photo: Francisco Peña, Mike Maddux, Adam Wainwright (Scott Kane/USA TODAY Sports)
The St. Louis Cardinals made a quiet addition with the return of free agent catcher Francisco Peña. In our weekly history feature, the tumultuous two-year tenure of general manager Frank “Trader” Lane is remembered.
Cardinals sign reserve catcher Peña
The St. Louis Cardinals agreed to a minor league deal with Francisco Peña to compete for the job of backing up catcher Yadier Molina, a position he also held in 2018. Peña, 29, won’t be immediately added to the 40-man roster, with that likely occurring at the end of spring training.
Peña made a career high 142 plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2018, which included time he spent as the starting catcher while Molina recovered from surgery from a groin injury. Peña slashed just .203/.239/.271 last season.
With the recent trade of catching prospect Carson Kelly to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the heir apparent to Molina appears to be Andrew Knizner. The prospect has just 61 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, so the likelihood that Peña will face any stiff competition from Knizner for the backup position seems slim.
The Cardinals could, however, make additional catching acquisitions during the offseason, so Peña’s position as Molina’s backup is not assured. The minor league deal Peña signed gives the Cardinals the flexibility to wait to add Peña to the roster should other options make themselves available prior to spring training.
Trade and Acquisition Rumors
Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reports that the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, and Houston Astros are “involved” in discussions for a possible trade for Cardinals OF/1B Jose Martinez. These three teams are reportedly interested in both Martinez and Edwin Encarnacion of the Mariners.
12/28 The Cardinals signed C Francisco Peña to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.
There is no new injury news to report.
In the wake of the signing of catcher Peña, the Cardinals are closer to obtaining the necessary pieces for the 2019 roster. It has been reported that the team continues to be in the market for an additional left handed bench bat to complement a mostly right-handed roster. The Cardinals also continue to monitor the market for any additional opportunities, especially in relief pitching.
January 11, 2019 is the deadline for clubs and arbitration eligible players to exchange salary information. The Cardinals have three such players on the roster – Michael Wacha, Marcell Ozuna, and Dominic Leone. Both Wacha and Ozuna are in their final year of arbitration and thus will become free agents after the 2019 season. Leone is a first year arbitration eligible player.
The annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up fan festival will be held on January 19-21 at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch in St. Louis. Admission tickets and autograph tickets are currently on sale.
That weekend also includes the Cardinals Caravan, which brings the players to the fans. Stops are numerous in Missouri and Illinois, with others in Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee.
The annual St. Louis BBWAA Dinner will be held on January 20 at the Curio Hotel, Union Station downtown. Former Cardinals broadcaster Bob Costas, and new Hall of Fame pitcher Lee Smith will be honorees at the dinner.
Blast from the Past
This week’s Blast from the Past focuses not on a particular trade or acquisition, but a figure from the Cardinals past who made a name for himself making trades for five different teams in a career spanning several decades.
Frank C. Lane was born February 1, 1896, in Cincinnati Ohio. Lane briefly played professional football and tried his hand at baseball but was unsuccessful. He worked as a football and basketball referee and was hired in 1933 as the traveling secretary for the Cincinnati Reds. Lane spent one season as the general manager of the Reds minor league affiliate in Durham, North Carolina before becoming the assistant general manager for the Reds in 1936.
Lane served four years in the Navy during World War II, after which he spent two years as president of the minor league American Association. Lane resigned that post in 1948 to take his first general manager job with the Chicago White Sox.
Over the span of his career as a baseball executive, Lane became well known as a compulsive trader. In his seven years in Chicago alone, Lane made 241 trades. He is believed to have made somewhere between 400 and 700 trades across jobs with five major league teams, including the Cardinals.
Lane left the White Sox in 1955, and was hired by the Cardinals. Lane was St. Louis’ GM for two seasons, 1956-57. His first move was not a trade, however, but a uniform change. Lane banished the birds on the bat logo, a move that was so unpopular that the logo returned the next season.
In May of 1956, Lane traded the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year winner, Bill Virdon, to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Bobby Del Greco and Dick Littlefield. Virdon went on to be an elite defensive centerfielder for the next ten years, while Del Greco and Littlefield did virtually nothing. Del Greco couldn’t hit at all, and later in life Lane admitted the Virdon trade was the worst trade he ever made.
In the first two weeks of May, Lane traded 17 players in six deals. Then in June, Lane attempted, but did not succeed in, a trade of Stan Musial to the Phillies for pitcher Robin Roberts. Thankfully, owner Gussie Busch got wind of the deal and put a stop to it. But Lane would not be deterred, and he immediately traded Red Schoendienst, Musial’s roommate, to the New York Giants. This successful trade was almost as bad and made Busch so furious he ordered Lane to make no further trades without his approval.
Lane did make some good trades for the Cardinals. In the 1956 offseason, Lane dealt pitchers Tom Poholsky and Jackie Collum to the Cubs for RHP Sam Jones. Jones had two successful seasons with the Cardinals before being traded to San Francisco for Bill White. Another offseason deal sent Rip Ripulski and Bobby Morgan to the Phillies for OF Del Ennis. Ennis contributed 24 HRs and 105 RBI to the Cardinals’ 1957 run at the pennant.
Lane left the Cardinals after the 1957 season and owner Gussie Busch made no attempt to persuade him to stay. Lane’s compulsive trader ways reportedly hurt team morale.
Lane went to work for the Cleveland Indians, the Kansas City Athletics, and the Milwaukee Brewers. Lane’s last executive job with Milwaukee came 10 years after a short stint In Kansas City. At the age of 76, Lane was hired by the owner of the Brewers, Bud Selig.
Lane’s trading compulsion sprouted several nicknames for him over his career. He was called at various times. “Frantic Frank”, “Trader Frank”, “Trader Lane”, and “The Wheeler Dealer”.
Lane died in a nursing home in Dallas, Texas in 1981 at the age of 86. Frantic Frank was once quoted as saying “The only deals that irked me are the ones I didn’t make”.
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