The Cardinals have certainly been busier this season than any in recent memory. They’ve made trades to augment a club that they feel has both a legitimate shot at going to the plays and going deep. The recent trades (DeRosa, Duncan, Holliday) have all seen the acquisition of veteran players to fill holes in a lineup decimated by injuries and ineptitude. The philosophical undertones and impact on the farm system are important but not easy to dissect. What follows is my best attempt to show what this trade means for a) individual players, b) individual prospects, c) the organization and d) the fans.
A. Individual Players
1). Matt Holliday – Removed from the friendly confines of Coors and thrust into the chasm that is the Oakland A’s Colliseum, Holliday has seen his offensive production decrease during his year prior to free agency. He did not enjoy hitting in the Colliseum, which depresses runs with increased foul room as well as sheer size of field, and I’ve now heard it cited by several media members (Kurkijan, Stark) that he was uncomfortable being “the man” on the A’s team surrounded by much younger players. St. Louis offers him a chance to play in a great baseball city and revitalize his image as a impact hitter. Larry Walker repeatedly told his former Rockies teammates that he wished they all had a chance to play in a town like St. Louis someday. Matt Holliday took that to heart. For those of you who put a lot of emphasis on a player’s comfort level impacting their playing ability, look for Holliday to rebound.
2). Albert Pujols – The impact of this trade on Pujols is likely to be overstated greatly during the next few weeks. It does increase the Cardinals leverage in terms of PR to say that they’re doing what they can to put a winning team around him. Does this change the dollars needed to sign him? Not really. Should we be surprised if Albert was for this trade? No.
3). Rick Ankiel – Who knows. TLR still feels a great deal of angst over Rick’s career and obviously has a softspot (blindspot?) when it comes to Ankiel’s ability. Rick should be relegated to 4th outfielder status and play once or twice a week. That probably won’t happen sadly. It also seems to make an contract for next year more likely. The club is committed to Schumaker at 2nd. Chris Duncan is gone. Daryl Jones isn’t ready and Rick is a TLR favorite. With his depressed value due to . . . well, being a terrible hitter this year, a one year contract is not outside the realm of possibility.
4). Joel Pineiro – This trade is likely the death of any Pineiro extension. An extension was unlikely given the commitments to Carpenter, Wainwright and Lohse but now it’s almost completely implausible.
B). Individual Prospects
1). Shelby Miller – Welcome to the Cardinals! If ever there was a clearer indication that the Cardinals plan on signing Miller, this trade is it. The fact that there haven’t been any negotiations to date should really be interpreted as a positive sign. It means the Cardinals are aware he’s going to require overslot and they’re not going to bother screwing around with slot money so they’ll wait till August 17th-ish to wrap this up. Miller instantly becomes a clear top 3 prospect and, depending on your ranking proclivities, potentially the number 1 prospect. The Cardinals need to restock the farm system and (as BJM points out in the comments) they’re going to have a ton of potential picks next year in the early rounds. Expect them to acquire the talent they already have exclusive rights to and look toward rebuilding the system.
2). Jaime Garcia – With two open rotation spots next year and the unlikely hood of Pineiro returning, Garcia likely has a clear shot at the #4 starters slot. I also contend that the club is much more optimistic about his rehab than they’ve indicated (short of Mozeliak’s most recent comments on his rehab) and that they expect Garcia to be a cost controlled player in the very near future.
3). Fringe prospects – Players like Adam Ottavino, Tyler Greene, Nick Stavinoha, etc. can probably breathe a big sigh of relief. The Cardinals just moved 2 guys likely to need 40 man roster spots next year and another player who may have been due a 40-man roster spot as well in another year.
4). Daryl Jones – Suddenly there aren’t a bunch of left-handed hitters in his way. The collapse of Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel has been nothing short of epic. They both went from useful-not-quite-everyday-players to unequivocal dead weight seemingly overnight. The Cardinals now have two outfielders who are right handed power houses and Colby Rasmus who has solidified his position on the active roster if not quite his role on the team. If Jones can get healthy and start to hit again, he could get himself in line for some reserve duty over the course of next year with the potential for more in 2011. Tyler Henley and Jon Jay should be likewise pleased.
5). Pete Kozma – The Cardinals need their 2007 first round pick to step it up. Where once you could overlook his development amisdt guys like Wallace, now he needs to become a major league SS in the next 2 years. I’m not sure how much I can stress this but Kozma should be the focal point of attention with Daryl Jones among position players. Yes; that does worry me a bit.
6). Brett Wallace – Needed clearer signs that the Cardinals don’t think he’s a 3rd baseman? Here you go. The Cardinals have been awar of Wallace’s defensive shortcomings and despite all the ruckus about “overcoming it with the bat” and having “trimmed up” before the Futures Game, he was not going to be competent at the hot corner. Wallace was out of shape (beyond simply having a bigger build) and his mobility and range at third were still abominable. Projections for him to be a league average player by next year are optimistic given the hiccups he’s had in the minors. Personally, I don’t think Wallace is the impact player that everyone thinks he is and maybe not even the impact hitter. Did the Cardinals recoup full value by trading him for 2 months of Matt Holliday? Probably not. It’s not the player I would have targeted but Wallace had to be moved and soon before teams realized that the Cardinals never had an intention of playing him at 3rd in the long term. Regardless of the monetary valuations, this isn’t the crippling loss that it’s being made out to be.
