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Mozeliak Era Trade Deadlines, Part I: 2008-2013

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Holliday, Mujica, and the 2011 Riddle highlight part one of two.

Colorado Rockies v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The trade deadline is a baseball holiday. Opening Day is Christmas, pitchers and catchers reporting in February is Thanksgiving, the World Series is the Fourth of July, the Winter Meetings are Labor Day or... look, it’s not a perfect metaphor. The point is that this time of year is a blast if you can stomach a lot of unsubstantiated rumors. It’s different this year with a unified deadline of July 31st. The August 31st deadline for players who clear waivers no longer exists. It could be an extremely active deadline, with teams trying to cram the volume of two deadlines into one. It could be extremely inactive with more teams clinging to faith that they can make a wild card push. The Cardinals are starting to get some clarity thanks to a solid push in the standings since the All-Star game. They’ve doubled their playoff chances since dropping their second half opener to the Diamondbacks. Now is a good time to go back through trade deadlines of the John Mozeliak era. Mozeliak has been around since 2008, so I’m going to break this up into a two parter. Today, we’ll revisit 2008 through 2013. Come back tomorrow for part two.

2008

Standings on July 24

57-47; 54-50 pythagorean record; third place, 4 GB NL Central; 2 games ahead in Wild Card

What did they do? Did it work?

The lone move happened on July 26th when the Cardinals dealt the once promising Anthony Reyes for AA reliever Luis Perdomo. Mostly, the Cardinals sought improvement from within, relying on a farm system that was just starting to improve. Chris Perez and Jason Motte took on expanded bullpen roles down the stretch, and youngster Joe Mather grabbed a bench role.

They finished 86-76, 11.5 games out of the division and 4.0 games back in the Wild Card. Their pythagorean record down the stretch actually improved slightly to .547, but the regression monster bit hard. Most importantly, they held on to all three of their Baseball America top 100 prospects (Colby Rasmus, Brett Wallace, and Perez) and all of their future MLB contributors (Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Jaime Garcia, and others). In short, their inactivity didn’t get them to the playoffs but it gave them an organizational backbone for future success.

2009

Standings on July 24

53-46; 53-46 pythag; 1st place, 1.5 games ahead in NL Central

What did they do? Did it work?

With the division in sight and the team needing a star-level player, Mozeliak went bold:

  • Traded Clayton Mortensen, Wallace, and Shane Peterson for the long-coveted Matt Holliday
  • Traded Chris Perez for Mark DeRosa
  • Traded Chris Duncan for Julio Lugo

The infield was a mess before the deadline. Shortstop and third base were held down by Brian Barden, Brendan Ryan, Joe Thurston, and Khalil and Tyler Greene. Adding Lugo and DeRosa instantly addressed that problem. In the outfield, Colby Rasmus, Skip Schumaker, and Ryan Ludwick had done an admirable job, but injuries had made Duncan irrelevant. With Troy Glaus sidelined for nearly the entire season, the team was missing a power bat to protect Albert Pujols in the lineup.

DeRosa suffered a wrist injury early in his Cardinals career and it sapped his production to the tune of an 85 wRC+ in St. Louis. Holliday was the true victory, supplying 2.5 wins down the stretch while the package in return never materialized much MLB value. Lugo hit well (111 wRC+), but his defense limited him to a 0.2 fWAR for the remainder of the season. Still, he was an upgrade over the flotilla of sub-mediocrity they had used before the deadline.

It was a success, even if the DeRosa component didn’t work out. They went 38-25 for the remainder of the season and won the NL Central by 7.5 games. It ended with a sweep in the NLDS at the hands of the Dodgers and a painful memory glancing off of Holliday’s berries.

2010

Standings on July 24

54-44; 58-40 pythag; 2nd place, 0.5 GB NL Central; 1.0 GB Wild Card

What did they do? Did it work?

In their lone July move, the Cardinals dealt Ryan Ludwick to San Diego in exchange for Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook in a three-team deal. Minor leaguer Corey Kluber went to Cleveland from the Padres. The front of the Cardinals rotation- Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia- was formidable, but the back of the rotation (Brad Penny, Jeff Suppan, Blake Hawksworth and others) had been dreadful. Ludwick had been fine (2.0 fWAR when dealt), but was expendable with the emergence of Jon Jay and Allen Craig. In August, desperate for a third base solution, they dealt future MLB reliever David Carpenter for Pedro Feliz.

Westbrook was all the Cardinals could have wanted, posting a 90 FIP- and 89 ERA- across 75 very durable innings. Craig was fine as Ludwick’s replacement, but Jay went into a tailspin. Feliz was awful and didn’t solve anything. The Cardinals never could translate their pythagorean record into better results and finished 86-76, 4.0 games out of the Wild Card and 5.0 games back in the division. The Westbrook deal worked, but ol’ Pythagoras didn’t keep up his end of the bargain.

