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Dakota Hudson and a trade tree 15 years in the making

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Divisional Series - Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals - Game Four Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“Trade trees” have become a cult classic of sorts here at VEB. Arguably none is more celebrated than the Kent Bottenfield tree, which saw Bottenfield dealt to the Angels for Jim Edmonds, who was later traded for David Freese, who went on to be moved for Randal Grichuk, followed by Grichuk for Dominic Leone.

The trade tree we’ll be discussing today encapsulates everything weird about baseball transactions. Unlike the Bottenfield tree, it is one that is still active thanks to Dakota Hudson. But to get there, we have to dance along the margins of obscurity from players who never actually played for the Cardinals to MLB rules that don’t even exist anymore.

Our odyssey begins with Sean Danielson, an undrafted free agent signed in 2005 out of the University of Texas at San Antonio. The outfielder never made it beyond Double-A in the Cardinals organization–and retired in 2010 having never reached the big leagues. He has a trade tree named after him, though, and that’s what counts.

Danielson was traded to the Red Sox on July 31, 2007 for Joel Piñeiro, thereby beginning the tree. Actually, Danielson wasn’t traded until November 2 of that year. The deal agreed to on deadline day was Piñeiro and cash considerations to the Cardinals for a player to be named later.

In two-and-a-half seasons in St. Louis, Piñeiro posted a 4.14 ERA and 4.01 FIP en route to 2.9 bWAR and 5.4 fWAR in a Cardinals uniform. Piñeiro never made an All-Star team or received a Cy Young vote in his 12-year career, but he was a solid #3 starter behind Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in 2009.

That offseason, Piñeiro signed with the Angels. However, because Piñeiro had a (now obsolete) Type B free agent designation attached to his name, the Cardinals received a supplemental draft pick at the end of the first round. This allowed St. Louis to draft Tyrell Jenkins with the 50th overall selection of the 2010 MLB draft.

The high school pitching prospect toiled in the lower levels of the Cardinals farm system until he was traded with Shelby Miller to the Braves for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden on November 17, 2014.

Jenkins would go on to pitch just 14 games for the Braves with a 5.88 ERA and 6.86 FIP. Miller became an All-Star in 2015 before he was traded that winter in a heist that brought over Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte, and Dansby Swanson from Arizona.

For the Cardinals, Walden got off to a hot start as a setup man in 2015 before injuries derailed his tenure in St. Louis, essentially rendering him a nonfactor. Heyward was awesome, leading a 100-win Cardinals team in bWAR and fWAR.

And then he left for the Cubs, fresh off an NLDS victory over the Cardinals, that offseason, which at the time was not awesome. (Until not having to pay him roughly $200 million turned out to be a stroke of good luck.) Heyward had rejected the qualifying offer earlier that offseason, which, in tandem with John Lackey’s departure, gave St. Louis two compensation draft picks towards the backend of the first round.

This is where the trade tree’s future gets interesting. The Cardinals owned consecutive picks at #33 and #34 in 2016. I have no idea why, but everywhere I look lists the 34th pick as the compensation for Heyward; the 33rd for Lackey. What the Cardinals would have done if they only held one of those picks, we may never know. This trade tree could very easily be resting on the shoulders of Dylan Carlson (the 33rd pick) instead, but if we’re being technical, St. Louis chose Dakota Hudson at #34 in the 2016 MLB draft.

So that’s where we stand. Although the initial deal for Piñeiro only involved two players, the tree has begun to branch out due to the Heyward trade. Occasionally, those branches intersect. For example, Luke Jackson, acquired by the Braves for Jenkins in 2016, pitched to Hudson in Game 4 of the 2019 NLDS. Hudson then returned to the mound the next inning and faced Swanson, another multi-degree offshoot of the Danielson-for-Piñeiro swap.

From the Cardinals’ perspective, the Sean Danielson trade tree is at risk of extinction. Then again, it’s always been vulnerable to dying off. In its 15 year lifespan, the Cardinals have only had multiple members of the tree within their ranks twice: a brief period with Heyward and Walden and an even briefer period with Walden and Hudson. But now, like Piñeiro and Jenkins once were, Hudson is St. Louis’ lone torchbearer.