St Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols and 9 Stars They Were Right to Show the Door
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For many players who have ever played for the Cardinals, their most productive years often come during their tenure in St. Louis.
Chris Carpenter. Edgar Renteria. Scott Rolen. All examples of all-stars who gave their best years to the Cardinals and their fans.
And that is not by chance.
The Cardinals organization has a long history of smart free agency signings, savvy trades, and drafting home-grown stars as well.
And like any good card player, the Cardinals know when to hold them and when to fold them, which often means trading an all-star just before his value drops or letting a "cornerstone" player walk in free agency who wants far too much cash for his services.
Here's a look back at ten players the Cardinals were wise to bid adieu.
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Scott Rolen was just 30 years old coming off four straight 100-RBI seasons and poised to secure his place in Cooperstown, whose membership has always been thinly represented at third base.
Rolen had finished fourth in the National League MVP voting the previous year with a monster .314-34-124 campaign and the highest OPS of his career (1.007).
But in May of 2005, his career was forever changed by a collision with Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi as Rolen was running to the bag. His shoulder ruined, Rolen has literally never been the same player since.
He has had just three 20-plus homer seasons in eight years since the injury.
The old-school and intensely proud Rolen did not cope well with being injured nor being given part-time duty as Tony La Russa used the veteran only when it best served the team.
Rolen was finally traded to the Blue Jays in January 2008 after an awful 2007 campaign in exchange for Troy Glaus, himself coming off a poor year in Toronto.
All Glaus did was have one of the best seasons of his career. He batted .270 (far above his career .254 average) with 27 home runs and 99 RBI. In the field, Glaus surprised many by leading all NL third basemen in fielding percentage (.982) which also set a Cardinal club record.
For the Cardinals and Rolen, his departure was not what any envisioned when they acquired him in 2002, and though sad under the circumstances, it was the right move.
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Many Cardinal fans don't realize just how productive Ray Lankford was in his career in the St. Louis outfield, displaying the best combination of power and speed of any Cardinal in team history. Lankford ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in both categories.
Lankford ranks fourth in home runs with 228 (ahead of luminaries like Mark McGwire and Rogers Hornsby) and eighth in stolen bases with 250.
Lankford achieved a total of five 20-20 seasons—a fairly rare feat of 20-plus home runs and 20-plus steals in the same year.
In his only All-Star season in 1997, Lankford batted .295 with 31 home runs, 98 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Combined with a .411 on-base percentage he had an eye-popping OPS of .996.
Looking for pitching help in 2001, Cards GM Walt Jocketty traded the 34-year-old outfielder to the San Diego Padres for the mediocre Woody Williams, which turned out to be one of the finest heists Jocketty pulled off for St. Louis during his tenure.
All Williams did was go 7-1 for the Cards with a sparkling 2.28 ERA. In 2003, Williams would lead the Cardinal staff with an 18-9 record and 3.87 ERA.
Lankford quickly declined after the trade, eventually taking a year off. In his final year, he made the Cardinals as a backup outfielder out of spring training taking a final bow at Busch Stadium.
Joaquin Andujar was the ace of Whitey Herzog's early '80s Cardinal pitching staffs, winning 68 games in parts of five seasons including back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1984 and 1985.
The fiery Dominican never won more than 12 games with any other team in his career.
Ever-colorful and emotional on the mound, Andujar was 3-0 in the 1982 postseason including a 2-0 mark in the World Series against the Cardinals' current division-mates, the Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite winning 21 games in 1985 and earning and All-Star appearance, Andujar's tenure with St. Louis came to an abrupt end after a poor postseason where he won none of his three starts and finished with a 0-2 record, allowing 24 hits in 14-and-a-third innings.
Andujar was thrown out of a Game 7 World Series blowout loss arguing balls and strikes, destroyed a toilet in the visitor's clubhouse, and never pitched for the Cardinals again.
He was dealt to the Oakland A's in the offseason.
Andujar won 12 games in 1986, but proved the Cards right in moving him as he struggled with injuries for the rest of his career and was out of baseball by 1989.
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Gregg Jefferies could be the poster boy for players who found great success with the Cardinals but could not ignore the siren's song of free-agency calling them to greener pastures.
To be sure, Jefferies could just flat out hit—a switch-hitter with decent pop who was very tough to strike out, he had a career .289 batting mark. He batted .292 against left-handed pitchers and .287 versus righties.
A first-round pick by the Mets in 1985, Jefferies was a career .331 hitter in the minors and proceeded to bat .321 in 26 games in the majors at the tender age of 20.
