St. Louis Cardinals: Leveraging four former No.1 picks into good trades

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 16: Colby Rasmus #28 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals on June 16, 2011 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The Nationals won 7-4. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 16: Colby Rasmus #28 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals on June 16, 2011 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The Nationals won 7-4. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals have, in the past, used former number one picks as bargaining chips in good trades. Here are four examples of how the organization leveraged those selections into trades to improve the team.

Sometimes a number one draft pick by an organization becomes a cornerstone of an organization, but often not. Sometimes they never make the major league club which drafted them, and sometimes they are traded after making the club’s roster. Only one previous number one pick by the St. Louis Cardinals has really been a cornerstone of the club and that was Ted Simmons.

However, there are many who eventually made the roster and contributed to the team. Examples of those are Garry Templeton, Andy Van Slyke, Todd Worrell, and Matt Morris, among others. In recent years we have seen Kolten Wong, Michael Wacha, and Jack Flaherty arrive and become key contributors.

Nevertheless, there are several examples of former number one picks which either never made an appearance with the Cardinals, or just didn’t make that big of an impact. Examples of these are Paul Ellis, Brian Barber, Shaun Boyd, and Tyler Greene.

In the past, the Cardinals have used some of these picks as leverage in a good trade. Sometimes they were made before the player reached St. Louis and other times after they made the major league active roster.

As we wait to find out who the St. Louis Cardinals will draft first with the number 21 overall pick on June 10th, these are four recent examples of how they have used a former number one pick in a trade that improved the team.

Braden Looper, RHP

Traded for Edgar Renteria

Looper is not exactly a household name among Cardinal fans, but the right-handed pitcher was selected third overall by the Cardinals in the 1996 draft. In fact, Will Leitch of identified Looper as the highest draft pick ever by the Cardinals.

The Oklahoma native rose quickly through the Cardinals minor league system and made his debut with the major league club on March 31, 1998, against the Los Angeles Dodgers as a reliever. However, he only made four appearances in 1998 before being sent back to AAA, with a 5.40 ERA in 3.1 innings.

On December 14, 1998, the Cardinals used Looper as the key piece in a trade to acquire shortstop Edgar Renteria. For the next six years, Renteria became an important piece for the Cardinals, winning two Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger Awards, and making three All-Star appearances.

Meanwhile, Braden Looper went on to a 12-year journeyman’s career as both a reliever and a starter. He even returned to St. Louis from 2006-2008, the last two years of which he was used as a starter. He had a four year ERA of 4.37 in St. Louis and a career ERA of 4.15, before retiring after the 2009 season.

J.D. Drew, OF

Traded for Adam Wainwright

When J.D. Drew made his major league debut on September 8, 1998, expectations were high for his lefty bat in St. Louis. After all, he had been the draft’s second overall pick by the Phillies in 1997 (to which he refused to sign with) and the draft’s fifth overall pick by the Cardinals in 1998.

After a 45-game stint in the Cardinals minor league system in 1998, the Cardinals called up Drew and he proceeded to hit a slash line of .417/.463/.972 with 5 HR and 13 RBI in just 14 games. However, this early promise was never completely seen again while he was in St. Louis.

Due to injuries, he never played more than 135 games while a Cardinal; never hitting more than 27 HR and 73 RBI in a season (which he did in 2001). His six-year slash line in St. Louis was .282/.377/.498. Certainly not bad, but to the Cardinals, it was far below what they thought his potential should be.

Finally, the Cardinals gave up and traded J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero to the Atlanta Braves on December 13, 2003, for starting pitcher Jason Marquis, relief pitcher Ray King, and prospect Adam Wainwright. Marquis and King would be key contributors during the following season’s 2004 World Series run. Wainwright, however, was the real prize of the trade and I don’t need to recount his career in St. Louis for you.

