Bernie On the Cardinals: The Cards’ Best Trades Of the Post-Expansion Era

As colleague Randy Karraker reminded us over the weekend, it’s been 20 years since the Cardinals made one of their greatest trades in franchise history.

On March 23, 2000 GM Walt Jocketty acquired center fielder Jim Edmonds from the Angels in exchange for starting pitcher Kent Bottenfield and infielder Adam Kennedy.

Randy got me thinking… what are the Cardinals’ best trades during the post-expansion era? (For the National League, that covers 1962 through 2019.)

These sports-list discussions are fun … and that’s especially true at a time like this, with the spread of the Covid-19 virus causing the indefinite shutdown of the NHL, MLB and NBA seasons.

Here’s my list of the Cardinals’ best trades over the last 50-plus years.

This exercise is subjective and harmless. Your opinions are welcome. In fact a listener to my Monday-morning radio show on 101ESPN saved me after I initially forgot to mention a prominent trade — for Orlando Cepeda — that helped the Cardinals win a World Series. (Thank you!)

1. Left fielder Lou Brock from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Ernie Broglio on June 15, 1964.

Really one of the most one-sided trades in MLB history. Brock didn’t do much during his 327 games with the Cubs, only to find his groove and develop into a Hall of Fame leadoff man in St. Louis.

Brock’s fantastic accomplishments include 3,023 hits, a record (at the time) 938 stolen bases, six All-Star games, two World Series titles (1964 and ‘67) and three NL pennants (the third in 1968.) Broglio had some strong seasons as a Cardinal but went 7-19 with a 5.90 ERA for the Cubs.

2. Shortstop Ozzie Smith from the San Diego Padres for shortstop Garry Templeton, outfielder Sixto Lezcano, and pitcher Luis DeLeon. As part of the deal the Cardinals also received pitchers Steve Mura and Al Olmsted. The deal was completed on Dec. 10, 1981.

Templeton, a very good player, wanted out of St. Louis. As Ozzie Smith neared free agency the Padres were hesitant to pay up. They called Whitey Herzog and proposed a Tempy-Ozzie exchange. Templeton had a lengthy and solid career in San Diego, but Smith built a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis and played a leading role in transforming the Cardinals’ franchise.

In 15 seasons in St. Louis Smith won 11 Gold Gloves, was chosen for 13 All-Star games, stole 580 bases and finished his career with 2,460 hits — more than Mickey Mantle. The greatest defensive shortstop in MLB history, Smith arguably personified the identity of those delightfully unique 1980s Cardinals teams that won a World Series (1982) and three NL pennants.

Footnote: Mura appeared in 35 games for the ‘82 Cardinals — making 30 starts, working 184 innings, and getting credited with 12 wins. Ozzie Smith made this deal a steal for STL, but Mura was a nice bonus.

3. Pitcher Adam Wainwright, acquired from the Atlanta Braves on Dec. 13, 2003.

Waino was the winning prize in a big, multi-player deal. The Cardinals gave up starting outfielder J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero for a return of Wainwright, starting pitcher Jason Marquis and lefty reliever Ray King.

The Cardinals were willing to move the talented but enigmatic Drew, who made it known that he planned to test free agency after the 2004 season. (Which he did, signing with the LA Dodgers after one season as a Brave.)

The Cards’ decision to cash in on Drew paid off hugely. Waino, a coveted prospect in the Atlanta system, came of age with the Cardinals. Still pitching well at age 38, Wainwright will go down as one of the top pitchers in Cardinals’ franchise history. He currently ranks fourth in team history with 162 wins — one behind Bob Forsch.)

As a rookie Wainwright took over the closer role for the injured Jason Isringhausen late in the 2006 season and notched series-clinching saves in all three postseason rounds to secure the World Series championship. Wainwright finished among the top three in the annual Cy Young voting four times and pitched in seven postseasons for the Cardinals.

4. Closer Bruce Sutter from the Cubs for first baseman Leon Durham, third baseman Ken Reitz, and utility man Ty Waller on Dec. 9, 1980.

The ‘82 Cardinals wouldn’t have won the World Series without Sutter’s special shutdown relief. Sealing his case for the Hall of Fame, Sutter led the NL in saves in three of his four seasons as a Cardinal and racked 127 saves overall for the Redbirds.

5. Edmonds from the Anaheim Angels for pitcher Kent Bottenfield and infielder Adam Kennedy.

This was a jackpot-winning deal for the Cardinals. In his eight seasons in St. Louis, Edmonds averaged 30 homers, 30 doubles, 89 RBIs, compiled a .393 onbase percentage, slugged .555 and produced offense at a rate of 43 percent above the league average. That and six Gold Gloves and a bunch of money-time moments during his six postseasons as a Cardinal. (Among other things, Jimmy kept the Cards’ season alive with his heroics against Houston in the 2004 NLCS.)

5a. As a bonus Edmonds was later flipped in a trade with San Diego following the 2007 season. The Cardinals received a third base prospect, St. Louisan David Freese. An excellent trade that led to Freese going on a rampage at the plate during the 2011 postseason and a new World Series trophy for the franchise. And as a nucleus player, Freese did his share to propel the Cardinals on postseason runs in 2012 and 2013.

6. Outfielder Willie McGee from the NY Yankees for pitcher Bob Sykes on Oct. 21, 1981.

McGee, a coach on Mike Shildt’s staff, remains one of the most beloved Cardinals of all time. And fans voted him into the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame as a landslide choice. And why not? The Yankees’ first-round draft choice in 1977, McGee spent 13 seasons during two different stints with the Cardinals. He retired after the 1999 season at age 40. His St. Louis career highlights include the 1985 National League MVP, four All-Star games, three Gold Gloves, two batting titles, 301 stolen bases, 255 doubles, 83 triples, three NL pennants — and of course his memorable star turn in the ‘82 World Series.

