The Best and Worst Trade of the Decade for the St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals have been one of the most successful teams of the last decade in the National League, making the playoffs six out of 10 seasons while also winning a World Series in 2011. St. Louis appeared in the postseason every year from 2011-15, losing in the World Series in 2013 and the National League Championship Series in both 2012 and 2014. From 2016-18, they failed to make the playoffs, but last season they returned to October baseball, losing in the NLCS to the Washington Nationals.

Their success over the last 10 years, especially in the first half of the decade, boils down to trades that they made before 2010, like acquiring postseason hero David Freese in 2008 from the San Diego Padres for Jim Edmonds and acquiring Adam Wainwright from the Atlanta Braves in 2003. When it comes to their recent winning seasons, the front office did a great job of drafting and developing. Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty, and Michael Wacha were all drafted by St. Louis, while others like Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong were picked up via the Amateur Draft.

Over the next several weeks Baseball Essential will be doing a series on the best and worst trade every team in Major League Baseball has made over the last decade. Here is the best and worst trade the St. Louis Cardinals have made since 2010.

The Best Trade the St. Louis Cardinals Have Made Since 2010: St. Louis Acquires John Lackey and Corey Littrell From the Boston Red Sox for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly (July 31, 2014)

This was a pretty clear-cut deal at the 2014 trade deadline that, in some ways, could look like a bad trade for the Cardinals. Allen Craig was coming off a solid year in 2013 where he was named an All-Star, and Joe Kelly showed glimpses of brilliance on the mound for St. Louis. But the Cardinals were in dire need of a quality starting pitcher to bolster their rotation, so they acquired an aging but still very experienced John Lackey from the Red Sox.

Lackey made 10 starts after the trade that season, compiling a 3-3 record and a 4.30 ERA. Not great, but he pitched an average of six innings per start and went on to pitch relatively well in the playoffs in the NLCS, where they were knocked out. However, it was in the 2015 season where the righty proved his worth in this trade. Lackey went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA, leading the NL with 33 starts. He was a huge part of their 2.91 team ERA and the best record in baseball. Although they were knocked out in the NLDS, Lackey definitely did his job.

The best part of this move for the Cardinals is the discounted price that Lackey came at. He signed a huge five-year, $82.5 million deal in December of 2009 with the Red Sox, which paid him around $16 million per year. But there was a certain injury clause in his contract. Since he missed all of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, that clause kicked in at the end of his deal with Boston which would have been in 2014, the year St. Louis acquired him. They were able to get Lackey for the league minimum of just $507,500 instead of the $16 million he would have been paid if Lackey didn’t get hurt during that Boston contract.

General Manager John Mozeliak knew about the opportunity to get Lackey at a cheaper rate, so he went ahead and made the move, which turned out to be a great decision. Although he left for the Chicago Cubs the following offseason, Lackey was a nice addition to the Cardinals for a season and a half.

As for the pieces that went the other way, Craig emerged as a postseason hero for St. Louis in 2011, hitting three home runs in the World Series. The following two years were also relatively productive for Craig, hitting over .300 in both seasons. But he really struggled in the first half of 2014, batting just .237 before the trade. Once he left the Cardinals, Craig spent a lot of his time with Boston between the big leagues and Triple-A Pawtucket. He really struggled to find his way in the American League, eventually getting released in 2017. Craig signed a minor-league deal with San Diego in 2018 but was then released again just a year later and decided to retire.

Kelly was always an intriguing arm with St. Louis, compiling a 3.25 ERA across three seasons, but he did have command issues. Once he arrived in Boston, he initially featured in their rotation, but it wasn’t long until they moved him into the bullpen. He thrived in that role, emerging as a key piece to Boston’s 2018 World Series title, where he struck out 10 hitters in six Fall Classic innings. He’s now one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ go-to relief arms.

The Worst Trade the St. Louis Cardinals Have Made Since 2010: St. Louis Acquires Genesis Cabrera, Justin Williams, and Roel Ramirez From the Tampa Bay Rays for Tommy Pham (July 31, 2018)

St. Louis acquired three minor leaguers at the time and some international signing money for one of their most consistent bench players. Pham hit .271 across five seasons for the Cardinals and was one of their best outfielders. He was struggling before the trade, hitting just .248. But Pham was also coming off an outstanding 2017, where he smacked 23 home runs and hit .306. St. Louis shouldn’t have given him up this easy, at least not for three minor leaguers who weren’t even top prospects.

After the trade to the Rays, Pham went on to slash .343 with seven bombs in 39 games. He missed a bit of time with a foot injury. but the numbers were still impressive. It was last season where Pham really made a name for himself and made the Cardinals shake their heads about the trade. The 32-year-old went deep 21 times while hitting .273 in 145 games with Tampa Bay, starting 123 of those contests in left field. He should have also made his first All-Star Game, but Pham was wrongfully snubbed. He went on to hit over .400 in the postseason for the Rays, helping his team give the Houston Astros a run for their money in the ALDS. Pham also led the majors in infield hits and was flawless on defense, compiling a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. He was traded to the Padres in December of last year, but he will be looking to build off an impressive 2019 in his return to the NL.

Genesis Cabrera made his debut for St. Louis last season, posting a 4.87 ERA. Justin Williams could get a call up at some point in 2020, but there doesn’t seem to be much room for him with lots of competition in left field. As for Roel Ramirez, he has struggled in the minors with the Cardinals since the trade.

Even with the rapid development of outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader at the time of this trade, I still think they should have kept Pham. He proved over numerous years in a Cardinals uniform to be a solid player both offensively and defensively.

Stay tuned to Baseball Essential over the next few weeks for more on the best and worst trades made by all 30 MLB clubs over the past 10 years.

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