December 12, 1994: Tom Henke signs deal to play his final season in St. Louis

Just a couple weeks shy of his 37th birthday, baseball had taken Tom Henke from Texas to Toronto and back again. Now the 6-foot-5 right-hander was ready to return to his roots.

On December 12, 1994, Henke signed a one-year, $2-million contract to serve as the Cardinals’ closer in 1995. The 13-year major-league veteran had been born in Kansas City and lived on a farm outside of Jefferson City.[1]

“I’ll be honest with you, if it hadn’t been with St. Louis, I probably would have retired,” Henke said.[2]

“I was always a Cardinals fan growing up,” he continued. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and a privilege to play here. I tried to get over here in 1992 when I was a free agent but they had Lee Smith at the time. I know a lot of people around back home were wanting me to come here this time and it worked out. From a family standpoint, it’s wonderful.”[3]

Henke told the Belleville News-Democrat that several teams were vying for his services.

“It had to be the right situation,” he said. “I wanted to play in Texas, St. Louis, Kansas City, or maybe Cleveland, and St. Louis and Cleveland were the most interested.”[4]

Drafted by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 1980 June draft, Henke pitched in 41 games for the Rangers between 1982 and 1984, but he was erratic, walking 32 batters in 60 innings, including 20 in 28 1/3 innings in 1984.

In January 1985, the Blue Jays selected him as a free agent compensation pick. After winning the International League Most Valuable Player Award with a 0.88 ERA and 18 saves in 51 1/3 innings, Henke was called up to Toronto for the stretch run. In 40 innings, he posted a 2.03 ERA and 42 saves in 40 innings.

From 1986 through 1993, Henke saved at least 20 games each season. In 1987, he led the league with 34 saves and made the first all-star appearance of his career. He saved 34 games in 1992, then saved three games in the ALCS and two more in the World Series to help the Blue Jays win the world championship.

Donruss 1992

After returning to the Rangers in 1993, Henke enjoyed another strong year, saving a career-high 40 games with a 2.91 ERA. In 1994, however, a stint on the disabled list limited him to just 15 saves in 21 opportunities. His ERA climbed to 3.79 and he clashed with Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy regarding his use.

“Last (season) wasn’t a lot of fun for me,” Henke said. “I had some conflicts with the manager. It was a case where, all of a sudden, he was using me in situations for three or four innings, and that’s something I hadn’t experienced in a long time.”[5]

The man nicknamed “Terminator” came to the Cardinals ranked seventh on the all-time major-league list with 275.

“He’s going to be our closer, the guy who pitches the ninth inning,” Cardinals manager Joe Torre said. “He’s a guy who has done it, he’s used to doing it, and he’s been successful doing it. The difference of pitching that ninth inning is one of the big things in baseball. Not everyone can do it. You saw what happened with Mike Perez. Even when he was being successful, he was a little hesitant.”[6]

Perez opened the 1994 season as the Cardinals’ closer, but struggled in the role and ended the season with an 8.71 ERA. Rene Arocha claimed the job and saved 11 games, but required elbow surgery following the season.

Signing Henke “gives us more flexibility with Arocha,” Torre said. “Now he could work into our starting rotation or be a setup guy.”[7]

1996 Upper Deck Collector’s Choice

Henke was part of new general manager Walt Jocketty’s plan to improve a pitching staff that posted a 5.14 ERA in 1994. On the same day the Cardinals signed Henke, they also signed left-handed pitcher Danny Jackson to a three-year contract.

“It’s a major change in direction for this organization and I think it should be an indication to all of the fans that we’re doing whatever is needed – and whatever is possible – to try and put a winning and competitive team on the field for next year,” Jocketty said. “I’m excited about it.”[8]

So was Torre.

“Last year we had a ballclub that showed you how tough things can be if you can’t rely on pitchers getting you six or seven innings and having somebody close the door,” Torre said. “When Walt came aboard, he said he was going to address the pitching and he certainly has done that.”[9]

Although Jackson went just 2-12 with a 5.90 ERA and the Cardinals went just 62-81 during the strike-shortened 1995 season, Henke was all the Cardinals could have hoped for. In 54 1/3 innings, he posted a 1.82 ERA and saved 36 games in 38 opportunities. Along the way, he represented the Cardinals in the all-star game and placed 22nd in the National League Most Valuable Player voting. On August 18, 1995, he earned the 300th save of his career

After the season, he was named the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. The St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America presented him with its J.G. Taylor Spink Award as the St. Louis Baseball Man of the Year.

That December, Henke declined the Cardinals’ offer of salary arbitration and indicated that he didn’t plan to return in time for the start of the season.

“I’m not officially retiring yet,” Henke said. “The chances of me coming back are pretty slim, but I would like to leave this open. I’m going to wait to see how I feel this spring, but I told the Cardinals to go ahead and play without me. If I do play, it will be with the Cardinals, but right now I don’t think I want to play.”[10]

Henke did not return in the spring, opting instead to spend time with his family. He retired with 311 saves and a 2.67 career ERA. In 789 2/3 innings, he struck out 861 batters for an average of 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.


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[1] Dan O’Neill, “On Second Try, Henke Makes A Deal With Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1994.

[2] Dan O’Neill, “On Second Try, Henke Makes A Deal With Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1994.

