What happens when the St. Louis Cardinals trade prospects?

Port Charlotte, FL - JUL 06: 2018 Tampa Bay Rays first round pick 18-year-old left-hander Matthew Liberatore makes his professional debut as the starting pitcher for the GCL Rays during the Gulf Coast League (GCL) game between the GCL Orioles and the GCL Rays on July 06, 2018, at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Port Charlotte, FL - JUL 06: 2018 Tampa Bay Rays first round pick 18-year-old left-hander Matthew Liberatore makes his professional debut as the starting pitcher for the GCL Rays during the Gulf Coast League (GCL) game between the GCL Orioles and the GCL Rays on July 06, 2018, at the Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Should Dylan Carlson or Nolan Gorman be dealt? The St. Louis Cardinals tend to thrive on youth-for-vets swaps historically and should do it again.

St. Louis Cardinals fans have been hearing a lot about prospects Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman this winter, mostly in the context of someone saying or blogging, “No way the team trades these guys!”

Even the wildest trade rumors tend to exclude outfielder Carlson, baseball’s 24th-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, and third baseman Gorman, ranked 38th, although newly acquired lefty hurler Matt Liberatore, ranked 41st, is often mentioned in swap speculation.

Over the past three decades, the Cardinals have been quick to deal one or multiple prospects for a veteran they covet, with mostly rewarding results. Here’s a rundown of some Redbirds’ prospects-for-veteran deals, from the most to the least successful:

THE GOOD

1997: Cardinals trade Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein to the A’s for Mark McGwire.
Whatever you think of McGwire today, this deal was a heist for the Redbirds. General Manager Walt Jocketty had a knack for surrendering so-so prospects for an impending free agent, then getting the star to sign with St. Louis, which is what happened here.

A reliever, Mathews pitched okay for the A’s in 1999 (9-5, 3.81 ERA) but was otherwise a replacement-level performer. Stein amassed a 5.41 ERA over five years, and Ludwick, Ryan’s brother, had an 8.35 ERA over four years.

2000: Cardinals trade Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy to the Angels for Jim Edmonds.
The Angels were high on Bottenfield, who’d had a career year with an 18-7 record and 3.97 ERA (but a flabby 1.503 WHIP) at 30, but the key for them was second baseman Kennedy, the Cardinals’ minor league player of the year in 1999.

Anaheim general manager Bill Stoneman “said he wouldn’t trade Edmonds,” the AP’s John Nadel wrote. “Then he got an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Like McGwire, Edmonds, a potential free agent, signed with the Redbirds.

A fine fielder, Kennedy had a successful five-year run with the Angels, but Bottenfield bottomed out, posting ERAs of 5.40 and 6.40 during his last two big-league seasons. Edmonds had two top-five MVP finishes and won six Gold Gloves with St. Louis. The Cardinals signed Kennedy to a free-agent contract in November of 2006.

2009: Cardinals trade Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson and Brett Wallace to the A’s for Matt Holliday.
This time it was John Mozeliak nabbing a pending free agent. Holliday hit .353 with 13 home runs and 55 RBIs in 63 games for St. Louis, leading the Cards to the NL Central title, then signed a $116 million free-agent contract to stay with the team. Baseball America’s 27th-ranked prospect going into the 2010 season, the muscular Wallace (6-2, 250) had a middling six-year career, batting .238 with a .705 OPS with the Astros and Padres. Mortensen pitched five years with a 6-11 record and a 4.68 ERA, and Peterson, an outfielder, accumulated just 322 career plate appearances.

1998: Cardinals trade Armando Almanza, Braden Looper and Pablo Ozuna to the Marlins for Edgar Renteria.
A 21-year-old All-Star shortstop who’d banged the winning-hit in the 1997 World Series, Renteria commanded a steep price, which the Cards paid with a pair of minor leaguers more highly rated than the current Carlson-Gorman tandem, plus a heat-throwing 26-year-old lefty reliever. The third overall pick in the June 1996 draft, Looper was Baseball America’s 39th-rated prospect before the 1999 season, but Ozuna, 20, looked like the prize of the trade.

The Midwest League player of the year had hit .357 with 122 runs scored for Peoria and was Baseball America’s No. 8-rated overall prospect going into 1999. Still, Looper was the only one of the three ex-Cardinal farmhands to accomplish much in the big leagues, pitching 12 years — including the 2006-2008 seasons with St. Louis — with a 4.15 ERA and 8.2 WAR.

