photo: Matt Holliday (Scott Kane/USA TODAY Sports)
Over time, the St. Louis Cardinals have made a number of impactful trades at the deadline, sometimes as a buyer and other times as a seller.
With Major League Baseball’s trade deadline just three weeks away, fans and teams alike are trying to determine if their teams are pretenders or contenders. Should they buy all in or sell and begin preparing for next year is the big question. If they are all in, will it be a big splash or deal of lesser proportion?
The MLB trade deadline has been in effect since 1917, however most of us only know it in its latest form. Here is a quick history lesson before we review the St. Louis Cardinals history of wheeling and dealing at the deadline.
The initial 1917 deadline was put into place to try and curb the activities of two particular clubs; the vaunted New York Yankees and the then New York Giants. The idea was that the deadline would limit the financial advantage these two clubs had on smaller market teams especially as seasons came to a close. Ironically enough, the sale of Babe Ruth by the Red Sox to the Yankees for peanuts was the impetus behind the trade deadline initiative. The deadline became August 1st – the point from which no American League player could be traded until the end of the World Series.
The National League came onboard in 1923 and June 15th was set as the deadline date. This remained in effect until the end of the 1985 season when the Basic Agreement set the new date as July 31st. It also established a waiver system whereby a player could still be traded during the month of August. This Waiver Trade Clause was eliminated in 2019. Because of the shortened pandemic season in 2020, the deadline date was temporarily moved to August 31st to fit the shortened season.
As the trade deadline looms in 2021, I thought it might be interesting to revisit how the Cardinals have fared over the years with their maneuvering at this key moment.
Delving into the history books, the first deal I found that appears to mark the beginning of historic mid-season trades by the organization occurred in 1926. That year, Billy Southworth was enjoying his most productive season as a member of the New York Giants. However, Southworth’s style clashed with disciplinarian John McGraw so the manager sent “Billy The Kid” packing to St. Louis for outfielder Heinie Mueller.
As Southworth’s playing career waned in the late 1920’s, the Cardinals made him the manager of their Triple-A affiliate and two years later he became the player-manager of the Cardinals. That stint did not end well as personal travails sidelined him for a number of years. The organization gave him another shot at Triple-A before promoting to the bigs again as their skipper in 1940. From 1941 through 1945, the Cardinals never won fewer than 95 games under his leadership adding three National League pennants and two World Series titles to St. Louis’ baseball legacy.
At the 1930 trade deadline, the Cardinals acquired Burleigh Grimes from the Boston Braves. The trade proved crucial to their World Series title in 1931 as Grimes, the last of the spitballers, hurled 8 1/3 innings in Game 7 with a dislocated vertebrae to secure St. Louis’ second World Series title.
Wally Roettger arrived from the Cincinnati Reds at the 1931 trade deadline. Although primarily a platoon player, the outfielder hit .286 in the three games in which he appeared in the Fall Classic before the Reds repurchased him from the Cardinals in December of 1931.
For the next 25 years, the Cardinals made relatively small deals here and there but in 1956 all that changed. General manager Frank “Trader” Lane dealt away one of their best and fan favorite players in Red Schoendienst in a nine-player deal with the San Francisco Giants. Al Dark, the big name coming the other way, hit .289 over three seasons but never lived up to what St. Louis expected when they sent the “Old Redhead” to the Giants.
Eight years after the Dark for Schoendienst deal, the Cardinals struck paydirt at the deadline in what is one of the most famous deals in baseball history – future Hall of Famer Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio in 1964. Although there were four other players involved in the deal, the two were the cornerstones.
Over the next decade plus, the Cardinals did not make much of a splash as wheelers and dealers at the trade deadline. Their most notable moves over that span sent outfielder Reggie Smith to the Dodgers in 1976 for three players and 1974 Rookie of the Year Bake McBride to the Phillies in 1977.
Four years later, in 1981, the Cardinals sent outfielder Tony Scott to the Houston Astros for right-hander Joaquin Andujar. The trade immediately paid dividends for the Redbirds as the “one tough Dominican” won Games 3 and 7 of the 1982 World Series over the Milwaukee Brewers.
The 1983 and 1984 trade deadline moves by the Cardinals sent away two cornerstones of the 1982 World Series club. First to go was first baseman and future Cardinals Hall of Famer Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets, followed by third baseman Ken Oberkfell to the Atlanta Braves the next July. None of the returning players panned out for the Cardinals organization.
Six years later, the Cardinals were selling again – another fan favorite in Willie McGee. Although the trade with Oakland occurred after the 1990 deadline, it is included because it opened the door for McGee to become the first and only player in baseball history to win the National League batting title while playing in the American League.
It was seven more years before St. Louis made another big splash at the trade deadline leading to more World Series appearances and titles. The first brought Oakland slugger Mark McGwire to St. Louis in 1997. Although few expected it at the time, “Big Mac” became a franchise fixture and not just a mid-season rental. Third baseman Fernando Tatis arrived the following year. Will Clark came in 2000, Woody Williams in 2001 and Scott Rolen in 2002 before a period of trade deadline stability.
The next big splash occurred in 2009 when Matt Holliday arrived from Oakland in exchange for three players. The outfielder became a fan favorite on and off the field as the Cardinals had their own version of Murderers Row with Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Holliday batting 3-4-5.
The final big splash came in an eight-player trade deadline deal in 2011 that solidified St. Louis’ run to its 11th World Series title. Although it did not appear to be major at the time, the arrival of pitchers Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, and Octavio Dotel from the Toronto Blue Jays paid off handsomely.
Not much has happened since, however some lesser trades at the deadline in recent years are starting to work out. Tyler O’Neill came over from Seattle in 2017 in exchange for pitcher Marco Gonzales. O’Neill is now the Cardinals clean-up hitter with over half of his hits going for extra bases. Others to keep an eye on are outfielders Jhon Torres and Justin Williams along with pitchers Genesis Cabrera and Seth Elledge.
Elledge arrived a year after O’Neill also coming from Seattle in 2018. The right-hander made his major league debut in 2020 with St. Louis and is working out of the bullpen intermittently again in 2021.
Torres is currently the leadoff hitter for High-A Peoria Chiefs hitting .271 with 15 doubles and 17 RBI. Acquired in a 2018 deadline deal with Cleveland, the 21-year-old is ranked no. 10 among the Cardinals top prospects according to The Cardinal Nation.
Williams and Cabrera, both part of the 2018 Tommy Pham deal with Tampa Bay, made the 2021 Opening Day roster. After an earlier trial with St. Louis, the outfielder is currently at Triple-A Memphis while Cabrera already has 40 appearances in 2021 as one of the top options out of the Cardinals’ pen.
With the trade deadline just weeks away, will the Cardinals be buyers or sellers? Will they make a big splash or engineer lesser trades that bring promise to the future? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, the organization has not been afraid to pull the trigger when the right opportunity presents itself.
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