St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2011

Standings on July 24

53-48; 54-47 pythag; three-way tie for NL Central lead; 6.0 GB in Wild Card

What did they do? Did it work?

Oooooh boy... In one of the wildest and most polarizing moves in memory, the Cardinals traded Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, and P.J. Walters to Toronto for Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Edwin Jackson, and Corey Patterson. Jay took over full-time duties for Rasmus. Jackson addressed one hole in the pitching staff- both Westbrook and Kyle McClellan had been mediocre starters- while Dotel and Scrabble gave skipper Tony LaRussa help in a bullpen that needed a lot of it. The quandary in the deal was that Rasmus was a top talent with 3.5 years of cost control. Mozeliak addressed a LOT of needs with a single deal, but also gave up a ton of future value. In a separate move, the Cardinals traded for Rafael Furcal to play shortstop everyday, giving up only Alex Castellanos for the right.

Did it work? Sort of! Obviously, they won the World Series in the most improbable fashion. It gave all of us memories we’ll cherish for a lifetime. They erased a 10.5 game deficit in the Wild Card standings as late as August 24th. Jackson had a 3.80 ERA in the rotation. Dotel ran up a 1.50 FIP while Scrabble was at 3.07, vast improvements over the pre-deadline bullpen. Despite their FIPs, Dotel (0.12 WPA) and Scrabble (-0.53) didn’t make much of a practical difference in Win Probability Added, which makes the move even murkier. On the other hand, LaRussa weaponized the interchangeability of Jackson, Dotel, Scrabble, and the entire pitching staff during the 2011 playoffs. He could not have done that without the trio acquired.

Jay was fine as the replacement for Rasmus, as was Furcal as the replacement for Ryan Theriot. Rasmus never became the Prince who was Promised but he provided ample cost-controlled value for the Blue Jays, while the Cardinals had only Scrabble’s post-2011 production to show for the deal. That, plus a World Series title.

It’s impossible to say these deals are the reason they won the World Series, or even that the Rasmus deal was advisable. It’s equally impossible to say that anyone should care considering how it turned out.

2012

Standings on July 24

51-46; 57-40 pythag; 6.0 GB in NL Central; 2.0 GB in Wild Card

What did they do? Did it work?

The Cardinals made one move when they dealt minor league infielder Zack Cox for reliever Edward Mujica. That’s not much, but Mujica addressed the team’s only drastic need without a potential internal solution. Their bullpen FIP was 27th in the league at the time. From that point forward, they had the 9th best bullpen FIP in large part thanks to Mujica’s 1.03 ERA and 2.34 FIP. He continued to pay dividends a year later when he took over the closer role after Motte got hurt. Cox, on the other hand, never reached MLB. The deal was a clear success, both for 2012 and 2013.

In the meantime, the team enjoyed positive regression down the stretch, going 37-28 and just barely squeezing in as the second Wild Card. From there, they beat Atlanta in the controversial infield fly rule game, Kozma’ed the Nationals in the NLDS, and fell one NLCS victory shy of a second straight improbable World Series appearance.

2013

Standings on July 24

61-37; 64-34 pythag; 1.5 games ahead in NL Central

What did they do? Did it work?

July 2013 was eerily quiet. The only trade occurred when they gave Rzepczynski to Cleveland for lightly regarded minor leaguer Juan Herrera. In August, Mozeliak dealt rookie reliever Michael Blazek for reliever John Axford as Edward Mujica’s arm tired from heavy early season usage. The boldest move that season was not a trade. Rather, it was trusting the stretch drive bullpen to a quartet of young, fire-breathing dragons- Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, and Kevin Siegrist. Similarly, they turned the struggling Westbrook’s spot in the rotation over to Michael Wacha.

It’s hard to judge this season. At the deadline, they were deep with very few needs. One of their biggest problems was spotty offensive production from the infield (Descalso, Kozma, Freese), but there were no significant infield bats dealt that July. Adding Axford was a proactive move, as was unleashing the four-headed rookie bullpen monster and Wacha. Watching that quartet plus Wacha during the 2013 playoffs amounted to queso porn.

The question is whether or not the lack of moves prevented them from going deeper. They ended up with 97 wins, homefield advantage in the playoffs, and fell just two wins shy of winning the World Series in large part due to the gutsy move with the young pitchers. Perhaps Mozeliak could have done more but the bold choice to trust the youth worked out brilliantly.

That wraps up part one. There are a lot of approaches in the 2008 to 2013 years. There are blockbusters (Holliday), soft buys on relievers (Mujica and Axford), a reset year to let the farm system continue to heal (2008), a quiet year with reliance on exciting internal options (2013), a good old fashioned baseball trade with Ludwick for Westbrook, and the strange riddle of 2011. Stay tuned for the continuation tomorrow.