Drew continued to be a good, if not great player, with stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Boston. He finished his 14-year career with one All-Star appearance and a slash line of .278/.384/.489. Tony LaRussa best described Drew’s career in his book ‘Three Nights in August’ with Buzz Bissinger by expressing Drew’s lack of passion and ‘willing to settle for 75% of his talent.”

Colby Rasmus, OF

Traded in a multi-player deal

Colby Rasmus was considered a ‘five-tool player’ and many fans thought he had the potential to be the next great Cardinal center fielder. But, in the end, Rasmus fell short of those expectations.

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The St. Louis Cardinals selected Rasmus as the 28th pick of the 2005 draft. The left-handed bat spent the next four years in the Cardinals minor league system and he impressed scouts at every level. In 2008, he was even selected to play as a member of the United States national baseball team in the Beijing Olympics, but due to an injury was unable to play.

Rasmus made his major league debut on April 7, 2009, where, in 147 games, he hit a slash line of .251/.307/.407 with 16 HR and 52 RBI. In 2010, he improved those numbers across the board by hitting a slash line of .276/.361/.498 with 23 HR and 66 RBI in 144 games. He also saw an improvement in his OPS+ from 89 to 132.

Nevertheless, Rasmus was reportedly unhappy with his playing time and feuding with manager Tony LaRussa. By 2011, Rasmus was requesting a trade, and the Cardinals finally accommodated him on July 27th, with a multi-player trade that saw the dissatisfied player being sent to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Although none of the players the Cardinals received stayed in St. Louis for the long term, the trade seemed to help the Cardinals in their September run for the postseason. Edwin Jackson help stabilize the rotation, and Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski made the bullpen better.

The now-33-year-old Rasmus never fulfilled the early potential many saw in him. After Toronto, he made stops in Houston, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore. He finished his career with a 10-year slash line of .241/.310/.436 and hasn’t played since 2018.

Brett Wallace, INF

Traded for Matt Holliday

Brett Wallace is an example of a first-round pick by the Cardinals who never saw St. Louis because he was used as a trade piece before being called up. Wallace became disposable due to Albert Pujols and the Cardinals’ committing to David Freese at third base.

Nevertheless, Brett Wallace was the 13th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft by the Cardinals. He had turned down the Toronto Blue Jays as the 42nd overall pick in the 2005 draft so he could play at Arizona State University.

Wallace had an impressive year in 2008 in the Cardinals minor league system, hitting a slash line .337/.427/.530 hitting 8 HR and 36 RBI in 54 games. Although the left-handed bat had a strong start in 2009, first in Springfield then Memphis, the Cardinals had a bigger immediate need in finding someone to protect Albert Pujols.

On July 24, 2009, the Cardinals traded Wallace, along with two other prospects to the Oakland A’s for outfielder Matt Holliday. Over the next eight years, Holliday, became one the cornerstones of the Cardinals lineup, making four All-Star appearances and winning a Silver Slugger Award.

After Oakland, Wallace made a minor league stop in Toronto, before arriving in Houston. Brett Wallace made his major league debut with the Astros on July 31, 2010, replacing the recently traded Lance Berkman in the lineup.

Wallace spent the next four years between the Astro’s AAA Oklahoma City Redhawks and the majors. He then signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres and finished his major league career after the 2016 season. His six-year slash line was .238/.316/.389 with an OPS+ of 93.

To Wrap Up

The above four players aren’t the only first picks by the Cardinals who were leveraged into a trade. We saw Luke Weaver traded for Paul Goldschmidt, Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward, and Adam Kennedy for Jim Edmonds. Even a cornerstone player like Ted Simmons was eventually traded in an attempt to improve the roster.

I’m just making the point that the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t shy about using these picks to improve the team via trade when necessary. This 21st pick on June 10th may be eventually used in a trade to improve the rotation, bullpen, or even to bring a big bat to St. Louis. Start looking at the immediate needs of the roster for the next couple of years, because this is where this pick may be used in a trade.

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On June 10th, we will know who this player is. Will he make is major league debut with the Cardinals? Or will he be used in a trade first? Stayed tuned.