7. First baseman Orlando Cepeda from the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Ray Sadekci on May 8, 1966.

In a Hall of Fame career, Cepeda made his three St. Louis seasons count in a meaningful way. He was the National League MVP for the 1967 team that won the World Series. In ‘67 Cepeda thundered for 37 doubles, 25 homers, a league-leading 111 RBIs, and a .524 slugging percentage. Cepeda’s offensive production in ‘67 was 64 percent higher than the league average. Cepeda’s power dropped in 1968 — The Year of the Pitcher — but he contributed plenty of big hits and RBIs.

Cepeda’s charismatic presence gave the Cardinals their “Viva El Birdos” persona.

8. Mark McGwire from the Oakland A’s on July 31, 1997 for reliever T.J. Mathews, and pitching prospects Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein.

McGwire, the Cardinals and St. Louis was a good match. That’s why he discarded his plans to pursue free agency following the ‘97 season — choosing to sign on in St. Louis, his “baseball heaven.” McGwire came along at the right time, filling Busch Stadium II — and every MLB ballpark — with his prodigious power display.

When McGwire arrived at the ‘97 trade deadline, the Cardinals were in the process of drawing fewer than three million fans at home for the eighth consecutive season. But with McGwire launching 70 homers in 1998, the Cardinals began a five-season stretch of attracting more than three million fans to Busch each year. And the team’s attendance boom continued through 2019.

In his four-plus seasons as a Cardinal McGwire homered every 7.9 at-bats, slugged .683, and generated offense that came in 80 percent above the league average offensively. Injuries limited him in 2000 and 2001, but McGwire summoned enough power to help the Cardinals make it to the postseason in both seasons.

You can downgrade McGwire because of PEDs, sure. But his impact on the franchise was undeniable. And the Cardinals gave up very little in the trade that brought him here.

9. Third baseman Scott Rolen from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 29, 2002.

To land Rolen the Cardinals parted with infielder Placido Polanco, starting pitcher Bud Smith, and reliever Mike Timlin.

Smith, who had legitimate promise, couldn’t overcome shoulder problems. Timlin was a solid reliever. Polanco had a stellar career, playing 16 MLB seasons for the Cardinals and three other teams. But Rolen’s addition was the finishing touch on one of the best Cardinals’ teams in franchise history.

In his six seasons in St. Louis, Rolen made four All-Star teams, won four Gold Gloves and slugged .510. And his offensive numbers were held down by two separate, fluky shoulder injuries that occurred through collisions.

In 2004 Rolen joined Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds as part of the “MV3” that led the way to 105 victories and the NL pennant. Rolen batted .314 with 34 homers, 124 RBIs, and a 1.007 OPS that season. And though bothered by intense shoulder pain, Rolen came through with a .421 average and 1.213 OPS in the Cards’ triumphant 2006 World Series. He’s a member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame … and one of the best third basemen in the history of the game.

10. Left fielder Matt Holliday from Oakland on July 25, 2009.

The price was small: first base prospect Brett Wallace, outfielder Shane Peterson, and pitcher Clayton Mortensen.

After the 2009 season Holliday signed a seven-year contract extension for $120 million and stayed in place as an important lineup fixture through 2016. Holliday’s presence became even more vital after Albert Pujols left as a free agent following the 2011 season.

In his seven-plus seasons in St. Louis, Holliday hit .293 with a .380 OBP and .494 slug. Over his seven full seasons (2010-2016) as a Cardinal, Holliday ranked among the NL’s top 10 in RBIs, homers, doubles, extra-base hits, onbase percentage and adjusted OPS. Holiday was a significant part of six postseason teams in St. Louis — a run that included two NL pennants and the 2011 World Series title.

11. Shortstop Edgar Renteria from the Florida Marlins on Dec. 14, 1998.

To lock Renteria in at shortstop the Cardinals traded three players to the Marlins — and only one of the three really mattered: pitcher Braden Looper.

Renteria — still only 22 years old and already a World Series champ with the Marlins — was just what the Cardinals needed at the time.

In his six seasons for the Cardinals (from 1999 through 2004) Renteria won two Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger awards and was a three-time All-Star. Over the six seasons Renteria led all MLB shortstops in stolen bases and ranked fourth at the position in doubles, fifth in RBIs, fifth in runs, seventh in WAR and ninth in homers. Renteria’s best season came in 2003, when he drove in 100 runs, scored 96, swiped 34 bases, and posted an .875 OPS.

I could go on …

— Starting pitcher Joaquin Andujar from Houston for outfielder Tony Scott (June, 1981.) This one would make a lot if lists.

— Starting pitcher Woody Williams from San Diego for outfielder Ray Lankford in 2001.

— Starting pitcher Darryl Kile and reliever Dave Veres from Colorado for multiple prospects or youngsters (including pitcher Jose Jimenez) before the 2000 season.

— Starting pitcher John Tudor and catcher Brian Harper from Pittsburgh for outfielder George Hendrick (December 1984.)

— First baseman Jack Clark from San Francisco in exchange for four players, including 1B-OF David Green.

— Key stretch-drive acquisitions such as starting pitcher Jeff Weaver (2006), first baseman Will Clark (2000), right fielder Larry Walker (2004), outfielder Cesar Cedeno (1985), pitcher Jim Kaat (1980.)

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few.

If so, please fill in my blank spots.

And pardon my typos on my first day back at work, after missing a week with an illness.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie