The Not Top 10 Deals in Cardinals History

by on August 7, 2012 · 12 comments

Whenever someone familiar with the Cardinals goes on a diatribe about the great lopsided trades that have worked in favor of the team, the Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock deal nearly always gets mentioned.  What about the trades that didn’t work out so well for the Redbirds?  Do people find no value in evaluating such deals in hindsight?  Of course some do, and I’m all about second guessing.  Here are quite possibly the worst 10 deals made by the Cardinals in the past 30 years (in no particular order).

  1. Brendan Ryan to the Seattle Mariners for Maikel Cleto – December 12, 2010.  The Mariners have coughed up just $1M in 2011 and the pro-rated amount to date of $1.75M for 2012 (about $1.3M) for the best defensive shortstop in baseball.  For that tidy sum of just about $2.3M, they have received 7.1 WAR in return.  Granted, Cleto remains a work in progress, but his 13.1 innings in the big leagues have been part of a painful learning process thus far.
  2. Daric Barton, Kiko Calero, and Dan Haren to the A’s for Mark Mulder – December 18th, 2004.  Since leaving St. Louis, Haren has ONLY accounted for 29.1 WAR at a cost of approximately $40M.  That includes a record of 109-82 with a 3.56 ERA (ERA+ 119).  Meanwhile, Mulder netted a cool $25.3M in exchange for 311 innings for -0.4 WAR.  To put that in perspective, the Cardinals paid Mulder $1.15M per pitching win (22-18).  Ouch.
  3. Lonnie Smith to the Kansas City Royals for John Morris – May 17, 1985.  Skates went on to produce a measly 21.4 WAR for the Royals, Braves, and Orioles combined.  Morris went on to play 7 season for the Cardinals and produced something in the neighborhood of -0.9 WAR.
  4. Jess Todd and Chris Perez to the Indians for Mark DeRosa – June 27th, 2009.  Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Perez has notched 88 saves while holding down his ERA to 2.82 (ERA+ 139).  Also, he turned 27 just last month and goes into this offseason as a 2nd year arbitration eligible player.  DeRosa (.270 career hitter) never quite gained traction in St. Louis, and he struggled to a .228/.291/.405/.696 line in 68 games with the Cardinals.  His latest addition to his body of work in MLB consists of 34 games with the Nationals this season in which he hit .152.
  5. Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin to the Phillies for Doug Nickle, Scott Rolen and cash – July 29th, 2002.  During his time with the Cardinals, Rolen accounted for 24.7 WAR for about $60M from 2002-2007.  Over the same period of time, Placido Polanco alone posted 21.6 WAR for less than $22M.  Mike Timlin produced 7.1 WAR as a pitcher for both the Phillies and the Red Sox from 2002-2007 for approximately $17M.
  6. Mike Dunne, Mike LaValliere, and Andy Van Slyke to Pittsburgh for Tony Pena – April 1, 1987.  Pena went on to handle the catching duties in St. Louis quite admirably, but his 1.7 WAR during his time with the Cardinals probably included the true end to his peak years.  After leaving the Cardinals, he actually lost some of his WAR value (-0.9) over another 8 season.  Meanwhile, Andy Van Slyke went on to play 1137 games in 9 years with the Pirates and accounted for 29.2 WAR.
  7. Mark Worrell and Luke Gregerson to the Padres for Khalil Greene – December 4th, 2008.  Greene played all of 77 games with the Cardinals in 2009 and hit right at the Mendoza Line.  Gregerson was the “player to be named later” in the deal, and he turned into the best part of the trade.  He has been pitching in the majors since 2009 and boasts a 3.03 ERA and 1.129 WHIP over 3+ seasons in 265 appearances.
  8. Tino Martinez to the Rays for Evan Rust and John-Paul Davis November 21st, 2003.  Tino only played 2 more years, but he did manage to add 40 HR and 125 RBI to his career totals while sporting a .801 OPS.
  9. Scott Rolen to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus – January 14th, 2008.  This trade represented a swapping of “risks” in a manner of speaking.  Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Glaus gave the team 1 good year (2004) and 1 season that consisted of just 14 games (2005).  Glaus still gave the team 4.3 WAR over that stretch, but Rolen gave the Blue Jays 8.1 WAR during the same period.  Maybe Cardinal fans can console themselves with the fact that the team saved $3M+, but it seems that money would have been better spent on Rolen.
  10. Keith Hernandez to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey on June 15, 1983.  Hernandez went on to average about 3.0 WAR per season for 8 years with the Mets and than with the Indians.  Allen basically provided the Cardinals with a replacement level pitcher for a few years, and Ownbey only made 21 appearances for St. Louis from 1984-86.