Baseball rookie hype was reaching critical mass in the late '80s (unfortunately for Jefferies). What middle-aged baseball card collector did not once hold Jefferies' rookie cards with dollar signs in their eyes?
Of course, Jefferies wasn't going to bat .330 for his career, and New York soured on him once he fell back to earth, banishing him to Kansas City.
The Cardinals flipped talented outfielder Felix Jose and Craig Wilson to the Royals for Jefferies, who proceeded to have his only two all-star caliber seasons as a Redbird.
His slash line in his two years as a Cardinal—.335/.401/.487/.888 and a healthy OPS-plus of 137 providing context to the low-scoring era that it was.
After finally finding true sustained success, a contract squabble ended his time with Cards and he signed on with the Phillies, where he was good, but not memorable and was out of baseball by age 33.
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You knew we had to get to Big Albert sooner or later.
Many in Cardinal Nation observed Pujols' brutally cold start this year with interest, some with bemusement, and others with great satisfaction that John Mozeliak and the Cardinals organization stood their ground and refused to give "A-Rod money" to a declining veteran.
Of course, everyone knew Pujols was never going to finish the year with 10 measly homers. Through May 21, Pujols had just two home runs and a frightening .573 OPS but finally heated up in June.
He had seven straight multi-hit games from June 5-12 and is currently on pace for a decent .282-28-102 campaign. In an era of suppressed offense this is pretty good production.
But whoever called a $30 million-a-year player "pretty good"?
Now, Pujols doesn't make anywhere near that yet and by the end of his deal the Angels may not care they are paying a 41-year-old roughly the gross domestic product of Tuvalu, but could Pujols already be overpaid at just $12 million in 2012?
Certainly, when Allen Craig and his $495,000 price tag are on pace for a .289-24-81 season which even includes a very tough July in which Craig has batted just .239.
Naive Cardinal fans may have been shocked and hurt by Pujols departure, many others offended by the club's business-first approach to the negotiations, but the Pujols Camp made it very clear a year before D-Day that he would not give them a "hometown" discount.
Pujols got what he wanted and the Angels signed themselves a moody, declining all-star along with an albatross of a contract.
Level-headed Cardinal fans knew it was for the best.
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"Silent" George Hendrick could easily be on our list as well as the Cardinals were the beneficiaries of the only two 100-RBI seasons of his 18-year career and just off his worst season in St. Louis in 1984, the Cards traded him to the Pirates primarily for crafty lefty John Tudor.
Tudor had never won more than 13 games in any season previously, but playing for the Cardinals suited him well as he had a strong first half in 1985, his first with the Cards—a 2.27 ERA and a 10-7 record including six complete games and four shutouts.
Tudor was poised for a career year, but no one could have predicted just what he would accomplish in the second half—a staggering 11-1 record, 1.59 ERA, and six more shutouts to lead the National League with a total of 10 whitewashes.
Only Dwight Gooden's legendary Triple Crown season (24 wins, 1.53 ERA, 268 Ks) kept Tudor from winning the Cy Young Award that year.
Tudor's 7.8 wins above replacement rating was actually the best on the Cardinals roster besting even NL-MVP and teammate Willie McGee. Tudor was unconscious, leading the league with a microscopic 0.938 WHIP.
He reverted to career norms after that magical '85 season and at age 34 was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers mid-season for first baseman Pedro Guerrero.
The Cardinals were betting the 33-year-old slugger had something left in the tank and in 1989 he didn't disappoint batting .311 (fifth-best in the NL) with a league-leading 42 doubles and a career-high 117 RBI.
"Pete" finished third in the MVP voting and had two more productive seasons making the trade very one-sided in favor of the Cards.
Tudor did very little in Los Angeles, but like Ray Lankford, returned to St. Louis in his final season and went 12-4 in 1990 just to remind Cardinal fans how good a hurler he was.
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You never want to be the guy who was traded away for a Hall of Famer. You never want to be on the wrong side of the "worst trade in franchise history.
Luckily for Kent Bottenfield, trading Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio is forever etched in Cardinals-Cubs rivalry lore.
But the trade that sent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy to the Anaheim Angels for Jim Edmonds is probably the greatest heist in Cardinals history.
The Cardinals were awful in 1999, but Bottenfield had a great first half going 14-3 with a 3.78 ERA earning his one and only All-Star appearance—in fact it was the only season in which he finished with a double-digit total of wins.
