St. Louis Cardinals: When doppelgänger deals go down

Remember the Tempy for Ozzie trade? The St. Louis Cardinals have actually made many similar trades as well. Let’s look back at the results of those trades.

Ten years ago this spring, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reported that the Philadelphia Phillies had bandied the idea of offering 30-year-old first baseman Ryan Howard to the St. Louis Cardinals for 30-year-old first baseman Albert Pujols. While that trade never materialized, the Redbirds have made other swaps of same-position players, dealing a catcher for a catcher, a shortstop for a shortstop, and so forth.

These apples-for-apples types of trades are a rarity in sports, for good reason. What’s the sense of trading one perfectly fine player for another of similar age who plays the same position or fills the same role? That’s like trading a spade for a shovel. Except sometimes circumstances arise that make these deals logical and even necessary.

Here’s a look at seven apples-for-apples trades made by the Cardinals, plus one, Pujols for Howard, that they — thankfully — didn’t make:

2010: 1B Albert Pujols to Phillies for 1B Ryan Howard (proposed)
Both players had one year remaining on their contracts, and Howard was a former St. Louis-area kid who’d attended Lafayette High in Wildwood, just 25 miles from the Gateway City. The primary problem with this trade scenario is Pujols was better than Howard. Way better.

ESPN’s Olney compared the potential deal with the Red Sox and Yankees contemplating a Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio deal in the 1940s, but if Pujols was Williams (or DiMaggio), Howard was more like Ralph Kiner, the slugging Pirate outfielder who wasn’t in the same league as those two — he was in the National League, plus he lacked Ted’s pure hitting skills and DiMaggio’s outfield brilliance.

Would the 2011 Cardinals have won the World Series with Howard at first? Unlikely.

trSt. Louis edged Atlanta by a single game to earn a Wild Card playoff spot. Pujols had an off year by his standards (.299, 37 HR, 99 RBI, .906 OPS), but his 5.3 wins above replacement easily eclipsed Howard’s (.253, 33 HR, 116 RBI, 8.35) 1.2 WAR. While there’s no evidence that the Cards ever considered making a Pujols-for-Howard deal, such a move would have surely cost them their 11th and most recent World Championship.

2008: 3B Scott Rolen to Blue Jays for 3B Troy Glaus
Rolen, 32, was a five-time All-Star with 261 career homers; Glaus, 31, was a four-time All-Star with 219 career homers. A seven-time Gold Glover, Rolen was the better fielder. The Cards made this seemingly pointless trade after Tony La Russa had a famous falling out with his third baseman. Meanwhile, Glaus objected to the turf at Rogers Centre, which may have contributed to his plantar fasciitis, and was ready to move on.

This proved a subpar deal for St. Louis. Glaus had a fine 2008 season (.270, 27 HR, 99 RBI, .856 OPS) but injuries limited him to just 14 games the following year, and he retired after a so-so 2010 season with the Braves. Playing five more seasons after leaving the Cardinals, Rolen was an All-Star (.285, 20 HR, 83 RBI, .854 OPS) and Gold Glover for the Reds in 2010.

1981: SS Garry Templeton (plus OF Sixto Lezcano and P Luis DeLeon) to the Padres for SS Ozzie Smith (plus P Steve Mura and P Al Olmsted)
This was essentially a swap of 25-year-old shortstops, although Lezcano played well for San Diego (.289, 16 HR, 84 RBI, .860 OPS) in 1982. Templeton was fated to be traded after making an obscene gesture to Busch Stadium fans on Aug. 26, 1981. “Garry’s a good friend, and he straightened himself out a long time ago, but when that happened, he had to go,” Keith Hernandez said on the documentary, “Birds of a Different Game: The ’80s Cardinals.”

Initial Templeton-for-Smith trade talks broke down before Whitey Herzog got a call and heard the words, “Are you still interested in a Templeton for Ozzie Smith deal?” “I about fell off the seat,” Herzog recalled on the “Birds of a Different Game” doc.

Smith played 15 years in St. Louis, hitting .272 with 1,944 hits, 433 steals, and 11 Gold Gloves (he won his first two GGs with the Padres). In 10 years with the Padres, Templeton hit .252 with 1,135 hits and 101 steals.

1972: P Steve Carlton to the Phillies for P Rick Wise
Owner Gussie Busch pressured general manager Bing Devine into trading away Carlton, who wanted $10,000 more than the Cardinals were willing to pay him. At the time, the trade of Carlton, 27, for Wise, 26, didn’t look so bad. Carlton had better numbers (77-62, .310 ERA) than Wise (75-76, 3.60) but the ex-Phillie was coming off his best season (17-14, 2.88 ERA), was a year younger, and was a .218 career hitter with 11 home runs.

