Looking back on the St. Louis Cardinals’ decision to trade Stephen Piscotty

Stephen Vogt #21 of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the eighth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on April 12, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Stephen Vogt #21 of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the eighth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on April 12, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Looking back on the St. Louis Cardinals decision to trade Stepen Piscotty to the Oakland A’s so he could spend more time with his ailing mother.

Following the 2017 season, the St. Louis Cardinals had an outfield logjam, an issue that seems to have plagued them for a fairly long stretch of time.  Their top four pasture performers in terms of playing time the previous campaign were Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty.  In addition, the Redbirds were searching for a spot for Jose Martinez, while Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra had made their major league debuts that year.

The Cardinals needed to do some roster shuffling, looking to improve the current team while adding prospects for the future.  A series of moves saw a new starting left fielder, Marcell Ozuna, arrive and a couple of the previous year’s starters, Grichuck and Piscotty, depart.

Piscotty had earned a six-year contract from St. Louis at the start of the 2017 season following a strong 2016 in which he played in 153 games, recorded 649 plate appearances, and hit .273 with 22 home runs, 85 RBI, and 86 runs scored.  That followed a 2015 performance that placed him sixth in Rookie of the Year balloting.

However, Piscotty had a down 2017, missing a couple of games in April due to a knee contusion, then making two trips to the injured list for strained muscles – his hamstring in May and his groin in July.  Piscotty’s resultant performance was a .235 average with fewer than half the previous year’s counting stats.  The only part of his game that stayed strong was his ability to get on base, as he walked once more in ’17 than in ’16 despite 248 fewer PA.

While it may not be totally accurate, the Moneyball-era Oakland A’s were viewed as a team that liked players who accepted bases on balls above all else.  Still, correct or not, Piscotty’s strong batting eye and patience at the plate had to have appeal to Oakland.  And the fact that he still had five years remaining on his very affordable six-year, $33.5-million contract was a bonus.

So it looked like the two teams had the makings of a solid baseball trade in front of them.  The Cardinals had outfielders to spare, and the A’s needed a right-handed outfielder.  Figure out the right prospects – who turned out to be minor league infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock – and the deal was done.

But there was more to this move than just the on-field talent involved, as Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak explained at the time.

“In fairness, it’s really two-fold.  One, we look at our outfield, and there’s definitely congestion. And clearly, an opportunity to get him closer to home was something we were also thinking about. But you’re never making a player trade simply for geographic or sentimental reasons. It had to be something that made sense for us.”

While Piscotty grew up near Oakland and attended Stanford University, the sentimental reason  behind this deal was that his mother, Gretchen, recently had been diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig‘s disease since it cut short the career and life of one of baseball’s all-time greats.  It’s a terminal disease without a cure, leading to significant suffering and an unknown timeline for when it will end.

Piscotty already had taken some time away from the team in 2017 to spend time with his mother following her initial diagnosis.  With this trade, he could be very close to home, a mere 25-mile drive from Oakland’s ballpark.

Sadly, Gretchen passed away early the next season, so in the end, the trade had only a small effect on Stephen’s ability to spend more time with his mother.  But simply by making this move, the Cardinals and A’s demonstrated some things can be just as important, or even moreso, than what goes on between the lines.

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The goal of every baseball player is to make it home.  Thankfully, Piscotty was able to achieve that goal.