On January 8th, 1998, the Cardinals signed a 29-year-old journeyman reliever who had been in five organizations already. Nobody at the time could have expected that the signing of a little-known wildcard would eventually lead to Cardinals Hall of Famer Jim Edmonds and World Series hero David Freese. Unfortunately, the Kent Bottenfield trade tree ended when the Cardinals let Dominic Leone walk in free agency.
There is no Kent Bottenfield story in today’s trade. Walt Jocketty was a man known for not embracing analytics, but if you just look at that particular trade, you might mistake him for Billy Beane. I’m sure there are conventional baseball reasons why this trade was also a swindle, but this trade was Moneyball 101. An overvalued player due to an antiquated statistic (in this case wins) for a player underrated by old school metrics. I do not have a story that good for you today.
But it’s a more impressive trade tree. There are three Hall of Famers, five Cardinal Hall of Famers, and another player who probably should have made the Hall of Fame. This trade tree is not as direct as the Bottenfield chain however. There are players in the trade tree who are very minor parts of major trades so it’s not necessarily as fun as the Bottenfield chain either.
Our story begins in 1949, although the trade tree arguably begins on exactly June 8th, 1959. You’ll see why I make that distinction. Before the 1949 season, the Cardinals signed 20-year-old pitcher Willard Schmidt. There is no reason for you to know this name, don’t worry. Schmidt made the MLB by 1952, but didn’t pitch any significant amount of innings until 1955, where he had a career best 4 bWAR. That proved to be a fluke when his next two seasons were barely above replacement level. In the meantime, the Cardinals also signed 18-year-old Ted Wieand before the 1952 season and 20-year-old Marty Kutyna before the 1953 season. Neither pitched a single inning for the Cardinals.
The three players’ path converged on December 5th, 1957, when they were packaged together for a 19-year-old CF who ended up being one of the most important players in the history of baseball. I’ll test your baseball history by not mentioning his name quite yet and move on to the relevancy of June 8th, 1959. The Cardinals signed a 17-year-old catcher out of Memphis, Tennessee, who debuted later that season, but didn’t become a regular until 1963. Once he did, he held onto that spot for seven straight seasons. That man is Tim McCarver.
There are two more relevant names to know. For the 1965 Rule 5 draft, the Cardinals drafted a 29-year-old Joe Hoerner with 14 MLB innings to his name, who went on to have four pretty good seasons in the bullpen for the Cardinals. And prior to the 1969 season, the Cardinals purchased Byron Browne from the Houston Astros. At 23, Browne led the league in strikeouts in only 120 games played and didn’t get much of a chance after that. He didn’t get much of a chance with the Cardinals either with a 92 OPS+, but a .226 average over just 64 PAs.
At the conclusion of the 1969 season, the Cardinals made a trade that changed history. Browne, Hoerner, McCarver, and of course Curt Flood were traded for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. Flood refused to report to his new team, which led to the start of free agency, a thing he himself never benefited from but which countless other players have since he chose to fight that year. Flood was replaced by a 22-year-old Willie Montanez, whose bad defense kept him from being any good, and Jim Browning, the 11th overall pick of the 1970 draft who never made the majors.
I had a whole paragraph about what happened to Rojas and Johnson, but this is going to get confusing fast if I go into detail about every player in these trades. Needless to say, both were traded quickly, but their side of the trade tree died by the end of 1972. That’s all you need to know. The relevant player in the McCarver/Flood trade return is Dick Allen. Allen is the guy who probably should have made the Hall. He has an MVP award, Rookie of the Year winner, seven-time All-Star, and a six season peak of 41.2 fWAR with a career 61.3 fWAR.
One of Allen’s All-Star appearances happened in his lone season with the Cards. Although oddly enough, it was easily his worst season of his career until 1975, and he was done by then. At the end of the season, Allen was traded for Ted Sizemore and Bob Stinson from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Stinson was traded by next offseason, and the guy they got for him was traded by May of 1972, who was returned to his original team by July for some reason. Sizemore is the relevant player here. Sizemore seemed to be the starting 2B for the Cardinals for the next five seasons. He had two good seasons, two below average ones, and one dreadful season.
The Cardinals traded him after the dreadful season. In return they got Willie Crawford, who had one average season with the Cardinals before they traded him. And here’s where things get confusing again. Crawford was traded with two other players in October of 1976. John Curtis, who was was acquired in a six player trade three offseasons ago*, was a below average pitcher who flip flopped between starting and relieving while in St. Louis. Vic Harris was a not very good utility man, who was traded for the previous offseason.
*Curtis, Mike Garman, and Lynn McGlothen for Reggie Cleveland, Terry Hughes, and Diego Segui.
For those three players, the Cardinals received three of their own. Mike Caldwell was traded next spring for someone who never played an inning for the Cardinals. John D’Acquisto was traded the next May for a guy who was selected off waivers less than a year after that trade. So there’s only one relevant name to work with here: catcher Dave Rader. There is no reason that the trade tree shouldn’t have died with a no name backup catcher, but well the Cardinals just couldn’t stop trading literally everybody. The 70s were like if every team was run by Jerry Dipoto.