[3] Dan O’Neill, “On Second Try, Henke Makes A Deal With Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1994.

[4] Simon Gonzalez, “Rangers lose Henke to Cards,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 13, 1994.

[5] Dan O’Neill, “On Second Try, Henke Makes A Deal With Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1994.

[6] Dan O’Neill, “On Second Try, Henke Makes A Deal With Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1994.

[7] Dan O’Neill, “On Second Try, Henke Makes A Deal With Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1994.

[8] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards move to beef up pitching,” Belleville News-Democrat, December 13, 1994.

[9] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards move to beef up pitching,” Belleville News-Democrat, December 13, 1994.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Still Unofficial, But Chances Slim Henke Will Pitch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1995.

December 22, 2011: Cardinals sign Carlos Beltran in wake of Pujols’ departure

Carlos Beltran

After Albert Pujols signed a record 10-year, $254-million contract with the Angels following the 2011 season, the Cardinals had a short list of free agents who could fill their sudden need for an impact bat.

Carlos Beltran’s name was at the top of the list. On December 22, 2011, the Cardinals signed the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year and six-time all-star to a two-year, $26-million contract.

“I think that he was the one guy who you look at the free-agent market and could say how he really fit well with what we’re doing,” outfielder Matt Holliday said. “You don’t replace Albert, because it’s impossible to replace the best hitter of the era, but by adding Beltran, you get a player who is confident in the postseason and is going to (impact) the lineup. You add another guy to a lineup that will hit doubles and home runs and get on base. Not as often as Albert, but we’re going to have potential.”[1]

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he envisioned Beltran batting second in the lineup in front of Holliday and Lance Berkman.[2] The more significant shuffle would take place defensively, with Berkman moving from right field to first base. With Allen Craig expected to miss the early weeks of the season while he recovered from knee surgery, Beltran was expected to take over right field. Once Craig returned to action, Beltran was expected to share time with Jon Jay in center field and Craig in right.

Though Beltran was a three-time Gold Glove Award winner with the Mets, there were questions as to whether he could return to center field. In January 2010, Beltran underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee. Playing for the Mets and Giants in 2011, Beltran played all his games in right field.

To keep his knee healthy, Beltran adopted new training methods, including low-intensity running in the pool.[3]

“I am healthy enough to play the outfield,” Beltran said. “I felt real good through last season. I didn’t have an issue at all with the knee, and I think that’s because I worked hard and followed a program to keep my knee strong.”[4]

The Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, and Indians each were pursuing Beltran, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto each told Beltran that playing as a designated hitter in the AL would prolong his career.[5]

The opportunity to continue to play the outfield was part of the reason Beltran chose St. Louis. After Pujols signed with the Angels, the Cardinals continued to speak with his agent, Dan Lozano. Only this time, they were discussing Beltran, who also was represented by Lozano.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — December 23, 2011

The 34-year-old Beltran wasn’t interested.

“I want to play in the field at this stage in my career,” he said. “I feel I can still make a difference in the field. If you’re having a tough day offensively, you can go out and play good defense and still change the game. If you’re a DH, there’s nothing you can do with a tough day.”[6]

The Post-Dispatch reported that Beltran had at least one three-year offer and was believed to have at least one offer with a higher average annual value than what the Cardinals offered.[7]

Beltran, however, was looking for more than money.

“What they just did (this) year winning the World Series – that was a big influence on me,” he said. “I’m looking for an opportunity to win a championship. That’s what I want in my career. I believe the Cardinals are a club that can do it again. … Obviously, Albert Pujols is not there and there’s no one who can replace him, but this team is still capable of winning.”[8]

Beltran’s commitment to winning was obvious to new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after he called to welcome him to the team.

“The entire time he was talking about what he could do to help the other people and the lineup,” Matheny said. “I think he has those intangibles that will fit into the clubhouse. His career and the things he’s done on the field – there are a lot of metrics that can show that. Talking to him showed me what else he’ll bring.”[9]

Beltran already was familiar with several of his new teammates, having played alongside Yadier Molina for the Puerto Rican national team, which was managed by Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo. Berkman also played alongside Berkman in Houston in 2004.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — December 24, 2011

In that season’s NLCS, Beltran proved to be the Astros’ most dangerous hitter, batting .417 with four homers against the Cardinals. After the Cardinals won the series to capture the National League pennant, Beltran signed a seven-year, $119 million contract with the Mets.

In 2006, Beltran famously was frozen by an Adam Wainwright curveball with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of NLCS Game 7. The called third strike sent St. Louis to the World Series, where they defeated the Tigers in five games.

“Beltran is a proven outfielder who obviously has been a tough opponent against the Cardinals for many years,” Mozeliak said in a statement released after Beltran’s signing. “It is going to be nice to have his bat and competitive nature working for us instead of on the other side of the field for the next couple of years.”[10]

After his knee injury limited him to just 64 games in 2010, Beltran played in 142 games in 2011. In 98 games with the Mets, he batted .289/.391/.513 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs. On July 28, the Mets traded him to the Giants for Zach Wheeler. In 44 games with the Giants, Beltran finished the season strong, batting .323/.369/.551 with seven homers and 18 RBIs.

