A year ago the St. Louis Cardinals decided to be conservative at the trade deadline, and it cost them a trip to the postseason. They didn't make that mistake again this year.
The Cardinals traded for Oakland Athletics' outfielder Matt Holliday in exchange for three prospects; third baseman Brett Wallace, right handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen, and outfielder Shane Peterson.
Wallace is a former first-round pick, and is considered the Cardinals' top prospect. Many say he is major league ready. Some even think the Cards should have brought him up to fill the void left by Troy Glaus, who is rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He looks like he has a nice major league career ahead of him.
Some say this is a bad move by the Cardinals, since they are giving up a player who could help the team for years to come. With Troy Glaus and Mark DeRosa's contracts up after this season, there will be a void at third base.
On the other hand, we don't actually know how good Wallace will be. While he has done great in the minors, the truth is that he hasn't done anything at the major league level.
The Cardinals tend to talk up their prospects, and some never pan out. Anthony Reyes was supposed to be a "top of the rotation" starter. He won a World Series game, and wasn't good again. Now he is just a low-end starter for the Cleveland Indians.
They have not always been wrong. Colby Rasmus was off-limits in trade talks, and he has turned out to be exactly what they thought he would be. He is a good contact hitter with growing power and speed, and he is good defensively.
We will not know whether Wallace turns out like Reyes or Rasmus until he plays in the majors for a while. I don't think Wallace is what will determine if this is a good trade or not, though. It will be whether or not the Cardinals can re-sign Holliday.
If they can, they have a great hitter to go with Albert Pujols. You can build a team around these two, and the team should be strong down the road. That way the Cardinals get the help they need this year, and they keep the future in mind.
If they cannot re-sign Holliday, then they will have work to do in the offseason. They will need a third baseman, and they will have to decide who plays left field. In this case, the trade may hurt them.
The odds are against them since Holliday's agent is the notorious Scott Boras. Boras always tests free agency, trying to get the most money for his clients. There is a suspicion that his players don't get too much choice in the matter.
The Cardinals do have one thing on their side. They cleared a lot of salary last year, and may have the money to re-sign him for top dollar. They do need to keep Albert Pujols in mind as well, since he will soon be a free agent.
Holliday would be nice to keep, but Pujols is a must, even if it means losing some other players.
Their best case scenario would be to re-sign Holliday and Mark DeRosa. That fills the hole at third base, and keeps Holliday in their lineup. Who knows, maybe they will even have enough left to start talking to Pujols.
But the Cardinals are not worried about the offseason for once. They have their sights set on the playoffs. The NL Central is weak, and the Cardinals sit on top right now. Behind them are the preseason favorite Chicago Cubs, the Houston Astros (who always make a second half push), and the Milwaukee Brewers.
ESPN analysts say that the Cubs will still take the division. The Cardinals have been the most consistent and now they just got better. The Cubs are too inconsistent and some of their players have underperformed. They are playing well right now, but it would be tough to sustain this for the last two months.
As for the other two teams in contention, the Brewers don't have the pitching, and the Astros are good, but not great. They are still missing too many pieces. The Cardinals have all their pieces in place now to be the top of the NL Central.
With the addition of Holliday and DeRosa, the Cardinals will head down the stretch as favorites in the NL Central. While they hope to retain Holliday, for now they will settle for their first postseason since 2006.