Déjà Vu Trading All Over Again?

Brian Walton observes how the tables have turned on a trade made not that long ago and wonders if it could be at least partially reversed this winter.

It has been said time and time again that the true evaluation of a trade cannot occur until many years later.

Despite that opening line, I am not here to chastise those Cardinals fans who continue to question last December's blockbuster acquisition of Mark Mulder from Oakland for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton. The jury is out on that deal, and will be for a long time.

Instead, see if you can find the common thread among these three recent Cardinals storylines.

1) Lefty reliever Ray King blasts his lack of usage in the playoffs and manager Tony La Russa takes him on via the press, seemingly sealing King's fate.
2) Continuing concerns about right-handed starting pitcher Jason Marquis' present and future in St. Louis.
3) A young corner outfielder with potential is needed.

Let's take these one at a time and it should become clearer.

King

Unfortunately, the prolonged critical illness of Ray King's late father and the personal aspects of it became a central figure in King's 2005 struggles on the mound, at least in his bosses' perception of it.

Still, he is under contract for next season at a fair market price for someone of King's recent success level. Despite having a rougher 2005 than 2004, King has significant value and his availability should elicit significant interest around MLB.

Marquis

With the end of noted pitching guru Leo Mazzone's reign with the Atlanta Braves, Jason Marquis remains one of the few and perhaps the highest-profile former member of Atlanta's rich pitching prospect pipeline to have not had success with the Mad Rocker.

It is reasonable to assume that Marquis' differences with the Braves' staff was part of the reason he was available to be traded to St. Louis two years ago.

Has Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan reached the same point of frustration with Marquis two seasons later? Whether it is stubbornness to rely on his power sinker, getting stuck in the rut of a long losing streak or dissatisfaction over his playoff role, Marquis now seems to be on thinner ice with the Cardinals organization than ever before, too.

Granted, Marquis worked out his differences with Tony La Russa following the latest flare up. But, it wasn't his first skirmish.

Does that mean he will be gone before the start of the 2006 season? Certainly not. Marquis has not yet reached traditional prime years for a player and while he will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, he cannot become a free agent for another year.

That, and the fact that rotation mate Matt Morris may not return makes me lean toward thinking that Marquis will remain in the Cards' 2006 plans.

On the other hand, Marquis may represent the best trade chit General Manager Walt Jocketty has in his bag of tricks. Especially with a thin minor league system, to get a proven major leaguer in trade, Jocketty will likely have to offer one or more in return.

What position does he need to fill? How about…

Outfield

This is one subject about which there seems to be of general agreement among Redbirds faithful – the need to get younger in the outfield - what with impending free agent Reggie Sanders celebrating his 38th birthday in about a month plus the retirement of 38-year-old Larry Walker. As an aside, in an odd bit of trivia, the two share the same birthday, December 1, with Walker one year older.

One oft-noted, but available player would only very marginally positively affect the age problem. Still, some lust for free agent Padres' outfielder Brian Giles, who has been a solid offensive player for a long time. However, he is also getting way up there in years. Giles will celebrate his 35th birthday in January.

But, it really doesn't matter. Whether it is Giles or any other the high-profile members of a thin free-agent flychasing crop, odds are that the market demand will escalate their salary demands out of the realm St. Louis' budget reality. Heck, with his pre-injury playoff heroics, even Sanders may have priced himself out of the Cardinals' plans.

Let's Make a Deal

So, what will Walt do? Likely do what he does every December, it seems. Make a big trade. Something like this one, perhaps?

December 13, 2003 – Jason Marquis, Ray King and Adam Wainwright join the Cardinals from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for outfielders J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero.

Getting the gist yet?

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not second-guessing that 2003 trade for one minute, nor am I suggesting that Drew should ever again wear Cardinal red.

Marquis and King both delivered value to the Cardinals in the interim. The other party in the trade wasn't cheated, either. Drew put together a nice 2004 salary drive with Braves, but bolted last winter, taking a five-year, $55 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That left the Braves with a single year of his on-field contribution.

As a Dodger in 2005, Drew reverted to his Cardinal form, missing 90 games for Los Angeles. Still, "Drew is only 29 and if only he could stay healthy...", they continue to say in Tinseltown, eagerly anticipating a Drew who may never appear. Sound familiar?

Déjà vu all over again

Let's review the bidding. King is on the outs, Marquis is perhaps ready to join him and Wainwright needs more time in the minors while stuck behind fellow prospect Anthony Reyes in the future rotation pecking order. Furthermore, there are rumors that Wainwright ruffled feathers by passing up a chance to travel with the big club during the October playoff run.

As a result, the three jewels of the Drew trade could conceivably be brought together again by Jocketty in the kind of trade package to fetch a young, power-hitting outfielder with future star potential, ideally one who could remain a Cardinal for years to come. A bonus would be if the player is talented enough to eventually slide over to centerfield for take over for a late-in-career Jim Edmonds.

Of course, to get a player like that at all, there have to be flaws or risks to be taken into account. Sort of like a Drew, who has always been an impressive player, when in the lineup, that is.

In conclusion

Here the Cardinals are two years after the Drew trade, potentially ready to ante up some or all of those same players who became Cardinals at that time, so they can acquire another player whose requirements reads a lot like the guy they gave up in the first place, Drew.

Am I the only one who sees the irony in that?

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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