In 2014, the Cardinals traded away Allen Craig, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller as well as prospects James Ramsey, Tyrell Jenkins, and Sam Gaviglio. This was arguably the most talent traded away by the Cardinals in any year since John Mozeliak took over as GM. These trades could be interpreted in a couple different ways. On one hand, you could simply say that trading away these players was the price the Cardinals had to pay in order to get valuable players like Jason Heyward and John Lackey in return. On the other hand, you could argue that the Cardinals were betting against the future performance of these particular players and wanted to get as much value as they could in return before these players regressed further and lost value. There is perhaps a little bit of truth to both of these viewpoints.
I was very intrigued by this second viewpoint, though, and I was curious to see how well the Cardinals were at choosing which players were worth trading. A perception exists (at least in my mind, based on anecdotal evidence) that the Cardinals have been masterful at getting peak production from players while at the same time knowing when to move on from these players. In terms of players the team lost to free agency, this has certainly been the case with Albert Pujols, Carlos Beltran, Edwin Jackson, Joel Piñeiro, and even Aaron Miles, to name a few off the top of my head. I wanted to see if the Cardinals, under John Mozeliak, had a similar level of success with trading players. Using MLB.com's transactions page, I was able to compile a list of all the players the Cardinals have traded away since John Mozeliak took over as GM in 2007.
2014: James Ramsey, Joe Kelly, Allen Craig, Shelby Miller, Tyrell Jenkins, Sam Gaviglio
2013: Mitchell Boggs, Marc Rzepczynski, Michael Blazek, David Freese, Fernando Salas
2012: Zack Cox, Tyler Greene, Skip Schumaker
2011: Trevor Miller, Brian Tallet, P.J. Walters, Colby Rasmus, Alex Castellanos
2010: Ryan Ludwick, David Carpenter, Mike Folli, Blake Hawksworth, Brendan Ryan
2009: Brian Barton, Chris Perez, Jess Todd, Clayton Mortensen, Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson, Chris Duncan
2008: Scott Rolen, Mark Worrell, Anthony Reyes
2007: Jim Edmonds
For most of these players, there is very little evaluation to be done. Ramsey, Jenkins and Gaviglio are still prospects, and Miller has yet to pitch for his new team. The Boggs and Blazek trades were minor deals, and neither pitcher has thrown more than nine innings in the majors since being traded. Schumaker, who is still under contract with the Reds, has been at least 1 win below replacement level in 2013 and 2014. Cox, who was once considered a top prospect for the Cardinals but was subsequently traded for Edward Mujica in 2012, has still never reached the majors. Trevor Miller and Brian Tallet retired shortly after being traded. Walters, Castellanos, Todd, Mortensen, Wallace, and Peterson are still active in the minor leagues and have all seen brief stints in the majors at some point over the last five years but not in 2014. (Given that the latter three players were traded for Matt Holliday and still haven't been productive at the major league level, this trade has to be considered one of the best in franchise history.) Folli (I honestly don't even remember this guy), Hawksworth, Duncan, Worrell, and Reyes spent some time in the minor leagues since being traded, but have since retired for various reasons.
This leaves us with Joe Kelly, Allen Craig, Marc Rzepczynski, David Freese, Fernando Salas, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Ludwick, David Carpenter, Brendan Ryan, Chris Perez, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. First the pitchers:
|Red Sox (2014)||66.1||4.11||4.62||6.0||4.7||0.3|
Kelly, who figures to be in the Red Sox rotation once again this year, struggled some since being traded from the Cardinals. In his 66 1/3 innings with the Red Sox, Kelly saw most of his numbers move in the wrong direction, as his ERA, FIP, and BB/9 increased while his K/9 decreased slightly. While some of this could be due to small sample size and adjusting to a stronger offensive league, the Cardinals probably recognized that Kelly's luck was starting to run out and that he was unlikely to repeat his 2013 season, in which he posted 2.69 ERA despite having a 4.01 FIP.
Rzepczynski, who was an integral part of the Cardinals' 2011 World Series run, was in need of a change of scenery after a mediocre 2012 and a rough start to 2013 (7.84 ERA before being traded). The Cardinals were able to trade him to Cleveland in exchange for shortstop prospect Juan Herrera. Given his performance with the Indians, it looks like the Cardinals gave up on Scrabble too soon, as he drastically cut his ERA and FIP while improving his strikeout and walk rates. Herrera is a player worth watching, though, as Eric recently pointed out, so this trade could still turn out well for the Cardinals.
With the exception of his stellar 2011 season in which he spent most of the year as the team's closer, Salas was pretty much replacement level in his other three seasons with the Cardinals. After being traded to the Angels last winter, he rebounded by having a solid year in 2014. Since the Cardinals didn't really have a spot for him in the bullpen for the 2014 season, they probably don't miss him too much, but it is worth noting that he had one of his best seasons after being traded from the Cardinals.
Carpenter never pitched for the Cardinals in the major leagues, but the team essentially gave him away in 2010 for a month and a half of Pedro Feliz, who was so bad that he cost the team nearly half a win in just 125 plate appearances. Carpenter, meanwhile, has been a solid (at times dominant) reliever over the last few years. He had a career year in 2013, when he posted a 1.78 ERA and a 2.83 FIP in 65 2/3 innings for the Braves. While pitching depth has been a strength for the Cardinals in recent years, having a player like Carpenter in their bullpen certainly wouldn't hurt.
