It's Almost that Time of Year – Trade Time

Brian Walton looks back at the Cardinals general manager's metronome-like record in making December deals.

Despite the exhilarating peaks and frustrating valleys the Cardinals take us through as they negotiate with big-name free agents such as A.J. Burnett and Brian Giles, General Manager Walt Jocketty is far from a one-trick pony. 


In fact, a review of Jocketty's recent history shows that Walt usually makes his big December move via trade. If the past can predict the future, more than likely, he will do so within the next two weeks.


While free agents and impending arbitration decisions are currently on everyone's minds, let's not forget that this upcoming period has been one of the most fruitful trading times of the year for Jocketty. During his eleven years of service as the Cardinals' general manager, Walt has improved his hand most every year, both in terms of additions as well as additions by subtraction. 


With the 2005 General Managers Meeting starting Monday in Dallas, Texas, it is a good time to look back at a few recent examples of how the master of trades productively spent his early-winter working vacation – laying the groundwork for big deals.


(Note: Restricting this analysis to a single two-week period in December excludes other Jocketty masterpiece trades such as the ones for Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen.  Can anyone name a single prominent player that came out of the other side of those deals?)


December 14, 1998 – Shortstop Edgar Renteria is traded from the Florida Marlins to the Cardinals in return for Armando Almanza, Braden Looper and Pablo Ozuna.


Renteria survived one year longer following the Marlins' stunning 1997 World Series victory than most of his teammates, like Al Leiter, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown and many more who were scattered to the winds in the initial go-round of the Fish' budget tightening.


As soon as Renteria headed toward joining the others mentioned in big bucks land via the promise of arbitration, he was traded away. Renteria remained the Cardinals shortstop for six very productive seasons before leaving one year ago for the Boston Red Sox.


December 21, 1999 – Second baseman Fernando Vina becomes a Cardinal, coming from the Milwaukee Brewers in return for Juan Acevedo and two players to be named later (Eliezer Alfonzo and Matt Parker).


Vina sparked the top of the Cardinals lineup and played Gold Glove defense, but his on-base percentage dropped each of his three subsequent seasons after he sported a solid .380 OBP in 2000.  Vina missed most of 2003 due to injuries and after signing with Detroit, only played in 29 games in 2004. His career may well be over.


1999 preview.  The signing of Vina was actually a holiday bonus, as Walt apparently got most of his 1999 Christmas shopping done early.  He had already done pretty well for himself and the team following the November General Managers Meeting. 


On November 12, 1999, Jocketty added pitchers Pat Hentgen and Paul Spoljaric from Toronto as the Blue Jays were shedding salaries. He sent Lance Painter, Alberto Castillo and minor leaguer Mark DeWitt up north. Hentgen won 15 games in his only Cardinals season, 2000.


Four days later, the Cardinals' blockbuster of that off-season was announced, as pitchers Darryl Kile, Dave Veres and Luther Hackman became Cardinals.  The Colorado Rockies received Manny Aybar, Brett Butler, Rick Croushore and Jose Jimenez in return.  We all know how that one turned out, too.


December 14, 2000 – Pitchers Steve Kline and Dustin Hermanson join the Cardinals from the Montreal Expos in return for Fernando Tatis and Britt Reames.


At the time, it felt like a strange trade, even a bad one, perhaps. Tatis was an acknowledged slugger seemingly coming into his prime and already signed to a long-term deal. In April 1999, Tatis became the only player in the history of the game to smack two grand slams in the same inning. 


However, we all remember Kline's contributions to the Cardinals over the following four seasons and Hermanson delivered a 14-13, 4.45 ERA in the 2001 season. Tatis floundered badly after leaving St. Louis and his career seems to be over.


December 15, 2001 – Pitcher Dustin Hermanson was traded to the Boston Red Sox for three prospects, Dustin Brisson, Luis Garcia and Rick Asadoorian. 


OK, not a blockbuster.  And, the fact that none of the three prospects received made it to the bigs is not all that bad.  Hermanson and his $6.5 million guaranteed 2002 contract was dispatched to make room for others. 


As much as I would like to fool myself into believing the money was used for Jason Isringhausen, the truth is that Izzy had been signed to a free-agent deal the month before.  The Hermanson savings was instead used to ink free agent first baseman Tino Martinez.  Not one of Walt's best moments.


December 15, 2002 – Pitcher Brett Tomko joins the Cardinals in a trade with the San Diego Padres for reliever Luther Hackman and a player to be named later.


Jocketty was hailed for adding a proven starter without having to break up his core of position players as was previously thought to be required. Tomko surely had his ups and downs during his one season wearing the Birds on the Bat, but did manage to win 13 games.  And yes, upon joining the Cardinals, Tomko was arbitration-eligible, undoubtedly easing the deal. Last I heard, Hackman was playing overseas.


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


While Drew had a standout campaign for the Braves in 2004, the Cardinals' offense got along just fine without him. Marquis' 15 wins and King's 62 appearances with a 2.61 ERA were crucial elements of the Cardinals' 2004 National League championship mix and Marquis added 13 more victories in 2005.

Plus, with the money saved by moving Drew, Jocketty also signed Reggie Sanders and Jeff Suppan, two players who were important contributors in 2004 and 2005.


December 18, 2004 – The Cardinals acquired left-handed starting pitcher Mark Mulder from the Oakland A's in return for starter Dan Haren, reliever Kiko Calero and catching (since moved to first base) prospect Daric Barton.


Like clockwork, about every two weeks, a new debate erupts on our message board over this trade. Some are fine with the deal, noting Mulder's 16 wins in 2005, while others are fitting Barton for his Hall-of-Fame induction jacket. The truth is that the jury is still out on this transaction and will remain so for several more years.


Usually trades, not free agency

In a final attempt to use the past to predict the future as well as to point out that chasing name brand free agents isn't ever the entire solution, I offer the following.


In my research for this story, I ran across multiple examples of the "kick the tires of the new cars, but eventually trade for the used one, instead" strategy that Jocketty has employed consistently and effectively over the years.  Here are but three of the many from past seasons.  Note their timing, just prior to major trades.


From AP on signing Greg Maddux, December 12, 2003:

"I don't know," Jocketty said. "It's certainly more money than we have available. But they also, they could be creative with how it would be structured. It would probably be pretty tough."


From ESPN's Peter Gammons on November 2, 2000:

Q:  Can the Cardinals afford to get in on (free agent pitchers Mike) Mussina and Mike Hampton?

A:  "Maybe," says GM Walt Jocketty. "It's something we have to sit down and assess, because our payroll obligations for next season are high."


From CNN/SI on December 2, 1998:

Cards wonder if pockets deep enough to sign Padres ace


The St. Louis Cardinals are prepared to make a bid for free agent pitcher Kevin Brown, but general manager Walt Jocketty isn't sure he can meet Brown's lofty asking price.


Jocketty said it would be "pretty tough" for the Cardinals to go past a five-year deal but he still remains hopeful. He doesn't expect any deal to be reached before next week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.


"They're not going to do anything without talking to us," Jocketty said. "We'll see if we can pull off a miracle in the next few weeks."


Perhaps the past can help predict the future! 


Brian Walton can be reached via email at

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories