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A Modern Look at the Drew-Wainwright Trade on its Sixteenth Anniversary

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Sixteen years ago today, the Cardinals and Braves completed a blockbuster trade. How does it look using modern analysis?

St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB via Getty Images

Today marks the 16th anniversary of one of the biggest Cardinal trades in the 21st century. On December 13th, 2003, general manager Walt Jocketty brokered a deal with the Braves. Jocketty’s squad was imposing at the plate in 2003 and was all set for similar production in the coming season, but had glaring holes in the bullpen, rotation, and the farm system. The Braves were seeking to extend their dominance over the NL East but had lost right fielder Gary Sheffield and his 7.3 fWAR to the Yankees in free agency a few weeks prior. The Braves in that era perennially possessed pitching depth and a top 10 farm system. There was an obvious match for a deal. That was the backdrop of how J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero were shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and Adam Wainwright.

Entering the off-season, Jocketty had an MV3-sized core, but other problems to solve at second base, the rotation, and the bullpen. The quandary was in right field. Highly touted J.D. Drew was due to hit free agency at the end of 2004. Injuries had prevented Drew from reaching his full potential in St. Louis. In fact, he had yet to reach 500 plate appearances in any of his five seasons. Despite the injuries, he had been a highly productive player. Jocketty had to extend Drew, trade him, or gamble that his final year and subsequent compensatory draft pick would outweigh what he could get in a trade.

Of course, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, Jocketty had a poor farm system and several holes in the pitching staff to address. Free agency could solve some of those issues, but not all of them. That left Drew as his most valuable chip to address multiple needs all at once, and the Braves as the most obvious trade partner in need of someone like Drew. Once Jocketty included stalled utility player Eli Marrero to sweeten the pot, it cleared the way for the return package- a potential starting pitcher in Marquis, a top 50 prospect in Wainwright, and a LOOGY in Ray King to help address the bullpen.

Let’s take a look at this deal through the prism of modern analysis and surplus value. We can see here that the cost of a win on the open market for 2004 ended up at $3.1M. Projections for 2004 aren’t easy to find. Even if they were, they wouldn’t have included fWAR. With that in mind, we’ll use the simple (and archaic) 3/2/1 method. The formula for 2004 projected fWAR, then, is ((3*2003 fWAR) + (2*2002 fWAR) + 2001 fWAR)/6. It’s a little crude but it should at least get us in the ballpark of what a team might expect from these players in 2004 and the subsequent life of their deals.

Braves Acquire

J.D. Drew

Projected fWAR: 2.9 I Contract: 1 year/$4.2M I Surplus Value: $4.79M

Eli Marrero

Projected fWAR: 1.1 I Contract: 1 year/$3.0M I Surplus Value: $410,000

At the time of the deal, Marrero was under contract through 2004 for $3M. As near as I can tell, the Braves didn’t receive a compensatory draft pick for Drew when he signed with the Dodgers after the season, so there’s no additional value gained there.

Adding it all up, the Braves received $5.2M of value.

Cardinals Acquire

Jason Marquis

Projected fWAR: 0.3 I Contract: 3 arbitration years/$2.625M (est.) I Surplus Value: $335,748

Ray King

Projected fWAR: 0.6 I Contract: 3 arbitration years/$4.5M (est.) I Surplus Value: -$477,812

Adam Wainwright

Prospect ranking: Top 50 pitcher (appx. 55 FV based on current lists) I Surplus Value: $11.7M

The 3/2/1 method gets Marquis to 0.3 fWAR for 2004. I lazily projected him to that amount for all three years, which captures the inherent risk of what he was at the time- a former Baseball America top 100 prospect, but one whose erratic MLB production through 2003 had taken the shine off of that ranking. For King, 3/2/1 gets him to 0.6 fWAR for 2004. Then I assigned him the same for 2005, and age-related decline to 0.1 in 2006. Arbitration salaries for King and Marquis were estimated using Point of Pittsburgh’s 25/40/60 rule, with their 2004 arbitration award serving as the baseline at 25.

Wainwright is trickier than the rest. He was the 48th best prospect at the time, and had been top 20 the year before. To gauge his value, I used Craig Edwards’ brilliant research and assigned Wainwright a 55 FV. Most pitchers in the 40th to 50th range of top prospect lists are either 50 or 55 FV, and Wainwright’s top 20 ranking the year before implied that he was more than a 50 FV. From there, I used the $9M/win estimation in the Edwards article and prorated it to the $3.1M/win rate that existed in 2004. After all of that, it gets us Wainwright with $11.7M of surplus value.

The total value headed to St. Louis was $11.55M. Before any of these players played a single game, the Cardinals had extracted more than twice the value in the deal.

World Series Game 5: Detroit Tigers v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

What Actually Happened

Hindsight isn’t totally fair, but it obviously shows that the Cardinals won the deal in what became one of the worst trades the Braves have ever made. Given Wainwright’s position in franchise lore and future Cardinal Hall of Fame membership, you don’t need me to tell you that. No matter how much weight you put on the projections at the time of the deal, the Braves should have known that they were only guaranteed one year each of Drew and Marrero. They gambled that they could re-sign Drew, a native Georgian, at the end of the season, but it didn’t happen.

The Cardinals gambled heavily on Wainwright. From the Major League perspective, the Braves swamped the Cardinals, with Drew/Marrero projecting for $5.2M in surplus value while King/Marquis collectively projected in the negative. It was Wainwright who tipped the balance on the deal. That was true at the time and only increased as time passed. Had the Cardinals chosen one of the other top 100 Braves pitching prospects at the time- Bubba Nelson or Macay McBride- then what actually happened isn’t as rosey.

The analysis above was predicated on projections and future salaries for Marquis, King, Drew, and Marrero. It paints a decent picture of what the teams could have expected in 2004. Let’s look at what actually happened.

  • King, 2004-2005 surplus value: -$610,000
  • Marquis, 2004-2006 surplus value: -$2.565M (all of the negative happened in a dreadful 2006; he was a solid value in 2004 and 2005)
  • Drew, 2004 surplus value: $22.46M
  • Marrero, 2004 surplus value: $2.27M

Suddenly, this deal looks like a disaster in the other direction, with the Braves coming out far ahead. There’s still one piece to add:

  • Wainwright, 2006-2011 (pre-free agency years) surplus value: $65.74M

Goodness. There’s another tangential piece of this equation. It didn’t directly impact what the Cardinals got in the Drew deal, but the Drew deal was the first domino leading to the rest of the reshaping of the roster. The Cardinals jettisoned $7.2M and took on $1.4M in that deal, a savings of $5.8M. In subsequent weeks, Jocketty signed Jeff Suppan ($1M salary in 2004), Reggie Sanders ($2M), Julian Tavarez ($1.6M), and Marlon Anderson ($600k), a grand total of $5.2M. He turned Drew, Marrero, and the cash savings into:

  • Drew’s replacement in right field, albeit a step down from Drew
  • One steady, innings-eating starting pitcher (the team’s most critical need)
  • Another rotation option
  • Two effective relievers, both left and right-handed (the team’s second most critical need)
  • A potential everyday second baseman (that... did not pan out)
  • A top 50 pitching prospect (the team’s third most critical need)

That’s quite a magic trick. I won’t spin too much more about the 2004 off-season since you can read my retrospective here.

It’s easy enough to look at the Drew/Wainwright trade fondly because of Wainwright’s enduring impact. He’s the gift that keeps on giving. When you look at the deal using modern analysis, the Cardinals came out ahead on December 13th, 2003. That edge has only grown with time.