Now, it should be noted here that the full impact of every trade requires additional information to form the bigger picture.  Some deals are made for immediacy of impact, to fill a void created by injury, or for financial prudence.  Most of these do not fall into those categories.  That’s not to say that things would have turned out better or worse in an alternate baseball universe where we can rescind trades years after they happen.  We simply cannot know all the possibilities.  What we can know is that in hindsight, some of these really set the team back or represent significant missed opportunities.

Follow gr33nazn on Twitter for more about the Not Top 10!


Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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Cardinal70 August 7, 2012

The John-Paul Davis in the Tino trade actually graduated with my brother. Think he still lives around here, as his baseball career ended the year after the Cards acquired him, I believe.

It’s an interesting list. I wouldn’t have thought to put the acquisition of Rolen on there, but it does fit when you look at it in that way. Polonco turned out to have a better career than any of us expected, I think.

It’s also worth noting that people hated the Mulder deal from the start, but that’s because they were sure the Cards gave up a can’t-miss guy in Barton. Haren for Mulder would have been acceptable at the time, but that just shows how much we know.

I do wonder how things would have been different if Mark DeRosa hadn’t gotten hurt immediately after getting to SL. I don’t think he’s ever fully recovered from that and losing Perez in that deal was especially painful.

Mo does a lot of good deals and when he gets burned it’s not to the epic level, but not having Perez and Gregerson recently has been tough.

Dennis August 7, 2012

Interesting tidbit about John-Paul Davis. I know his career didn’t quite get off the ground, but that’s the case with so many players.

I knew that Polanco had been valuable in Philly, but I never realized just how much of a bargain he had been for his productivity. Oddly enough, WAR does not give a player any recognition for the ability to play multiple positions. That kind of flexibility would have been nice, especially from a guy who could handle a bat like Polanco did.

I think DeRosa was the right call at the time, and I’m not looking to assign blame here. I don’t have an issue with trading for what you need right now. To be honest, I’m happy to not have to analyze super mega-trades on a regular basis. I’m much happier with the subtle fine tuning approach.

Ray DeRousse August 7, 2012

I think I’d still do trade #5 even in retrospect. Rolen gave us a couple of fun and exciting years following that trade.

Dennis August 7, 2012

I tend to agree with you. His defensive work at 3B alone made him a lot of fun to watch.

Alex August 7, 2012

That’s a long an lustrious 24 year career for a guy that most people couldn’t even pronounce his name. What do you expect out of a 47-49 year old pitcher, he just doesn’t have the stuff to strike out 20 somethings anymore. I think you meant he played 21 games from 1984-1986..

Overall great post. In the defense of the Ryan trade, he had the similar characteristics of our Greene situation. There were even times in his short tenure that his top notched defense suffered because of his worry of his offense, and after two years of will he or won’t he, the Cardinals decided to move on.

Like many have said already, I would have never guessed the Rolen trade would have shown up on this list. Its tough to swallow, but fun to think about what Polanco would have done for the Cardinals.

Dennis August 7, 2012

Alex. Good catch. I actually corrected the years for Ownbey’s career with Stl earlier today, so I’m guessing we’re experiencing a caching issue of some kind. The incorrect range still shows up on the mobile version and via a couple apps, so I’ll look into it.

