5 wildly successful reclamation projects for past Cardinals teams

These five former St. Louis Cardinals exemplified the team's past skill of turning scraps into stars.
New York Mets v St. Louis Cardinals
New York Mets v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages
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Many a brouhaha has been stirred up regarding the St. Louis Cardinals' recent inability to develop players into stars with the franchise, only to watch them blossom elsewhere. During the Cardinals' halcyon days of the 2000s and early 2010s, fans would expect new Cardinals to break out when they came to St. Louis instead of assuming they would find a new gear when they left the Gateway City.

The Cardinals at the time were ahead of the curve in the development aspect of the sport. They would see something in a previously unremarkable player and know how to extract those hidden skills. The team's major league coaches were cutting-edge as well, especially pitching coach Dave Duncan, who crafted stars out of balls of clay by using his unique perspective from his days as a major league catcher.

The Cardinals have been passed up by other teams in terms of finding and developing talent, be it in their own system or through trades and free agency, but at their peak, the Cardinals were the envy of the league in their ability to get the most out of players.

These five players were nothing special until they came to St. Louis and flourished.

Tony Womack

Through the first decade of his career, Tony Womack had one attribute: He could steal bases. He led the National League in swipes with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997 and 1998, and he paced the entire major leagues with 72 steals with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999. But aside from that, Womack brought little to the table besides an empty batting average with almost no power. He hit .270 from 1993 to 2003, but he had only 30 home runs in that span.

The Cardinals took a low-risk flier on Womack to begin 2004, trading reliever Matt Duff to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for the second baseman, and in Womack's lone year with the Cardinals, he was a different player. The 34-year-old Womack hit .307 with a .735 OPS in the Cardinals' pennant-clinching season, and while his speed had partially evaporated, he still stole a respectable 26 bases. Womack finished fourth on the team with a 3.3 bWAR.

The Cardinals let Womack walk in free agency after his magical season, and it turned out to be a good decision, as Womack promptly regressed to well below average with the New York Yankees. But for one year, at an age where one would normally be in decline, Womack played a key role in getting the Cardinals to the World Series.