A new book by Doug Decatur called “Trades” uses the sabermetrics statistic
win shares to compare the deals the major league franchises pulled off over
the course of the 20th century. It’s an interesting read. But it may surprise
you — because it certainly surprised me — that the Cardinals ranked way
down on the list at 24th.
Advanced statistics can be useful for evaluating players. But I have never
believed that you can evaluate talent in a vacuum. Sometimes a player who
is less talented fills a need better than his physical superior.
On paper, Whitey Herzog looked like a fool to trade Garry Templeton to the
Padres for weak hitting Ozzie Smith. But the Cardinals were going nowhere
fast with Templeton at shortstop. Ozzie turned out to be the glue that held
three NL champions and one World Series winner together.
According to the book, the top five trades in Cardinals history were:
1. Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio in 1964 (+99 win shares)
2. Dutch Leonard for Tom Winsett in 1936 (+82)
3. Willie McGee for Bob Sykes in 1982 (+75)
4. Curt Flood for Marty Kutyna in 1958 (+67)
5. Hoyt Wilhelm for Whitey Lockman in 1957 (+62)
Decatur ranks the worst Cardinals trades as:
1. Cash for Jose Cruz Sr. in 1975 (-94 win shares)
2. Tony Pena for Andy Van Slyke in 1987 (-64)
3. Bobby Bonds for Jerry Mumphrey in 1980 (-63)
4. Rick Wise for Steve Carlton in 1972 (-60)
5. Murry Dickson for Stu Miller in 1960 (-59)
Where is the 1998 swap of Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein?
The Cardinals didn’t make the World Series with McGwire on board.
But they did make the playoffs twice in his 4 1/2 years in St. Louis. And
it’s undeniable that McGwire ignited new interest in the Cardinals that
helped the team build a financial war chest that allowed it to compete at
a higher level in the decade since Big Mac’s retirement.
What about Jim Edmonds for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy in
March of 2000? Not to get technical here, but the 20th century ran from
1901-2000, not 1900-1999 as a lot of people seem to think. So this one
gets in under the wire. Edmonds was a Gold Glover, an All-Star and a
post-season hero for the Cardinals in his eight-year stay here. Bottenfield
was a bust in Anaheim where he was 7-8 with a 5.71 ERA and gone the
next year. Kennedy was a useful but less than spectacular second
baseman who has hit .276 over his career with little power.
Without a doubt, this was the best trade of the Walt Jocketty era. And it
keeps paying dividends since the Cardinals flipped Edmonds to San Diego
near the end of the line for current starting third baseman David Freese.
Trades are as much a matter of timing as they are a matter of talent.
When the Cardinals traded Andy Van Slyke for Tony Pena in 1987,
St. Louis already had a Gold Glove centerfielder in Willie McGee. What
the Cardinals desperately needed at the time was a catcher.
The trade may look like a mismatch on paper because Pena hit .214 in
1987 after notching a .288 mark with the Pirates the year before.
Does that mean he was washed up and the Cardinals were snookered into
buying a lemon? No. Pena had his hand broken when he was hit by a
pitch early in the season, and that greatly affected his batting stroke.
But Pena was still the leader of the pitching staff and the defensive rock
the Redbirds craved. With him on board, the Cardinals made it all the
way to the World Series.
Far from a has-been, Pena rebounded to a .263 average in 1988 and
played another decade after his trade to the Cardinals.
All in all, “Trades” is interesting fan-talk fodder. But I still don’t think you
can truly weigh the value of trades with statistics alone.