His .385 on-base percentage ranked seventh in the National League while his on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .910 ranked ninth in the league. With the addition of Beltran, the Cardinals’ 2012 lineup was slated to three of the previous season’s National League OPS leaders, including Berkman (fourth, .959) and Holliday (seventh, .912). Pujols’ .906 OPS ranked 10th in the NL.

“Beltran may not be Pujols. But if 2011 was an indication, Beltran doesn’t have to be Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote. “Being Carlos Beltran is good enough.”[11]

Indeed it was. Beltran was named an all-star in both his seasons in St. Louis. In 2012, he hit .269/.346/.495 with 32 homers and 97 RBIs. He followed that performance by batting .296/.339/.491 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs in 2013. Despite the early discussions of Beltran playing center field, he made just seven starts at the position, instead establishing himself as the team’s everyday right fielder.

2013 Topps Opening Day

Beltran appeared in the postseason for the Cardinals in both seasons, hitting five homers and driving in 21 runs. In 98 postseason at-bats, Beltran hit .306, including a 5-for-17 (.294) performance in the 2013 World Series.

After the 2013 season, Beltran declined the Cardinals’ one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. When the Yankees signed Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract, the Cardinals received a compensation pick in the 2014 draft and selected right-handed pitcher Jack Flaherty with the 34th overall selection.

Beltran played the next four seasons with the Yankees, Rangers, and Astros. He played his final major-league season in 2017, when he won the World Series with the Astros. Across a 20-year big-league career, he played in 2,586 games, batting .279/.350/.486 during that span. He was named to nine all-star games, won three Gold Gloves, and twice won the Silver Slugger Award.


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[1] Derrick Goold, “Cards recast MV3,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 2011.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Moving on from Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 2011.

[3] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[4] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[5] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[6] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Moving on from Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 2011.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[9] Derrick Goold, “Cards are a good ‘fit’ for Beltran,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 25, 2011.

[10] R.B. Fallstrom, “Beltran joins World Series champs,” San Francisco Examiner, December 23, 2011.

[11] Bernie Miklasz, “No replacing Pujols,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 2011.

December 20, 1999: Cardinals finally get their man in trade for Fernando Vina

Juan Acevedo and Fernando Vina

After more than a year, the Cardinals finally had their leadoff hitter.

On December 20, 1999, the Cardinals finalized a trade to send pitcher Juan Acevedo and two minor league players to be named later to the Brewers for Fernando Vina. On June 13, 2000, they completed the trade by sending catcher Eliezer Alfonzo and pitcher Matt Parker to Milwaukee.

“I’m finally going somewhere where they want me,” Vina said. “I’ve talked to Walt Jocketty and he said he considered me the final piece of the puzzle. Just to be part of this organization and this fan base, I guarantee you I’m going to play hard and give it everything I have.”[1]

The Cardinals and Brewers had been discussing a trade built around Vina since the winter meetings a year earlier. At the time, the Brewers were seeking pitchers Manny Aybar and Jose Jimenez, both of whom subsequently were traded to the Rockies in a deal that sent Darryl Kile, Dave Veres, and Luther Hackman to St. Louis.[2] When talks resumed at the winter meetings in 1999, the Cardinals offered pitcher Garrett Stephenson, but the Brewers insisted on Acevedo.[3]

Originally a 14th-round draft pick with the Rockies in 1992, Acevedo was traded to the Mets in 1995, then dealt to the Cardinals in 1998. Acevedo served as both a starter and reliever that season, going 8-3 with a 2.56 ERA in 98 1/3 innings despite battling elbow problems. In 16 opportunities, Acevedo saved 15 games for St. Louis.

In 1999, Acevedo faced undisclosed personal problems and lost the closer’s role, going just 6-8 with a 5.89 ERA in 102 1/3 innings.[4]

“It kind of hurts because in 1998, I gave (the Cardinals) a good year,” he said. “They knew some off-the-field problems that I had last year, and I think they knew I could have pitched a lot better. They treated me very well. I liked St. Louis a lot, but maybe this opportunity will be better for me.”[5]

Acevedo was eligible for arbitration after making $475,000 in 1999.[6]

“Our primary goal was to improve our pitching,” Brewers general manager Dean Taylor said. “The addition of Juan Acevedo adds another strong and experienced arm to our staff.”[7]

1999 Pacific

The Brewers told Acevedo that they expected him to be part of their rotation,[8] but a scout with the team told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he might be a better fit as a late-innings reliever.

“He’s probably no better than a No. 4 or 5 starter,” the scout said. “He may be more valuable in the bullpen because he can set up and close.”[9]

Ironically, Acevedo said he was looking forward to testing himself against former teammate Mark McGwire, who set the single-season home run record with 70 in 1998 and added 65 more in 1999.

“I always wanted to see how I’d do against Big Mac,” Acevedo said. “If he hits one off me, I want it to be a bomb. Nothing cheap.”[10]

Vina, however, was all too happy to be on the same side as McGwire, shortstop Edgar Renteria, and third baseman Fernando Tatis. The year prior, Joe McEwing played 96 games at second base while Placido Polanco played 66.

“You look around the infield and there’s four all-stars in the infield,” Vina said. “There’s going to be a lot of runs scored. In Milwaukee, I never had that kind of potential lineup. You kind of sit back in the winter and think about it, and it’s scary.”[11]

With Vina, whom La Russa called “a legitimate top-of-the-lineup guy,”[12] the 2000 Cardinals projected a lineup with Vina leading off, followed by Renteria, McGwire, Ray Lankford, Tatis, Eric Davis, J.D. Drew, Eli Marrero, and the pitcher’s spot.