Okay I’m starting to lose my mind a bit. Where was I? Oh yeah Dave Rader. He was in a four player trade, because good god how is every trade this complicated. Rader was traded with Hector Cruz, who thank god actually signed as a Cardinal and wasn’t involved in another trade beforehand. They received Jerry Morales, who ended up getting traded for a terrible baseball player. That terrible baseball player was traded for somebody incredibly important! So we’ll get back to that. The other player was Steve Swisher, who was a very minor part of a very major trade.
Onto the major trade, everyone let’s take a deep breath, because there’s a lot of players to cover. I’m talking to myself here, but everyone could use a deep breath right now right? Anyway, the Cardinals traded their 6th overall pick of the 1977 draft, a 26-year-old reliever with a 3 K/9, a 23-year-old with five career starts, a 30-year-old backup infielder, a 23-year-old reliever with more walks than strikeouts in a career 23.2 IP, and the 14th overall pick of the 1974 draft. This is a video game trade where you just keep adding useless names until they accept.
Because this is apparently like the family tree of a royal family, we have some overlap in trades I’ve already mentioned. Kim Seaman, the reliever with more walks than strikeouts, came to the Cardinals for Pete Falcone. Falcone was acquired for Ken Reitz, who came back to the Cardinals a year later for McGlothen, who I had to relegate to a footnote above in the John Curtis trade. Confused yet? We’re just getting started.
So Swisher and Seaman are combined with five other players to get Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley, and Gene Tenace. Tenace played two years as an absurdly good backup catcher before hitting free agency. Shirley was a bad reliever before being traded in the beginning of 1982 for Jeff Lahti, who had a couple solid years before becoming an elite closer for the 1985 Cardinals, and then his arm broke soon after that.
Fingers meanwhile was immediately traded along with Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich. Simmons was drafted by the Cards and Vuckovich is involved in his own trade tree that I just do not have time for. Technically this was not a good trade for the Cardinals, except... somehow every single one of the four players they got was later traded for a good player. If you’re wondering about my mental state at this point, this is me now:
1981 was a very important offseason. I have to go backwards again, because remember everything is connected somehow. Remember Jerry Morales? He was in the Dave Rader/Hector Cruz trade with Steve Swisher. Morales was traded for a 24-year-old Bob Sykes, who wasn’t good at all. But Sykes was traded for Willie McGee. So in a way, you can thank the Cubs for Willie McGee if you want.
Let’s return to the Rollie Fingers return. The next 1981 offseason trade involved Lary Sorenson. Sorensen was one of those pitchers who peaked before they turned 25. He had a decent 1980 at 25 with the Cardinals, but the Cardinals traded him in a three-team trade where the Cardinals return was Lonnie Smith. Smith had a couple great years, and was traded in the middle of the 1985 season for a not particularly good bench player, John Morris. Morris hit free agency in 1990.
Player #2 in the Fingers/Simmons trade was Sixto Lezcano, who was an outfielder who barely played on the 1981 team, but had a pretty good run before he hit the Cardinals. He was traded, with Garry Templeton, for Ozzie Smith. The Cardinals also received Steve Mura, who was chosen by the White Sox as a free agent compensation pick after just one season, which is apparently how that worked in 1983. Ozzie, well, Ozzie did alright I’d say.
Players #3 and #4 were involved in a trade a few years later. David Green was a 1B/OF who was only 20-years-old when the Cardinals got him. He had a cup of coffee and then was a bench player before being a regular for two years. He was an average hitter who played at positions that needed better than an average hitter. But he would have been 24 in 1985 and I can see how someone might think he could get better. The other player, Dave LaPoint, was a 21-year-old pitcher when he came to the Cards. He became one of the starting five by 1984, but he wasn’t particularly good. He was young though. Along with Jose Uribe, they were traded for Jack Clark.
Jack Clark hit free agency and Ozzie Smith retired as a Cardinal, but Willie McGee got traded before free agency, so for a moment the trade tree continues. McGee got traded for Felix Jose and Stan Royer. Royer never did anything and was selected off waivers by 1994. Jose had a couple good years before being traded for Greg Jefferies. Jefferies had a couple good years - one great one really - before entering free agency.
Oh yeah then there’s the compensation picks. Good lord this is never ending. Jefferies produced Chris Haas, who never made the majors. Jack Clark produced John Ericks, who did make the majors, but not until after he was released by the Cardinals. Jack Clark also netted Brian Jordan, who is one of the more underrated Cardinals and reached free agency as a Cardinal.
And that folks is where this ends. In 1949, Willard Schmidt was signed as an amateur free agent by William Walshingam Jr. By the time, Brian Jordan reached free agency, the general manager of the Cardinals had changed nine times. The trade of Flood and McCarver, which helped mark the end of the 60s, were indirectly responsible for the success of the 80s, no matter how convoluted a route it took to actually produce results. And yes, I realize that technically Curt Flood wasn’t a part of the Dick Allen trade. But if you’ll accept my paradoxical argument, I don’t think that trade happens without Curt Flood, even though that trade happened without Curt Flood, because it was agreed to with Curt Flood. Does that make sense? I hope so because my brain is mush right now.
On January of 1997, Curt Flood died, and a year after that, Brian Jordan was granted free agency, directly because of Flood, but also indirectly because of Flood, which I think is a nice way of ending this post.