Bottenfield went 4-4 in the second half and in the offseason the Cardinals saw an opportunity to acquire an enigmatic, but phenomenally talented ballplayer in Jim Edmonds and the trade was consummated in December 2007.
Edmonds eventually became the second-most productive outfielder in Cardinal franchise history—second only to another rather popular lefty named Stan Musial—and certainly the most productive center fielder to wear the birds on the bat.
To put things in perspective, Lou Brock produced a WAR total of 39.9 in 16 seasons in St. Louis and totaled 2,713 of his 3,023 career hits as a Cardinal.
Jim Edmonds trails Brock with a WAR rating of 36.4 as a Cardinal—of course it took Edmonds only eight seasons to reach that total.
Edmonds career WAR of 57.3 dwarfs Brock's career total (42.8), which puts Edmonds above Hall of Famers like Hank Greenberg, Willie Stargell, and Harmon Killebrew and makes this Walt Jocketty trade the shrewdest of his career.
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Twenty percent is a lot.
Perhaps not to the average Joe—but to mathematicians, architects, and especially baseball agents 20 percent is a lot.
Edgar Renteria's agent certainly thought so in December of 2004.
Even though the Cardinals succumbed to the Boston Red Sox curse-breaking run that summer, they had by all accounts a fabulously successful year.
The "MV3" of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds were thumping opposing NL pitchers. The pitching staff boasted four 15-game winners in Matt Morris, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan and Chris Carpenter.
The Cards won 105 games that year and seemed poised to be a juggernaut for years.
In 2003, Renteria had possibly the finest offensive season of any Cardinal shortstop in franchise history. He became the first NL shortstop since 1985 to eclipse the 100-RBI plateau, which was also a team record for shortstops.
He also set a team record for doubles (47) at the position and won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.
But a 20 percent difference in salary—just $8 million over four years—was enough to cause Renteria to leave baseball heaven and go straight to baseball hell, playing for the Red Sox in the pressure cooker that is the AL East.
Renteria predictably failed, leading the American League in errors and was shipped out of Boston after just one season.
He would win one more (rather improbable) World Series in 2010 with the Giants, but the Cardinals, in the long run, were better off as they found a World Series MVP shortstop of their own in David Eckstein.
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During Jack Clark's 18-year baseball career, he appeared in at least 150 games in a season just three times, somewhat similar to Jim Edmonds, but even more fragile and without the stellar defense.
The second coming of Lou Gehrig he was not.
In three seasons in St. Louis he was a two-time all-star with an OPS-plus of 153, which even includes an injury-marred 1986 season.
Yet when the Cards wanted to put a games-played clause in his next contract, Jack "The Ripper", who was never one to mince words, ripped the Cardinals organization in the offseason.
Said Clark, "[They said] I was a one-dimensional player, I couldn't play first base. I took all the abuse I could take".
But Clark conveniently forgot two things:
The first was he tended to gimp around the bases during his home run trots like an injured Kirk Gibson in the '88 World Series, but only, all the time.
And second, instead of a leather mitt he wore a cinder block for a glove in the field (which betrayed him on a dropped pop-up in the infamous Game 6 World Series loss to the Royals).
Clark proceeded to hate something about every other city he ended up playing in (probably due to more abuse suffered) and while never was a Hall of Famer, he would have been happier in St. Louis.
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Jimmy "Ballgame" was a breathtaking talent and truly was a borderline Hall of Famer.
But he also piled up strikeouts at a maddening pace and always played with dings and dents from his "adventurous" catches in center field.
But when he did play, he was one of those most productive players in the National League. He twice hit 42 home runs for the Cardinals (also with over 100 walks in each of those years).
His career .284/376/.527/.903 slash line gets your attention as does his career 132 OPS-plus mark.
The Gold Glove Award can be a popularity contest of sorts, but Edmonds probably deserved more than the eight he did receive.
Edmonds' decline came quickly with the Cardinals after his MVP-caliber 2004 season. He had a decent 2005 season at age 35—.263, 29 HR, 89 RBI—but injuries limited him in 2006 and 2007.
The Cardinals traded Edmonds in December that year to the San Diego Padres for an older third base prospect who appeared to have some real upside.
That prospect, David Freese, would only go to become a World Series and NLCS MVP and a well-deserved All-Star in 2012, settling the Cardinals at third base for the immediate future.
By comparison, the Brewers traded Edmonds to the Reds in 2010 for Chris Dickerson, an outfielder who is no longer in the majors.
Chris Dickerson, out of baseball—David Freese, all-star.
Edmonds' contribution to the Cardinals continues to benefit them even today.