Perez was given opportunities to be the Cardinals' closer in 2008 and 2009, but he was not consistent, and the team elected to trade him, instead of future closer Jason Motte, to the Indians for Mark DeRosa. While Perez was slightly better after being traded, the difference isn't big enough to make the Cardinals seriously regret trading him. He just signed a minor league deal with the Brewers, so we may see more of him at some point this year.
And now the position players:
|Red Sox (2014)||107||0.128||0.234||0.191||0.064||8.4%||33.7%||0.208||22||-0.9|
Since being traded to the Red Sox, Craig was infinitely worse than he was with the Cardinals in 2014, which is saying something because he was already having a bad year. In Craig's 107 plate appearances with Boston, he saw almost all of his offensive numbers continue to move the wrong way, and he was nowhere near his career numbers with the Cardinals. The fact that the Cardinals got rid of his contract and were able to package him in a trade and get value in return already seems hard to believe at this point.
Freese's 2014 season with the Angels was almost identical to his 2013 season with the Cardinals in terms of offensive production. The only difference was that he had a huge defensive turnaround (-16.5 UZR in 2013, 0.6 UZR in 2014). Unfortunately for Freese, 2013 and 2014 were his two worst offensive seasons, and it seems unlikely that he can return to being the player he was from 2010-2012. Unless we see an unexpected rebound from Freese, it appears that the Cardinals made a wise move in trading him while he still had some value.
|Blue Jays (2012-2014)||1599||0.234||0.295||0.433||0.198||7.4%||28.0%||0.316||96||5.8|
When Rasmus was traded from the Cardinals in 2011, many believed that he still had untapped potential. While he arguably had the best season of his career in 2013, he has been underwhelming in every other season since being traded. He has increasingly become an all-or-nothing hitter, as all of his numbers except his ISO have fallen since joining the Blue Jays. While the Cardinals may have traded Rasmus because of off-the-field issues, it appears that the team got the most consistent offensive production of his career before trading him.
Ludwick was a player who declined almost immediately after being traded from the Cardinals. He finished below replacement level in the last two months of 2010 (these numbers aren't included in the table) as well as in 2013 and 2014. In fact, the only season where he was significantly above replacement level was in 2012, when he had a brief resurgence with the Reds. Otherwise, his post-Cardinals numbers would have looked even worse. While Jake Westbrook, the player the Cardinals got in return forLudwick, was mediocre in his time in St. Louis, the Cardinals did well by getting value in return forLudwick before his subsequent (and steep) decline.
Brendan Ryan has never been much of a hitter, but he has now been in the majors for eight years in large part because of his defensive value at shortstop. While Ryan has seen his offensive numbers drop since being traded from the Cardinals, the team's shortstop situation in 2011 and 2012 was so bad that Ryan slightly outperformed (based on WAR) the team's shortstop options (Theriot, Furcal, Kozma) in both of those years. While there were other factors involved in the decision to trade Ryan, the fact that the Cardinals gave him away for next to nothing seems somewhat questionable in hindsight, given the team's revolving door at shortstop at the time.
|Blue Jays/Reds (2008-2012)||2138||0.273||0.342||0.444||0.171||8.5%||14.6%||0.343||109||13.2|
Similar to the Brendan Ryan situation, there were other factors in play when the Cardinals traded Rolenafter the 2007 season. While he wasn't able to come close to his pre-shoulder surgery level of performance after being traded, Rolen still put up two 4-win seasons in 2009 and 2010. Coincidentally, the Cardinals' third basemen struggled while Rolen did well, evidenced by the fact that Felipe Lopez and Joe Thurston received considerable playing time at the position during that two-year span.
I didn't make a table of Edmonds' performance before and after being traded, since he was traded at the twilight of his career after an incredible run of success with the Cardinals. Obviously, he was not going to repeat his level of production with the Cardinals, and any team trading for him probably knew that, but the Cardinals still managed to get David Freese in return for Edmonds' age 38 season. As it turns out, John Mozeliak's first trade ended up being one of his best.
So what, if anything, can we conclude from this? Eight of the twelve players I analyzed (including all the position players) generally did worse with their new team than with the Cardinals. The four who improved were all relievers, and one (Carpenter) didn't even pitch for the Cardinals at the major league level. Age certainly seems to be a factor for a lot of these players, as no one could reasonably expectEdmonds, Rolen, or even Ludwick to continue the level of performance they had with the Cardinals. On the flip side, all of the pitchers were in their twenties when they were traded, which may explain why a higher percentage of them did better with their new team.
Still, the Cardinals don't have too much to regret with regard to the pitchers they traded; slightly above average relievers aren't too difficult to replace. In addition, the Cardinals have generally done pretty well in getting value in return for their position players before they decline. The Rasmus trade is perhaps the most interesting case, since we can't attribute his offensive regression to age-based decline. While we can't be sure what players like Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly will do with their new teams in 2015 and beyond, we can feel good knowing that the Cardinals, under John Mozeliak, have done a decent (though not perfect) job of identifying the right time to trade their players and still get value in return.