For his career, Vina had 66 stolen bases, though he wasn’t particularly efficient; he had been caught 36 times.

“With the Brewers, you had to make so many things happen that you had to force some things sometimes,” Vina said. “With (the Cardinals’) lineup, you have to pick your spots and take off when the time is right.”[13]

Vina’s best previous season had come in 1998, when he hit .311/.386/.427 with 39 doubles, seven homers, 45 RBIs, and 22 stolen bases. His batting average, doubles, and stolen base totals each were career highs, and Vina was named to the all-star game that summer.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1999

In 1999, however, Vina was limited to just 37 games after he bruised his quadriceps in a collision with right fielder Jeromy Burnitz on May 9. In trying to return from the injury, he rushed his rehabilitation and developed patellar tendinitis. He played just seven games after the injury.

“I’ve been really rehabbing,” Vina said. “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’m not worried about it.”[14]

In Vina’s absence, Brewers rookie Ronnie Belliard hit .295 with eight homers and 58 RBIs. That made Vina expendable in Milwaukee.

Vina was in the final year of a contract that paid a base annual salary of $2 million.[15] He hoped to sign a new contract with St. Louis that would keep him in town beyond the 2000 season.

“I want to take care of that situation as soon as possible,” Vina said. “I want to play for the Cardinals as long as I can. I’d like to be there for a long time. I have no idea of going anywhere else. It’s one of the best teams in baseball to play for. I don’t think there’s any baseball player in the country who wants to play anywhere else.”[16]

Vina and the Cardinals agreed on a new, three-year contract in May. The deal reportedly gave Vina a $1 million signing bonus, a salary of $4 million in 2001 and 2002, a $5 million salary in 2003, and a $4.5 million option in 2004.[17]

“Fernando Vina exemplifies what Cardinals baseball is all about and we are pleased that he will be a member of this organization on a long-term basis,” Jocketty said.[18]

“I’m as happy as could be,” Vina said. “I’m happy that I’ll be a part of this for a long time ahead.[19]

2001 Stadium Club

Vina hit .300/.380/.398 that season. Willing to get on base through any means necessary, Vina was hit by a league-high 28 pitches that season. Vina followed that season with a .303/.357/.418 season that included career highs with nine homers and 56 RBIs. He also won the first Gold Glove Award of his career.

Vina’s numbers dipped a bit in 2002, as he hit .270/.333/.338, though he drove in 54 runs and stole 17 bases for the second consecutive year. He also won the second Gold Glove of his career.

In 2003, however, injuries limited Vina to 61 games. He signed a two-year contract with the Tigers ahead of the 2004 season but played in just 29 games with Detroit that season. He missed the entire 2005 season with a strained right hamstring and patellar tendinitis.

The Mariners invited Vina to spring training in 2006, but he suffered another injury and was cut prior to the season.

In 2007, after his name appeared in the Mitchell Report investigating steroid abuse in baseball, Vina admitted that he purchased human growth hormone to recover from his injuries. The Mitchell Report said that Vina bought human growth hormone six times between 2000 and 2005.

“I tried everything rehabbing,” Vina said. “I came to a point that I was desperate. … Was it right? No. Obviously, it was wrong. I’m embarrassed by it.”[20]

After 12 major-league seasons, Vina retired with a career .282 batting average and .349 on-base percentage in 1,148 games. He was inducted in the Milwaukee Brewers Wall of Honor in 2014.

2003 Upper Deck

Acevedo pitched one season in Milwaukee, going 3-7 with a 3.81 ERA over 82 2/3 innings. All 62 of his appearances came in relief. In April 2001, the Brewers traded Acevedo, Kane Davis, and Jose Flores to the Rockies for Mike DeJean, Mark Leiter, and Elvis Pena.

Acevedo made his final major-league appearance in 2003. In eight seasons, he went 28-40 with a 4.33 ERA in 570 career innings.

Alfonzo, one of the players to be named later in the trade, made the majors with the Giants in 2006. He appeared in 193 major-league games across six seasons, retiring with a .240 career batting average.


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[20] “Vina confirms part in Mitchell scandal,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 2007.

[1] Rick Hummel, “Vina joins Cards as leadoff hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 1999.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals will give Vina a medical exam today,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1999.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Report: Cards will trade Acevedo for Brewers second baseman Vina,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1999.

[4] Mike Eisenbath, “Redbirds are accomplishing goal to revamp pitching staff,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 23, 1999.

[5] Mike Eisenbath, “Redbirds are accomplishing goal to revamp pitching staff,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 23, 1999.

[6] “It takes time, but Brewers are ready to deal Vina,” Wisconsin State Journal, December 20, 1999.

[7] “Vina passes physical to complete trade,” Wisconsin State Journal, December 21, 1999.

[8] Mike Eisenbath, “Redbirds are accomplishing goal to revamp pitching staff,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 23, 1999.

[9] “It takes time, but Brewers are ready to deal Vina,” Wisconsin State Journal, December 20, 1999.

