Top 5 St. Louis Cardinals Stories from 2014
As the world prepares to turn the final calendar page of 2014, it creates a time of reflection. The 2014 calendar year was a busy one for the sport of baseball, and the St. Louis Cardinals are no exception. The top five stories of 2014 give a snapshot of a dynamic time in St. Louis.
The Cardinals have been one of baseball's most successful teams in recent memory. Consistently finding their way to the postseason, developing talent from within the organization and being strong-willed enough to make trades to try and improve the team have all become standard operation for the team.
During 2014, the Cardinals faced tragedy, traded away fan favorites and former top prospects, saw a prospect start to realize his potential and continued to provide surprising news. The team had big moments on and off the field.
Here are the top five stories from 2014.
All statistics in the following article are provided by Baseball-Reference.com.
5. Kolten Wong Seizes the Opportunity
Kolten Wong arrived in the big leagues in 2013 and found himself as a focal point for all the wrong reasons by the end of the season.
In Game 4 of the 2013 World Series, Wong was asked to pinch run for Allen Craig in the ninth inning. Koji Uehara of the Boston Red Sox would then pick Wong off to end the game, the first time in the history of the World Series that a game ended in such a way.
It would have been easy for a young player like Wong to let this moment haunt him. He showed emotion and disappointment in interviews after the game. The 24-year-old Hawaii native then had an emotional offseason as he dealt with the loss of his mother. It seemed likely that Wong would need 2014 to be a season of development and resetting of expectations.
Wong proved that he was ready to be a big part of the Cardinals both in 2014 and the future. He found ways to produce throughout the season, showing signs of speed, power and defense. He would play in 113 games during the regular season, driving in 42 runs while hitting 12 home runs. He would add 14 doubles, three triples and 20 stolen bases. He would eventually finish third in voting for the Jackie Robinson Award.
He would cap the season with three home runs, two stolen bases and six runs batted in during the postseason, including a walk-off, solo shot in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.
If Wong can find consistency with his average at the plate—he posted a .249 average in the regular season and a .229 average in the postseason—he will give the Cardinals a formidable second baseman for a long time to come.
4. Shelby Miller Is Traded for Jason Heyward
The Cardinals proved to be willing to deal a strong pitcher in order to fill an obvious need. While Kolten Wong's development was a big story in 2014, a trade of this caliber ranks just a bit higher.
The Cardinals entered the offseason with a plan. Top prospect Oscar Taveras and fellow prospect Randal Grichuk would go to spring training to decide who would be the starting right fielder in 2015. On October 26, Taveras was killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. That left fans wondering what the Cardinals would do in 2015.
Less than a month later, general manager John Mozeliak answered those questions with a big trade. Once deemed to be the future ace of the franchise, Shelby Miller was traded away with fellow hurler Tyrell Jenkins for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. Walden and Jenkins may become key players in the future, but the trade was made on both ends with 2015 in mind.
Heyward, a former All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner, becomes the starting right fielder. Bill Baer reported at Hardball Talk earlier this week that manager Mike Matheny will likely hit Heyward second in the lineup. Heyward brings a lifetime .351 on-base percentage to the top of the Cardinals batting order in 2015 and, according to Charlie Wilmoth at MLB Trade Rumors, is a prime candidate for a contract extension moving forward.
3. Adam Wainwright Has Offseason Surgery
Any time the ace of the pitching staff has a surgery on his throwing arm, no matter how minor it may be, it is a big story.
Reports of the injury itself and the subsequent surgery did not surface until the team announced that the player had successfully underwent the surgery earlier that day. In today's day and age of immediate information, it is remarkable that a story of this magnitude can fly under the radar.
The Cardinals announced on October 24, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold, that Adam Wainwright had cartilage trimmed to avoid irritation in his throwing elbow. The team and fans hope that the irritation explains Wainwright's moments of inefficiency toward the end of the 2014 season. However, surgery on the throwing arm of the team's ace is not a good story no matter how you spin it.
What makes this an even larger story is that the Cardinals have been able to keep it so quiet. Not just the surgery, but the injury in the first place. The scary thing for fans is the thought that the team is not going to be completely forthcoming with injury information. The team has downplayed this surgery, saying it has no impact on the timetable for the 2015 season for Wainwright.
Keep in mind, this is the same team and player that did not admit there was an injury until surgery was completed.
If Wainwright can open the season healthy and perform at his normal level, this story may not even deserve to be mentioned here. However, if the injury lingers or causes Wainwright to miss the start of the season, it may actually be ranked too low.
2. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly Traded to the Boston Red Sox
Prospects will reach their potential, offseason trades will happen, and star players will battle with injuries, but there are few stories that can top a midseason blockbuster like the trade between the Boston Red Sox and the Cardinals. A blockbuster trade that involves fan favorites will make such a story rank near the top of the list.
Allen Craig and Joe Kelly were two of the most loved Cardinals players in recent history. Craig, despite his recent struggles, was viewed as a prolific run producer that seemed willing to play wherever the team needed him. Joe Kelly—and his dance moves, which are ranked here by Dakota Gardner of MLB.com's Cut4—seemed to know how to keep the fans entertained on and off the mound. Both players found instrumental moments in the Cardinals' success over the last few season.
More perplexing was that they were traded for John Lackey and Corey Littrell, both pitchers. The team seemed to be starved for offense and made a big move to acquire additional pitching. Lackey proved to be worth the deal, but the fact remained that the deal was confusing to many fans and experts alike.
1. Top Prospect Oscar Taveras Dies in Car Crash
There are not many stories that will ever outrank the untimely death of a player within an organization. Young prospect Oscar Taveras died tragically in an automobile accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic. His death has become the biggest story of 2014 for the Cardinals.
Weeks after the accident, which also claimed the life of his girlfriend, it was reported by many sites, including Deadspin, that Taveras was intoxicated at the time of the accident. The loss of both lives remains tragic, albeit avoidable, based on this news.
The ripples felt from the story continue. It has reshaped the Cardinals on the field. It has affected many of the players who called Taveras a friend. It has spawned discussions of young, reckless ballplayers and how their actions affect other lives.
Taveras' death has caused grieving, anger and adjustments for many people within the organization. The loss of the young man's life, particularly in a fashion that could have been avoided, will be felt for years to come. The impact it has both on and off the field will continue to be addressed in the new year.
The tragic loss of Oscar Taveras ranks high above any other story for 2014 and the St. Louis Cardinals.