6-inch right-hander. Instead, they dealt him for Mike Anderson, a backup outfielder who had one effective and one ineffective year before leaving via free agency. Reed lasted eight years with the Phillies and helped them win their first World Series Championship in 1980.

THE ERIC RASMUSSEN CHAIN
1978: SP Eric Rasmussen to the Padres for OF George Hendrick
1984: Hendrick to Pirates for P John Tudor and C Brian Harper
1988: Tudor to Dodgers for OF Pedro Guerrero

One of the most underrated of Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals, “Silent George” Hendrick batted cleanup for most of his seven St. Louis seasons and averaged .294 with 17 homers, 83 RBIs at 128 games per year. He was huge in the 1982 World Series season, driving in 104 regular-season runs — 10 more than any teammate — and hitting .321 with a team-high nine hits in the World Series triumph over the Brewers. Rasmussen, meanwhile, was just 22-30 in three seasons with the Padres with a 2.2 WAR. Hendrick’s St. Louis WAR was 14.1.

The Cardinals would hardly have won the ’82 title without Hendrick and certainly wouldn’t have won the ’85 pennant without Tudor. The lefty went 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA in ’85 and 23-9 over the next two seasons. He had a 16.5 WAR with the Cardinals while Hendrick was playing out his career with the Pirates and Angels.

That trade would’ve been even more lopsided if the Redbirds hadn’t released Harper after one subpar season in St. Louis. Catching on with the Twins in 1988, Harper had a 13.4 WAR from 1988 to 1993, helping Minnesota win the 1991 World Series by batting .381 vs. the Braves.

After getting Hendrick and Tudor’s finest years, St. Louis squeezed one excellent and two decent seasons from Guerrero, who hit a league-leading 42 doubles and drove in 117 runs for the 1989 Cardinals, followed by seasons of 80 and 70 RBIs. Beset by arm problems, Tudor was just 4-3 in two seasons with the Dodgers. He returned to the Cardinals via free agency and went 12-4 with a 2.40 ERA in his final season, 1990.

THE STEVE CARLTON CHAIN
1972: SP Steve Carlton to the Phillies for SP Rick Wise
1973: Wise and OF Bernie Carbo to the Red Sox for OF Reggie Smith and RP Ken Tatum
1976: Smith to Dodgers for C-OF Joe Ferguson, OF Bob Detherage and IF Freddie Tisdale
1976: Ferguson and Detherage to Astros for IF Jerry DaVanon and SP Larry Dierker

Here’s a case where the Cardinals made one horrible trade (Carlton for Wise), followed by a recoup-some-value trade (Wise for Smith), followed by a hideous (Smith for Ferguson) and lousy (Ferguson for Dierker) deal. By 1977, they had two little-used hangers-on with a combined -0.6 WAR instead of Carlton, who won his second post-Cardinals Cy Young Award that year. A year later, they had no players remaining from the series of trades that began in 1972. Carlton would win two more Cy Youngs along with a third-place finish and help Philly to the 1980 World Series Championship.

The infamous Carlton deal occurred after the left-hander demanded $10,000 more than owner Gussie Busch wished to pay him. Busch ordered his general manager to trade him, and Bing Devine made a deal for the Phillies’ Rick Wise. At the time, that didn’t seem like a bad swap. Counting hitting (Wise slugged six homers in 1971) as well as pitching, the newcomer had a higher WAR (4.6) than Carlton (4.2) in 1971. And Wise was a year younger.

While Carlton proved the far better pitcher, the Cards got major value back with the 1973 Wise-for-Reggie Smith (plus throw-ins) deal. The outfielder actually outperformed Carlton (according to WAR) from 1974 to 1980. Only problem: Smith spent most of that time with the Dodgers. After a little more than two seasons in St. Louis, he went to L.A. for backup catcher Joe Ferguson, who hit .201 in half a St. Louis season in St. Louis, and two scrubs.

Five months after acquiring Ferguson, the Cards dealt him with Bob Detherage for the Astros’ Jerry DaVanon and Larry Dierker. Ferguson had a bounce-back season with the Astros in ’77, compiling a .814 OPS and a 4.4 WAR. Two years later, back with the Dodgers, he hit 20 homers with a .845 OPS and a 2.9 WAR. For the Cards in ’77, Dierker was 2-6 with a 4.58 ERA and DaVanon hit .000 (0 for 8). Neither played in the majors again.

The lesson here is that a good or bad trade can be enhanced or compounded by the move or moves that follow. It’s fun to follow trade chains, but it’s also instructive. While there’s always luck involved, the savvier front offices hit more than they miss.

Next: Will 2020 be the year of Lane Thomas?

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Cards fans can only hope that president John Mozeliak, who pulled off the Edmonds-for-Freese swap in 2007 and the Allen Craig-and-Joe Kelly-for-John Lackey deal in 2014, can make an effective trade or two or — even better — start another advantageous trade chain.

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