[10] “Vina passes physical to complete trade,” Wisconsin State Journal, December 21, 1999.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Vina hopes for long stay with Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 22, 1999.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Vina joins Cards as leadoff hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 1999.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Vina hopes for long stay with Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 22, 1999.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Vina hopes for long stay with Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 22, 1999.

[15] “It takes time, but Brewers are ready to deal Vina,” Wisconsin State Journal, December 20, 1999.

[16] Rick Hummel, “Vina hopes for long stay with Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 22, 1999.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Vina signs three-year deal with Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 2000.

[18] Rick Hummel, “Vina signs three-year deal with Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 2000.

[19] Rick Hummel, “Vina signs three-year deal with Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 2000.

[20] “Vina confirms part in Mitchell scandal,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 2007.

December 18, 2004: Cardinals trade for Mark Mulder

From left: Dan Haren, Daric Barton, and Mark Mulder

On the heels of the Cardinals’ loss to the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series, their offseason began with the departure of several prominent players.

Shortstop Edgar Renteria signed with Boston. Catcher Mike Matheny went to the Giants, second baseman Tony Womack signed with the Yankees, and pitcher Woody Williams returned to the Padres on a free-agent deal.

“You lose the guy who started Game 1 of the World Series (Woody Williams), you lose your catcher, your leadoff guy, your shortstop. Fans are saying, ‘Are we going to do anything? What’s happening? What’s happening?’ I think we knew at one point, something good was going to happen,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.[1]

General manager Walt Jocketty made his big move on December 18, 2004, trading starting pitcher Dan Haren, reliever Kiko Calero, and prized catching prospect Daric Barton to the A’s for left-handed ace Mark Mulder.

The A’s, who emerged as American League contenders behind a pitching staff led by Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito, had traded Hudson to the Braves three days earlier. Jocketty indicated that the Cardinals had the option to pursue either Mulder or Hudson, and preferred the 6-foot-6 left-hander from South Holland, Ill.

“This is something we’ve been working on for two or three weeks,” Jocketty said. “We’ve been going back and forth between Hudson and Mulder and we felt like in our case, we had control of Mulder for an extra year. Given his age, we knew it was going to be a steep price. Both are quality, top-of-the-rotation starters.”[2]

Mulder was due $6 million for the 2005 season with a $7.25 million club option in 2006.

“Given the sticker prices going around this winter, Mulder is a relative bargain,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dan O’Neill wrote.[3]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — December 19, 2004

A second-round pick of the A’s in the 1998 draft, Mulder raced to the majors, making 27 starts for Oakland as a 22-year-old in 2000. He enjoyed a breakout season the following year, winning a league-high 21 games with a 3.45 ERA in 229 1/3 innings. He placed second in the Cy Young Award voting behind Roger Clemens.

“I’m not a guy who goes out there and tries to get the strikeout,” said Mulder, who ranked second in the league in groundouts in 2004. “If I can get three pitches and three outs, that’s the way I’ll do it.”[4]

From 2001 through 2004, Mulder’s 72 wins trailed only Curt Schilling’s 74 for the most in the majors.[5] During that span, he led the American League twice in complete games (2003 and 2004) and shutouts (2001 and 2003).

“(Mulder) is the top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher we’ve been working hard to obtain this offseason,” Jocketty said. “It was difficult to part with the three players we traded, but to acquire someone like Mulder, we felt that this deal worked for us in several ways.”[6]

Both Jocketty and La Russa indicated that the deal would not have been possible had the Cardinals not lost Renteria to free agency. The team offered the shortstop a four-year contract worth $36 million, but instead he accepted a four-year, $40 million offer from the Red Sox.[7]

“I really think we did the right thing,” La Russa said. “Edgar was more than we should spend. If we had signed Edgar, I don’t know that we could have made this trade. We would not have been able to address this first priority. Here we are now, and we have five legitimate starters.”[8]

With the addition of Mulder, the Cardinals’ rotation was slated to include Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, and Matt Morris, though Morris had recently undergone shoulder surgery and wasn’t projected to return until May.[9] Rick Ankiel provided additional rotation depth.

“I can take my hat off to Walt and (Cardinals chairman of the board Bill DeWitt),” La Russa said. “After what’s taken place the past few days, we didn’t panic. We didn’t get into, ‘We’re not trying,’ or whatever the perception might have been. We said, ‘Let’s be patient, let’s do the smart thing.’”[10]

Jocketty admitted that the Cardinals strategically kept the potential deal under the radar until it was finalized.

“We knew if the word got out that Oakland was willing to trade Mulder, and we were trying to close in on it, other teams would get involved and it would become a feeding frenzy,” he said. “So we tried to keep it quiet.”[11]

2004 Donruss Studio

The deal did, however, come with a question mark: Mulder’s health. On Aug. 24, the left-hander became the first pitcher in baseball to win his 17th game of the season, but he failed to win again in his next seven starts, going 0-4 with 47 hits and 33 runs allowed in 28 2/3 innings. During that span, his ERA climbed from 3.72 to 4.43.

“There will be some concern because he struggled a little toward the end of the season,” La Russa said, “but I’ve talked to the Oakland people and we know that mentally and physically, he’s ready to go.”[12]

Jocketty said trainer Barry Weinberg, who also previously worked with the A’s, spoke to Oakland’s trainers and doctors and reviewed all of Mulder’s records. Instead, Jocketty suggested that Mulder was simply trying to do too much during the season’s stretch run.

