The primary stipulation is that the acquisition had to be geared toward helping the Cards make the playoffs or win the pennant. I’m therefore disqualifying the 1997 Mark McGwire acquisition since that team was going nowhere fast when McGwire was added. He played great for the Cards down the stretch but it didn’t really matter – for 1997 anyway. When McGwire was added on July 31, the team was 51-56, in 3rd place, 7.5 games behind. He was acquired for the purpose of trying to sign him to a long-term deal and not w/ an eye toward trying to make the playoffs in ’07. Obviously, the acquisition had to come from outside the organization, so I’m not counting promotions from the minors – though there were some notable promotions (1985 – Todd Worrell, for example). They also need to have been added during the season, as opposed to a trade or free agent signing prior to the season.
So, w/o further ado…I give you the top 10 Cardinal trade deadline acquisitions of the last 25 years:
10. Mike Timlin, 2000 – Timlin came over from the Orioles for Mark Nussbeck and Chris Richard. (BTW, the Cards made another trade that year w/ the Orioles for someone else on this list.) Timlin wasn’t great down the stretch, but he was OK. He pitched 29.2 innings w/ a 3.34 ERA for the Cards. His FIP was 4.48 and he was worth 0.6 WAR in 2000. His WPA was -0.34. He was awful against the Braves in the division series that year and just OK against the Mets in the NLCS.
9. Ron Belliard, 2006 – Belliard, like Timlin, was just OK for the Cards but we desperately needed a 2B in ’06. Acquired from Cleveland for Hector Luna, Belliard was .237/.295/.371 down the stretch and just .240/.283/.260 in the postseason. Like Timlin, he was worth 0.6 WAR w/ the Cards – mostly b/c of his defense. His UZR for the Cards was 6.7 over the last 2 months. He also made a spectacular play in game 1 against the Padres in the division series that helped the Cards hold on and helped propel the team to the NLCS.
8. Jeff Weaver, 2006 – Weaver was acquired from the Angels for Terry Evans. Make no mistake about it, Weaver stunk during the regular season. He was 5-4 w/ a 5.18 ERA and a 5.71 FIP. He was worth -1.3 RAR and -0.1 WAR. He was worse than replacement level but somehow he managed to convince La Russa to allow him to start some postseason games and he was terrific. In the postseason, he was 3-2 w/ a 2.43 ERA and a 4.19 FIP. His WPA in the postseason alone was 0.59. During the regular season his WPA was -0.49.
7. Matt Holliday, 2009 – Holliday’s been terrific in his 19 games as a Cardinal since being acquired from Oakland. He’s hitting .493/.523/.813. His wOBA is a ridiculous .536. His WPA is 1.93 and he’s been worth 14.4 RAR and 1.4 WAR just in his first 19 games. If we revisit this list at the end of the season, I see no reason why Holliday won’t be in the top 2-3.
6. Larry Walker, 2004 – Walker was acquired from the Rockies for Jason Burch, Chris Narveson and Luis Martinez. To tell the truth, I expected Walker to be higher on this list, and maybe he would have if he had been acquired before August 11 of that year. Walker batted .280/.393/.560 w/ a .411 wOBA down the stretch for the 105 win team. Like Holliday, he was worth 14.4 RAR and 1.4 WAR. He was .293/.379/.707 in the postseason w/ a .450 wOBA. It’s not his fault we didn’t win the World Series. It’s too bad that injuries rendered him less effective in 2005.
5. Cesar Cedeno, 1985 – Cedeno was acquired from the Reds for a minor leaguer named Mark Jackson. The outfielder was 34 at the time and primarily played 1B for the Cards the last month or so of the regular season following Jack Clark’s injury. Over the last 28 games, Cedeno hit .434/.463/.750 for the Cards. His WPA was 1.16 and he was worth 14 RAR and 1.5 WAR in less than a month. Cedeno wasn’t nearly as effective in the postseason, batting .148/.258/.222, mostly as a RF.
4. Chuck Finley, 2002 – It’s easy to forget how good Finley was for the Cards after being acquired from the Indians for Luis Garcia and Coco Crisp. He was 7-4 w/ a 3.80 ERA and a 3.17 FIP in 85 innings over the season’s last 2 months. His contribution was worth 18.7 RAR and 2 WAR. In the postseason, he was marvelous against the D-backs and not very good at all against the Giants.
3. Woody Williams, 2001 – Williams was acquired just a couple of days past the non-waiver trade deadline for one of my all-time favorite Cards – Ray Lankford. Neither had played particularly well for their respective teams but Woody was fantastic for the Cards over the season’s last couple of months. He was 7-1 w/ a 2.28 ERA and a 3.76 FIP. His contribution was worth 2.36 WPA and 2.1 WAR. Before being traded to the Cards, Woody was worth 0.4 WAR for the Padres. Unfortunately, the Cards only played 1 postseason series in 2001 but Woody was splendid in his start against the D-backs, beating Randy Johnson by throwing 7 innings of 4 hit and 1 run ball.
2. Will Clark, 2000 – The "other" acquisition from the Orioles in 2000, the Cards received Clark for minor league 3B Jose Leon. Clark stood in for an injured Mark McGwire and posted a .345/.426/.655 line down the stretch. He hit 12 homers in 51 games after hitting 9 in 79 for the Orioles that year and just 10 in 77 games in the previous season. His wOBA was .456 and he was provided a WPA of 2.44. He was worth 24 RAR and 2.3 WAR in less than 2 months w/ the birds on the bat. In the 2000 postseason, he was almost as good, posting slash lines of .345/.441/.621.
And the number 1 trade deadline acquisition by the Cardinals in the last 25 years is…
1. Scott Rolen, 2002 – and it’s not even close. Rolen was acquired from the Phillies for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and the aforementioned Mike Timlin. It had been a tough summer w/ the deaths of Jack Buck and Darryl Kile and Rolen struggled early on, w/ just 6 hits and 3 walks in his first 43 PAs as a Cardinal. After that he went all Will Clark on the rest of the NL as he ended up w/ a .278/.354/.561 line as a Cardinal in ’02. What set Rolen apart from Clark, Cedeno, and Walker, however was his defense. Not only was he worth 12 wRAA on offense, but in just over 2 months w/ the team his defense was worth 13.1 runs above average. All told, he finished 33.4 RAR and 3.3 WAR – a full win better than Clark. Only Edmonds, Pujols, Renteria, and Morris had more WAR than Rolen did as a Cardinal in 2002 and Rolen was only w/ the team for 2 months.
I had planned to do a list of the 5 best acquisitions but, as I was looking this stuff up, came across so many contributions that needed to be recognized. I was surprised by how good Finley was, for example. Like I said earlier, it won’t surprise me at all to see Holliday move up this list as this year finishes. He’s less than a win away from 2nd place on the list already. Hopefully, Lugo (.5 WAR) and DeRosa (.2 WAR) can surpass Timlin, Belliard, and Weaver as the Cards head toward their 2nd World Championship in the last 4 years.