7). Clayton Mortensen – I don’t have much insight as to why he was part of this deal or if it speaks to any teams impression of him. I’m more perturbed by the loss of Mortensen than Wallace. Wallace didn’t have a place in STL to me but Mortensen clearly does. He’s the best long term pitching prospect in the system this side of a healthy Garcia. With an improved changeup to fend off lefties and a natural sinking fastball, he had the makings of a nice middle of the rotation pitcher. He doesn’t have the diversity of weapons of a Carpenter or Wainwright but there are similarities there for me and tutelage under those two (and Dave Duncan) seemed like a match made in heaven.
C). The Organization
1). Tony La Russa – He got his man. Have no doubt that he lobbied and lobbied hard for this trade. He and Dave Duncan do not like the talent level of the prospects in the upper minors and wanted a “proven veteran” badly. TLR was very upset about the Chris Duncan trade. He was vocal about his displeasure within the organization and to DeWitt directly. He became the 800lb gorilla in the room after Duncan’s trade. The Holliday trade was, in part, a concession to TLR. (Note that I only said in part. That’s not the total reason for the trade.) Expect TLR and compatriot Dave Duncan to continue coaching on the Cardinals team into next year and beyond.
2). John Mozeliak – After asserting himself in the Duncan trade, Mozeliak was the conduit for making a trade that was deemed too high a cost 6th months ago. Mozeliak isn’t a spineless GM; he’s one who simply isn’t given full autonomy by Bill DeWitt. DeWitt maintains a presence in many of the high level decisions and TLR has the ability to get his attention at times. If you don’t like this trade, fault DeWitt and Tony rather than Mozeliak.
3). Jeff Luhnow – The St. Louis media has done a good job of painting Luhnow as a caricature. He is protector of the fabrege eggs and won’t let his prospects go for anything. Hopefully, the Post-Dispatch scribes take note of this season and stop with the generalizations because they’re false. Luhnow’s goal was and always has been to restock the farm system in order to support the big league club. At times that means promoting talented players to the majors and other times that means trades. The farm system was never in a position to make this kind of trade previously. It is now because Luhnow and others have done a remarkable job with their drafts. It once again shows how little personalities like Bernie Miklasz and Joe Strauss know about prospects. After carping that they were overrated for years, suddenly they’re netting big fish that these guys like. But I digress. Luhnow’s mission hasn’t changed and this isn’t the dramatic shift in organizational thinking that it may seem to be. It’s a step back for the farm system so that the Cardinals can take a step forward at a time when some within the org believe they have a chance to win it all.
4). Bill DeWitt – That’s a lot of dry powder for this season. Scaling back payroll after doomsday predictions with attendance numbers, DeWitt has opened the coffers with the realization that St. Louis folks are still going to go to ballgames this year. Some of this is DeWitt paying a bit extra for a specific player but some of it is also just returning payroll to previous season’s levels. The real question (and this is one no one has an answer to as of yet) is what he’s willing to do moving forward. If they lock up Matt Holliday to an extension, payroll will need to rise. Albert Pujols looms large with his next payday. DeWitt will decide if this season is a random spike or a real increase in near term spending. Having exclusive negotiating rights to Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa for a while is a small but not compeltely insiginificant asset if they want to retain them for the future.
D). The Fans
1). The Future – The farm system just took a solid punch to the midsection. We showed a good chin when Chris Perez was moved but then we ducked when we should have leaned back. Luhnow has shown the ability to turn the farm system around in a very short period of time. That said, we should brace ourselves for more conservative drafts unless a special talent drops to us in the first round.
2). The Present – Live it up! This is going to be an incredible ballclub to watch for the rest of 2009. In the advent of the internet, VEB and Future Redbirds, we’ve all become mini-GMs trying to manage the present as well as the future. The best part of being a fan for me before I became attached toFuture Redbirds was the ability of baseball to bring me back to the present. Are we in first place today? Freaking fantastic! Enjoy it. Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick are not the MV3 (Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds are better than you remember) but they will make for a great offensive core. Players like Rasmus, Molina, DeRosa and Schumaker fill out the offense with viable hitters. The defense of Rasmus, Molina, Brendan Ryan and Albert Pujols is a joy to watch. The lineup still isn’t AL East deep but it’s puts the Cardinals in the first tier of NL teams. So my advice is to take a breath, stop worrying about what’s going to happen this offseason and go rub this trade in a Cubs fan’s face.
As for the trade itself, I’m obviously dealing with the dueling algorithms of the last two points. I don’t think that the trade is as devestating as many are portraying it. It’s about time the Cardinals displayed their financial stability and might in the NL. Brett Wallace isn’t a huge loss for me as a prospect watcher but I wish the Cardinals would have pushed to land a bigger fish at the point they were willing to move him. Matt Holliday is better than his Oakland numbers but not as good as his Coors numbers. The Cardinals gave up some of the future to leverage the present. They’re able to do that because they’ve gotten better at drafting. The Braves used to do this on a routine basis and stay in contention and have a great minor league system. It’s not impossible to do. Am I concerned about 2010-2012? Sure. But my excitement about 2009 does a lot to balance that out.
Just one last passing thought. Wouldn’t it be crazy if this trade turns out like the Mulder one in terms of the prospects? If Brett Wallace goes the way of Daric Barton and Clayton Mortensen turns out to be the best prospect acquired. . . Just a thought. Prospects are fickle things.