Ranking the 10 Greatest Free-Agent Signings in St. Louis Cardinals History
There is no question that the St. Louis Cardinals have done an excellent job of building their teams from the draft as of late.
Free agency is still relatively young since its inception in 1975, but through the years, the Cardinals have added some outstanding talent via free agency as well.
Here is a list of the top 10 free agents in Cardinals history.
In my opinion, Chris Carpenter is the best free agent the Cardinals have ever signed. He won the 2005 Cy Young Award, is a two-time world champion and is one heck of a big-game pitcher.
Carpenter posted a 95-44 record for the Cardinals with a 3.07 ERA and helped tremendously in the development of current staff ace Adam Wainwright. He was tough as nails on the mound and never backed down from a challenge. He battled some injury-plagued seasons but always managed to bounce back strong.
Also, who could forget the Game 5 classic duel between Roy Halladay and Carp? That game will be my lasting memory of Chris Carpenter.
Jason Isringhausen was pretty dominant in his time with the Cardinals, minus the last season when he was injured.
Izzy saved 217 games from 2002-08. He was dominant between 2002-07 and posted a 2.66 ERA during that span.
The Cardinals made the playoffs in 2002 and 2004-06, and Isringhausen was a major part of that. Teams without a great closer rarely hold the World Series trophy.
It's too bad he got hurt in 2008 and never really regained his form in his other stops outside of St. Louis. But for a six-year span, Cardinals fans knew who the ball was going to when the game needed closing out.
A lot of Cardinal fans have fond feelings for David Eckstein. He truly battled his small stature his entire baseball career and showed up his critics time after time.
Eckstein was only in St. Louis for three seasons, but they were some very productive seasons. He batted .297, was a two-time All-Star and was the 2006 World Series MVP. The guy was a very pesky hitter who always found a way to get on base, and he rarely struck out (only 107 strikeouts in his three seasons).
He was a fan favorite and, outside of being 33 years old, I am not exactly sure why he was thrown out to free agency to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. But he will always hold a special place in many Cardinals fans' hearts for his 2006 World Series MVP performance.
Before there was Yadier Molina, there was another great Cardinal catcher named Mike Matheny. He joined the Cardinals in 2000, and the team made the playoffs in four of his five seasons in St. Louis.
While Matheny wasn't a great hitter, his toughness and ability to lead a pitching staff was evident, as the playoffs were a regular occurrence (as mentioned above). Matheny also collected three Gold Gloves during his time in St. Louis.
But most importantly, he helped tutor and develop Yadier Molina into what he has become today.
Jeff Suppan was an above-average pitcher during his time with Cardinals. From 2004-06, he won 44 games, including 16 games twice. He never threw real hard or had amazing control, but he found a way to be effective in most of his starts and give the Cardinals a chance to win.
Suppan's best performance in a Cardinals uniform came in 2006, when he won the MVP of the NLCS. He went 1-0 with a 0.62 ERA and pitched 15-innings in his two starts.
As many remember, the Cardinals went on to win their first World Series in 24 years in 2006, and Suppan was a major part of that.
It didn't seem like Bob Tewksbury threw any harder than 83 mph during his big league career. But somehow, he made that work and put together some pretty good seasons with the Cardinals, including an All-Star appearance in 1992.
That season, Tewks went 16-5 and posted a meager 2.16 ERA. He also finished third in the Cy Young voting.
During his prime with the Cardinals from 1990-93, Tewksbury won 54 games, put up a 3.13 ERA and was the Cardinals' No. 1 starter.
Delino DeSheilds was very good during his tenure in St. Louis. He posted a .293 batting average in his two years in a Cardinals uniform, had a .363 OBP and led the league in triples with 14 in 1997. He also stole 81 bases and was a true lead-off hitter.
Perhaps it was Bop, as he was known, who opened the revolving door the Cardinals have seen at second base for the last 15 years when he bolted for the Baltimore Orioles in 1999.
While Tom Henke only spent one season in St. Louis, he put together one of the best seasons a Cardinals closer has ever put together.
In 1995, Henke spent his last season in the major leagues with the Cardinals, putting up 36 saves and posting a 1.82 ERA. He was an All-Star that season and also received a few Cy Young votes—and he did it all for a meager $2.2 million.
His replacement the following year, Dennis Eckersley, didn't disappoint and is in the Hall of Fame, so perhaps it's a good thing Henke retired after 1995.
Steve Kline is probably remembered more for his filthy, greasy hat than anything he did in a Cardinals uniform. That or giving up the series-losing hit to Tony Womack in the 2001 NLDS.
Regardless, he was a pretty solid lefty who pitched in a ton of games during his Cardinals tenure. He led the league with 89 appearances in 2001 and pitched in no less than 67 games in a season during his Cardinals career.
Overall, Kline put up a 2.69 ERA in 300 games with the Cardinals and twice posted an ERA under 2.00.
He was also part of three playoff teams in his four years in St. Louis.
What can you say about one of the most dominant closers in history?
While his lockdown, dominant years came with the Oakland A's, Eckersley was very effective during his two years in St. Louis. From 1996 to 1997, he saved 66 games, and he helped get them to the playoffs in 1996, their first appearance since their 1987 World Series loss to the Minnesota Twins.
One of my favorite things from the 1996 version of the Eck was watching him point to home plate and yell in excitement after shutting down the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. Too bad the Cardinals blew that series and fans didn't get to see Eckersley point that finger at the New York Yankees in 1996.
That said, he was a great pickup for the Cardinals.
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