“He put a lot of pressure on himself,” Jocketty said. “The A’s lost Hudson to an injury for a while and Zito was having a rough year, so it fell on Mulder to carry the load of the entire rotation and he tried to do too much. It happens. It might have helped him to go through something like that. He’ll know how to handle it better from now on.”[13]

“I wasn’t hurt at all,” Mulder said. “Whether I got tired, I don’t know. … There was nothing wrong with me and there is nothing wrong with me, it was just one of those things where I just flat-out struggled. I have never struggled like that in my career. More than anything, it was embarrassing for me. I was in a funk.”[14]

Even after Hudson was traded, Mulder anticipated that he would be able to rebound the following season in Oakland. When Jocketty called to welcome Mulder to the Cardinals, the left-hander admitted that he was still shocked.

“I feel bad,” Mulder said. “I didn’t really sound excited when I talked to (Jocketty). … I am. I am excited about it.”[15]

2001 Fleer Platinum

Mulder called Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, who was with the A’s during Mulder’s first two seasons. His message was simple: “What’s up, teammate?”

Isringhausen said, “I called him just to talk before the trade: How he was doing, what he was thinking and blah, blah, blah. I knew Walt was trying to get him, and it happens to everybody at some point in Oakland. He’ll be a good fit.”[16]

Meanwhile, the A’s once again found themselves rebuilding.

“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves every year,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “This is probably the most drastic. … There’s certainly some sadness losing first Tim and then Mark from a personal standpoint. Unfortunately, this is something we’ve had to deal with. We’re still the Oakland A’s. We’re still going to go on.”[17]

Haren, the Cardinals’ second-round draft choice in 2001, had appeared in 28 games for the Cardinals the past two seasons, going 6-10 with a 4.85 ERA.

Calero had established himself as a key member of the Cardinals’ bullpen during their 2004 pennant run, posting a 2.78 ERA over 45 1/3 innings. In two seasons in St. Louis, he was 4-2 with a 2.80 ERA.

2003 Upper Deck

Barton was the potential prize of the deal. The Cardinals’ 2003 first-round choice, Barton hit .294/.420/.424 as a 17-year-old in the Appalachian League that year. In 2004, he hit .313/.445/.511 with 13 homers and 77 RBIs in Class A Peoria.

“Even though he’s a long way off, this guy is a hell of a hitter,” Jocketty said. “The question is where is he going to play. But he’s a left-handed hitter with power and he’s got a bright future. He should do well in the American League.

“It’s difficult to give up these young players, it really is. But we thought it was necessary to get Mulder, who can pitch at the top of the rotation, who fits in well with what we need and what we’re trying to accomplish. He’s an intelligent guy, a great athlete, a great fit.”[18]

Mulder’s first season in St. Louis was almost everything Jocketty could have asked for, as he went 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA over 205 innings. Mulder got off to a strong start in 2006, going 5-1 with a 3.69 ERA in his first nine starts.

After throwing 8 1/3 shutout innings in a 1-0 win over the Mets on May 17, however, Mulder’s career was never the same. He won just one of his next six starts and his ERA climbed from 3.69 to 6.09 before he was shut down in June with shoulder issues. Though Mulder returned for two more starts in August, the shoulder required surgery.

2006 Fleer Ultra

Despite the injury, the Cardinals re-signed Mulder to a two-year, $13 million contract with a club option for a third year. Mulder was never healthy during the length of that contract, pitching just 12 2/3 innings and losing all three of his decisions. The Cardinals bought out his option for $1.5 million and Mulder retired after the season.

“We had very high expectations that Mark would come back and throw to the capabilities he had when we acquired him from Oakland,” said John Mozeliak, who had replaced Jocketty as Cardinals general manager. “That didn’t happen.”[19]

In 2014, Mulder briefly attempted a comeback with the Angels but tore his Achilles tendon on the second day of spring training and was released.

Each of the three players the Cardinals sent to Oakland in the deal went on to have successful major-league careers.

Barton debuted with the Athletics in 2007 and appeared in eight major-league seasons, all with the A’s. In 551 career games, the first baseman batted .247/.356/.365 with 30 homers and 184 RBIs, establishing himself as a patient hitter with a high on-base percentage but relatively little power.

After the 2014 season, he signed a free-agent deal with the Blue Jays but never appeared for the major-league club. He spent three seasons in the Mexican League, playing his final pro game in 2019.

2006 Upper Deck

Calero pitched four seasons for the A’s, posting a 3.96 ERA over 159 innings. He made three appearances in the 2006 NLCS for Oakland, throwing two scoreless innings against the Tigers.

The A’s released Calero in June 2008. He spent the 2009 season with the Marlins, appearing in 67 games with a 1.95 ERA. Strangely enough, given his success with the Marlins, he spent the 2010 season with the Mets’ and Dodgers’ Triple-A teams and did not return to the majors. He ended his career with a 3.24 ERA over 302 2/3 innings.

Of the three players Oakland received in the trade, Haren had the most success career. In three seasons with the A’s, Haren was the model of consistency, starting 34 games each season and winning 14, 14, and 15 games, respectively. During that span, he posted a 43-34 record with a 3.64 ERA. In 2007, his final season with the A’s, he made the first all-star appearance of his career, posting a 3.07 ERA over 222 2/3 innings.