The Ryan trade is one of the few that I really didn’t like from the start. I wrote a post specifically about this topic, and I compared Ozzie Smith’s last year in SD against Ryan’s last year in Stl. Eerily similar in so many respects. Smith got better defensively, and he eventually improved his offense a lot as well. I don’t think Ryan has anything near the same ceiling Ozzie did offensively, but it would have been interesting to see him progress.

Keep in mind that this list is only my version of the bottom 10, and it only goes back 30 years. It’s possible that there are more deserving examples, but I just didn’t identify them as such.

Zach August 8, 2012

I think in the long term the rasmus trade would be categorized as one of these. But it did get us a WS… And I don’t really think he was good for the team chemistry.

Dennis August 8, 2012

I have a hard time believing that many will regret the Rasmus deal after experiencing the WS celebration. I think that deal falls under the category of “immediacy of impact”, and I’m fine with that. My hope is that it’s a rare case of everyone involved in the trade ending up better off somehow. It would be great to have your cake and eat it too, but I don’t see how Rasmus would have performed in St. Louis the way he can in the AL. The Cardinals are already heavy on left-handed hitters and susceptible to LHP enough as it is. If he goes on to a stellar career with the Blue Jays and does well, I still don’t think it takes away from the decision to go for it all in 1 year. WS Championships are so rare that teams simply cannot afford to waste much time waiting for the right circumstances.

Jarrett August 13, 2012

I like the article but I will repectfully disagree with a couple. The Lonnie Smith trade for one. A) Vince Coleman made Lonnie a bench player when he got hurt. B) We had a outfield of Coleman, McGee, and Van Slyke, C) He had just been implicated in drug charges of the Cocaine busts in 1984. Also, Smith’s production you speak of.. was with Atlanta in 1989.. everyone thought his career was done by 1988. His WAR after the trade 1.1, 2.0, -0.3, and .5 in 1988. While McGee was 7.9,2.7,.8, and 2.6. Van Slyke’s was 3.2 & 3.1 (85-86), Curt Ford 1.4 (1987), and Tom Brunansky (1988) 1.3.. and Finally Vince Coleman (who Replaced Smith) 2.3, 1.0, 2.6, & .6.. So How much would have Smith helped the Cardinals in that period.. Cause they wouldn’t have stuck with him for 4 more year jsut to get to the Atlanta Boom year (s). His numbers are a bit skewed cause he had a 8.8 WAR in 1989. BTW, John Morris had his most playing time in 1987 (spliting with Curt Ford, and Jim Lindeman) .5 WAR compared to Smith’s -.3 War that year.

I love Smith.. but it was not a bad trade. It should be view what he did with the Royals.

Dennis August 13, 2012

I realize that Smith’s numbers would not have been the same in Stl, but we have no way of knowing what they would have been at all. Even if he had been a 4th outfielder for the Cardinals, I’m willing to bet he would have provided more value than John Morris could have. Also, it’s a little unfair to reference only Smith’s 8.8 WAR season, because he accounted for 4.4, 1.6, 1.5, and 2.0 the following 4 seasons in diminishing playing time.

Jarrett August 13, 2012

The Other I disagree with was the Tino Martinez trade… We then Put ALBERT at 1B and Rolen at 3B.. Would you have played Tino over either of those 2… NO.. Plus Tino Was hated by the fans (not by me) for under producing with the big contract. EVeryone was happy to see him go for 2 career minor leaguers.

Dennis August 13, 2012

I think maybe you are missing the point of this post. The whole point is to identify the worst 10 deals. That does not necessarily mean that they were all bad. On the whole, the Cardinals have done quite well over the years in making significant trades. What puts most of these deals on the list is the fact that even on the surface, many of them were not for equal value. The Tino Martinez deal represents a great example of this. Everyone knew that the team wasn’t getting anything of real value in the deal, and yet many people were still in favor of the move.

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