Almanza pitched just 214-plus major-league innings with a 4.82 ERA, and Ozuna had just 728 plate appearances over seven years. A three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover in six St. Louis seasons, Renteria batted .330 with 47 doubles and 100 RBI in his best season, 2003.

2011: The Cardinals trade Alex Castellanos to the Dodgers for Rafael Furcal and cash.
While the 33-year-old Furcal had little left, he had enough to help the Cardinals win the 2011 World Series. “That was one of the critical moves that transformed the Cardinals from a pretty good team that summer into a champion,” wrote Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Furcal firmed up the team’s infield defense and allowed (Ryan) Theriot to move into a more reasonable super-utility role.” Castellanos hit just .171 in 43 plate appearances for the Dodgers.

1999: The Cardinals trade Juan Acevedo, Eliezer Alfonzo and Matt Parker to the Brewers for Fernando Vina.
Second baseman Vina, 31, enjoyed a late-career flowering with the Cardinals, batting .300 and .303 his first two seasons and winning two Gold Gloves in four years. Acevedo was a lackluster 31-year-old reliever, and Alfonso was mostly a back-up catcher, although he did hit .266 in 87 games for the Giants in 2006. Parker never made it to the majors.

THE BAD

2002: Cardinals trade Coco Crisp and Luis Garcia to the Indians for Chuck Finley.
Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no problem with this trade, writing that “Finley went 7-4 for a division winner and taught Andy Benes the split-fingered pitch” while “Crisp wasn’t going to play center field ahead of Jim Edmonds in those days.” While that may be true, Crisp lasted 15 years in the majors, striking 1,572 hits and leading the AL with 49 steals (against just nine times caught stealing) in 2011. The Birds surrendered way more than they got.

2004: Cardinals trade Daric Barton, Kiko Calero and Dan Haren to the A’s for Mark Mulder.
The lefty Mulder, 26, had gone 17-8 in his last Oakland season, but his second half ERA was 6.13. Still, he had one good year with St. Louis, going 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA before shoulder problems derailed his career.

The 24-year-old Haren, 6-10 with a 4.85 ERA in parts of two St. Louis seasons, enjoyed a terrific 11-year run after the trade, winning 147 games, making three All-Star teams and finishing as high as fifth and seventh in Cy Young award voting. A backup in six of his eight Oakland seasons, Barton led the AL with 110 walks in 2010. Calero, 30, had two solid seasons of relief with the A’s before his effectiveness waned.

THE SKINNY

While it may be nothing but luck, the Cards have fared well with their pack-of-prospects-for-a-vet trades. Besides those mentioned, there was the 1995 deal in which the club sent a humdrum 31-year-old reliever and two ill-fated prospects to the Giants in exchange for quality shortstop Royce Clayton.

And the 1999 trade of three second-rate pitchers and a touted minor-league infielder (Brent Butler) who fizzled for Darryl Kile, who had two excellent seasons before his tragic death in 2002, and reliever-closer Dave Veres, a competent bullpen arm for three seasons.

As for recent prospect-heavy trades, it’s too early to tell. The 2017 swap that sent three prospects to the Marlins for Marcell Ozuna is leaning Miami’s way. Ozuna has been good, not great, and could leave via free agency, while pitcher Sandy Alcantara, 23, made the All-Star team a year ago.

The July 2018 deal that sent slugger Luke Voit to the Yankees for pitchers Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve looked grim for a few months, but then Gallegos got rolling — he wound up with a higher WAR (2.2) than Voit (1.9) a year ago. The Carson KellyLuke Weaver deal for Paul Goldschmidt seemed to favor the Diamondbacks in 2019, but not by much. If Goldy returns to his 2013-2018 form, the Redbirds will feel fine about the trade.

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So, considering their track record, should the Cards deal Carlson and Gorman for proven veteran commodities? No! On opening day, the team’s likely starting non-pitchers (barring trades, injuries, or surprises) will be an average age of 31. The Redbirds need young players to fortify the roster in the next few years. While there’s a chance that Carlson-Gorman-Liberatore could fail to match their potential, that’s a risk this team should take.