That December, Beane traded Haren and Connor Robertson to the Diamondbacks for Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, and Greg Smith. In Arizona, Haren enjoyed the best seasons of his career, earning all-star nods in 2008 and 2009. In 2009, his 14-10 record and 3.14 ERA placed him fifth in the Cy Young Award balloting.

Haren’s 13-year career included stints with the Angels, Nationals, Dodgers, Marlins, and Cubs. He retired after the 2015 season with a 153-131 career record and 3.75 ERA.


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[1] Dan O’Neill, “Cards land Oakland’s Mulder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[2] Dan O’Neill, “Cards land Oakland’s Mulder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[3] Dan O’Neill, “Cards land Oakland’s Mulder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[4] Derrick Goold, “Mulder says trade was quite a shock,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 2004.

[5] Bernie Miklasz, “Jocketty moves under the radar,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[6] Janie McCauley, Associated Press. “Big Three for A’s now is a Zito solo,” Fresno Bee, December 19, 2004.

[7] Ian Browne, “Sox, Renteria make deal official,” MLB.com.

[8] Dan O’Neill, “Cards land Oakland’s Mulder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[9] Janie McCauley, Associated Press. “Big Three for A’s now is a Zito solo,” Fresno Bee, December 19, 2004.

[10] Dan O’Neill, “Cards land Oakland’s Mulder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[11] Bernie Miklasz, “Jocketty moves under the radar,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[12] Dan O’Neill, “Cards land Oakland’s Mulder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[13] Bernie Miklasz, “Jocketty moves under the radar,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[14] Derrick Goold, “Mulder says trade was quite a shock,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 2004.

[15] Derrick Goold, “Mulder says trade was quite a shock,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 2004.

[16] Derrick Goold, “Mulder says trade was quite a shock,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 2004.

[17] Janie McCauley, Associated Press. “Big Three for A’s now is a Zito solo,” Fresno Bee, December 19, 2004.

[18] Dan O’Neill, “Cards land Oakland’s Mulder,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2004.

[19] Derrick Goold, “Cards decline to exercise Mulder option,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 21, 2008.

December 16, 1988: Cardinals get Milt Thompson in trade with Phillies

 

From the moment he arrived in St. Louis, the Cardinals saw Milt Thompson as a Whitey Herzog type of player.

On December 16, 1988, the Cardinals traded outfielder Curt Ford and catcher Steve Lake to the Phillies for Thompson. A former second-round pick of the Braves in 1979, Thompson was expected to serve as a backup for outfielders Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, and Tom Brunansky.

“He definitely adds a lot to the club,” said Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill, who was the Braves’ first base coach during Thompson’s rookie season in Atlanta in 1984. “Defensively, he’s a solid center-field type guy and we haven’t had anybody like that for a while, whether it be a Ford, a (Jim) Lindeman, or a (John) Morris, who could come in and play center field on a regular basis if Willie were to injure himself or for some reason couldn’t play. He’s got some pretty good pinch-hitting numbers too. He’s a definite plus.”[1]

Thompson had a .342 average (25 for 73) as a pinch-hitter.[2] He also had 105 stolen bases in 134 career attempts, good for a 78% success rate.

“He’s run up some pretty good numbers,” Maxvill said. “I particularly like his stolen-bases-to-getting-caught numbers. It looks like he knows when to run and when not to.”[3]

Upon breaking into the majors with the Braves in 1984, Thompson received limited playing time, appearing in just 98 games over two years despite a .302 batting average over that span. Following the 1985 season, the Braves traded Thompson and Steve Bedrosian to Philadelphia for Ozzie Virgil and Pete Smith.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described it, “When Thompson was acquired, he was heralded as the second coming of former Phillies star center fielder Garry Maddox. … It didn’t help matters that Virgil had been popular in Philadelphia and that Smith had been a first-round draft pick.”[4]

Thompson got off to a slow start, drew boos from the Philadelphia faithful, and was demoted to Triple-A for two months in 1986.

“He put a lot of pressure on himself because he had heard about the fans up there,” Thompson’s wife, Annette said.[5]

“I finally got my opportunity (but) I put too much pressure on myself and I messed up,” Thompson said. “But I got my act together.”[6]

Despite his rough welcome to Philadelphia, Thompson got his career back on track. In 1987, his nine triples and 46 stolen bases each ranked sixth in the National League, and his .302 batting average over 527 at-bats ranked ninth in the league.

In 1988, Thompson batted .288 with a team-leading .354 on-base percentage despite injuring his right knee when he ran into Wrigley Field’s brick wall chasing a fly ball. He played two more months before he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage on Sept. 12.[7]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch — December 17, 1988

“He’s a good kid, plays hard, and hustles all the way,” Maxvill said. “He’s definitely a Whitey Herzog kind of player.”[8]

Thompson agreed.

“It’s a positive move for me,” he said. “I know the type of game Whitey likes to play, and I like that style of ball. I play with what I call aggressive hustle; I’m not afraid to take the extra base.”[9]

The Phillies, however, felt that they had better options for their everyday lineup. In November 1988, they signed former Cardinals second baseman Tom Herr and made plans to move Juan Samuel to center field.