“Rick Wise was a reasonably good acquisition for the Cardinals at the time he was acquired,” Devine said, quoted in Peter Golenbock’s The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns, “but obviously over a period of time, history will tell you it was a bad deal.” Wise did just fine, winning 16 and 16 games with ERAs of 3.11 and 3.37 before a trade sent him to the Red Sox, but Carlton won 242 games and four Cy Young Awards after leaving St. Louis.

1971: OF Vic Davalillo (plus P Nelson Briles) to the Pirates for OF Matty Alou (plus P George Brunet)
This was more like a kiwi-for-kiwi trade: Davalillo, 31, stood 5-7 and weighed 150; Alou, 32, was 5-9, 160. Neither was much of a slugger: Davalillo hit 36 homers over 16 years; Alou hit 31 in 15 years.

Matty, the younger brother of Felipe and older brother of Jesus Alou, hit .315 and .314 as a full-time Cardinal starter over two seasons. Davillo, with 312 and 403 plate appearances, batted .285 and .318 his first two years with the Pirates. But the Bucs won this deal due to Briles, who went 36-28 with a 2.98 ERA in three Pittsburgh seasons. Brunet was 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA in his one year with the Redbirds.

1969: 1B Orlando Cepeda to the Braves for 1B Joe Torre
Torre, 28, had been a catcher for Atlanta but was acquired to replace Cepeda, 31, at first base. Both players were well-liked by teammates but not so popular with management. According to retrosimba.com, “The Braves were shopping Torre because he was feuding with general manager Paul Richards and hadn’t signed a contract” and Cepeda had “miffed management by reporting late to spring training in 1969.”

It’s a wonder Atlanta settled for this one-for-one deal considering Torre’s younger age, better health, and versatility — he would catch 90 games for the Cards in 1970 and played third in 1971 and ’72. Cepeda had an OK year for the Braves 1969 and was excellent in 1970, batting .305 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs, but then his left knee collapsed in 1971. He managed to play three more years with four teams — the Braves, the A’s, the Red Sox and the Royals, before retiring after the 1974 season.

Torre hit .308 with an .840 OPS in six years with the Cardinals, peaking with a 1971 MVP season in which he hit .363 with 137 RBIs. He finished his career with the Mets from 1975-77.

1928: C Spud Davis (plus 1B Don Hurst and OF Homer Peel) to the Phillies for C Jimmie Wilson (plus P Art Decatur and 1B Bill Kelly
Large catchers for their era, Davis, 23, was listed at 6-1, 197 while Wilson, 27, went 6-1, 200. Five years after this deal, the catchers got swapped for each other again, with Davis returning in time to play for the 1934 World Championship Cardinals. A .308 career hitter with a .799 OPS, Davis was the better hitter, while Wilson (.284, .707 OPS) was regarded as the superior glove man.

1926: 2B Rogers Hornsby to the Giants for 2B Frankie Frisch (plus P Jimmy Ring)
Here’s another case of two outstanding players wearing out their welcome with their original teams. As player-manager, Hornsby, 31, had just led the Cardinals to their first World Championship, but he and owner Sam Breadon didn’t get along and things came to a head when the player demanded a three-year contract and the owner only offered a one-year deal.

Meanwhile, Frisch, 29, and Giants’ manager John McGraw had become fierce enemies. Cards executive Branch Rickey objected to the trade. “Had I been in sole charge, Hornsby never would have left St. Louis,” he said, quoted in Golenbock’s The Spirit of St. Louis. “Depriving the Cardinals of a known quantity of greatness in batting and competitive spirit wasn’t right.”

Hornsby, who had batted .359 with a .995 OPS over 13 St. Louis seasons, was considered a far better player than Frisch, who’d hit .321 with an .811 OPS in eight years with New York. But Frisch was a better fielder and had the superior post-trade career, hitting .312 over 11 seasons and leading the Cardinals to World Championships in 1931, when he was the NL’s MVP, and 1934, when he was the team’s player-manager.

Hornsby had some staggering offensive years with the Giants, Braves, and Cubs, but he was finished as a full-time player after 1931 while Frisch was still an All-Star in 1935.

As you see, there are reasons, good and ill, for trading similar players. But there is one reason for teams to avoid these deals. When they trade a pitcher for an outfielder or a prospect for a veteran, there’s usually a way of justifying a bad deal, i.e., Team A had a surplus of hard-throwing pitchers and really needed to acquire that .240-hitting outfielder.

Next: Four players likely to be traded in 2020

Want your voice heard? Join the Redbird Rants team!

Write for us!

There’s no fudging the facts when it’s a Tempy-for-Ozzie or Carlton-for-Wise trade. With players who play the exact same position, it soon becomes clear which team won the trade, and which team lost.

Load Comments