Frank Lane (1955-1957)
Biggest win: Sam Jones
Biggest loss: Bill Virdon
Total WAR gain: 14.1
Total WAR loss: 46.1
Frank Lane began his career in St. Louis in 1955, and one of his first moves was to send former 20-game winner Harvey Haddix to Philadelphia, where he continued to have a stellar career. The players the Phillies gave up – Murry Dickson and Herm Wehmeier – didn’t do anything special with the Cardinals.
Lane’s worst trade, however, was dealing star defender Bill Virdon, the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals, to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Virdon went on to post a FanGraphs WAR of 15.1 with Pittsburgh over the next 10 seasons. Littlefield, meanwhile, threw one bad season on the mound with the Cardinals and was subsequently dealt to the New York Giants. Del Greco hit .215 with the Cardinals and was traded to the Cubs in April of 1957.
The most alarming part of Lane’s tenure, however, was a move that fell through: Later in 1956, Lane attempted to trade superstar outfielder Stan Musial to the Philadelphia Phillies for ace pitcher Robin Roberts. However, after news of the likely trade was leaked on the radio, owner August A. Busch Jr. stopped the deal.
Lane’s best move by WAR was in 1957. 1955 All-Star pitcher Sam Jones came to St. Louis and posted a WAR of 9.40 while leading the major leagues in strikeouts in 1958.
Overall, Lane’s time with the Cardinals wasn’t successful, but if Busch hadn’t intervened in the Musial trade, things could have been much darker, even if Roberts was a future Hall of Famer in his own right.
Bing Devine (1957-1964)
Biggest win: Lou Brock
Biggest loss: Larry Jackson
Total WAR gain: 158.6
Total WAR loss: 88
Bing Devine served two stints as the Cardinals’ general manager. The first move he made was one of his best, acquiring 19-year-old Curt Flood from the Cincinnati Redlegs. Although some might remember Flood for a fielding miscue that might have cost the Cardinals the 1968 World Series, he accumulated a WAR of 36.4 and served as one of the best defensive outfielders of all time.
Before the 1959 season, Devine pulled off another excellent move in getting first baseman and outfielder Bill White and third baseman and outfielder Ray Jablonski from the San Francisco Giants for Don Choate and Sam Jones. White would go on to have some of the best years of his career with St. Louis.
But the Devine trade everyone remembers was just that: the trade. In 1964, the last year of his first tenure with the Cardinals, Devine traded for young Chicago Cubs outfielder Lou Brock, giving up a very solid pitcher in Ernie Broglio. Brock, of course, would go on to be immortalized in Cardinals history, while Broglio was out of baseball two years later.
WAR puts Devine’s worst trade as dealing pitcher Larry Jackson to the Cubs. He posted a WAR of 15.4 for the rest of his career, But in the Cardinals-Cubs trades under Devine, it’s easy to see which team got the short end of the stick.
Devine’s first stint with the Cardinals was one of the most successful in Cardinals history, and he set up the Cardinals for success down the road, even though he wasn’t at the helm when it happened.
Bob Howsam (1964-1966)
Biggest win: Orlando Cepeda
Biggest loss: Mike Cuellar
Total WAR gain: 19.6
Total WAR loss: 40.2
Bob Howsam’s two seasons in St. Louis didn’t lead to great results; those would come when he constructed the Big Red Machine a few years later. However, Howsam did make one solid move in getting first baseman and future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda from the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Ray Sadecki. Cepeda would post an 11.2 WAR during his two-plus seasons with St. Louis.
Howsam also traded third baseman Charlie Smith to the New York Yankees for former great Roger Maris, owner of the single-season home run record at the time. Maris, although in the last two seasons of his career, experienced somewhat of a renaissance in St. Louis, finally away from the harsh landscape of the New York fans and media, who believed “true Yankee” Mickey Mantle should have been the new home run king instead of Maris.
Howsam’s worst move by WAR was trading pitcher Mike Cuellar to the Houston Astros after he failed to make St. Louis’ major league roster. Cuellar would go on to post a WAR of 15.3 for his career.