“I’m happy, in a way,” Thompson said. “I knew that with Sammy going to the outfield I wasn’t going to get any playing time at all because he’s an everyday player. I don’t know how it’s going to work over there (in St. Louis) because they have Vince Coleman in left, Willie McGee in center, and Tom Brunansky in right. From what I hear, though, I’ll get to play and there have been some rumors that McGee could be traded. The way I look at it, it’s a two-for-one deal so hopefully it will all work out.”[10]

Phillies general manager Lee Thomas, the Cardinals’ former director of player development, outlined two reasons for the trade.

“First, I think Milt felt like he had to play fairly regularly, and although I can’t speak for the Cardinals, I think he’ll play more there than he would have here,” Thomas said. “He’s a line-drive hitter who will fit in well at Busch Stadium. Second, Curt Ford can pull the ball and if Milt has a weakness, that was probably it, even though he’s a very fine player.”[11]

1988 Donruss

The 28-year-old Ford had just completed his third full season in St. Louis. A 1981 fourth-round draft pick out of Jackson State University, Ford hit .285/.325/.408 with three homers, 26 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases in 228 at-bats in 1987.

In 1988, however, Ford suffered an early-season wrist injury that limited his effectiveness on the field. In 128 at-bats, he hit just .195/.239/.266.

“We look at Milt as more capable of being an everyday player than Curt could have been,” Maxvill said.[12]

The Phillies and manager Nick Leyva appreciated Ford’s ability to play all three outfield spots as well as the infield. Thomas also indicated that they considered Ford a power threat, though he had just six career home runs in St. Louis.

“He’s the type of guy who can play second base, third, first, and the outfield, and he’s the kind of guy who, if you send him up to bat with two on when you’re behind by three in the bottom of the ninth, is a threat to hit one out,” Thomas said. “He can get around on a Todd Worrell-type fastball and there aren’t too many guys who can do that.”[13]

1989 Score

Lake gave the Phillies the right-handed hitting catcher they had been seeking since Lance Parrish signed with the Angels. Lake had just completed his third season in St. Louis, and the highlight of that tenure came early in the 1987 season, when he hit .300 for six weeks while filling in for the injured Tony Pena.

“Steve did a great job for us as a backup guy,” Maxvill said. “We probably never would have won (the National League pennant) in ’87 if it hadn’t been for the way he stepped in when Tony Pena got hurt.”[14]

On July 7, in the second game of a double-header that had been delayed by rain, Lake hit a two-run, ninth-inning homer to send the game into extra innings. By the time Jack Clark hit a 10th-inning RBI single to win the game, it was 3 a.m.

Lake hit .251/.289/.346 that season and even received the start in Game 7 of the World Series while Pena served as the designated hitter. Lake took advantage of the opportunity, hitting a second-inning RBI single that briefly gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

In 1988, however, Lake took just 54 at-bats as he was slotted into a third-string role behind Pena and Tom Pagnozzi.

“I’m excited,” Lake said after the trade. “The Cardinals are a great organization, but it had gotten kind of frustrating. I could play in the seventh game of the World Series one year, but couldn’t play a Sunday afternoon game in New York the next season. I was getting kind of antsy to get in a situation where I could platoon or at least play a little more regularly. I think I had proven I could be a backup catcher in the majors; now it’s time to see if I can do more.”[15]

1990 Fleer

The Phillies planned to platoon the right-handed hitting Lake with Darren Daulton.

“I look at it this way: Darren Daulton will get a chance to play against right-handers and Steve Lake against left-handers unless somebody beats him out,” Thomas said. “He’s not going to play 120 or 130 games, but he handles pitchers well and he has a chance to throw runners out.”[16]

That chance was all Lake could ask for.

“I knew at the end of the year that the Cardinals wouldn’t be keeping three catchers, and I also heard that Philadelphia was looking for catching after they traded Lance Parrish, so I was just hoping,” Lake said. “Every day for two months I’d pick up the paper and hope.”[17]

Lake spent four seasons in Philadelphia, though he never appeared in more than 58 games in a season. In 1993, he returned to the Cubs, where he played the final season of his career. He retired with 476 games played in a career that spanned 11 major-league seasons.

Ford played two seasons in Philadelphia. He hit just .218 in 142 at-bats in 1989, and was just 2-for-18 in 1990. After the 1990 season, Ford continued his career in Triple-A and independent baseball. He retired after playing the 1997 season in the Texas-Louisiana League.

1992 Stadium Club

Thompson spent four seasons in St. Louis. In 1989, he hit .290/.340/.393 with four homers, 68 RBIs, and 27 stolen bases in 545 at-bats, playing well enough to garner three points in the NL MVP voting.

Thompson’s batting average dropped to .218 in 1990, though he rebounded by hitting a career-high .307 in 1991. In 326 at-bats, he hit six homers, drove in 34 runs, and stole 16 bases. In Thompson’s final season in St. Louis in 1992, he hit .293/.350/.404 and stole 18 bases, though he took just 208 at-bats.

After the 1992 campaign, Thompson signed a free-agent contract to return to Philadelphia. He retired following the 1996 season with a .274 career batting average. In 13 major-league seasons, Thompson appeared in 1,359 games and compiled 18.6 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference.com.


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[1] Jeff Gordon and Kevin Horrigan, “Cards Acquire Milt Thompson,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 17, 1988.

[2] Jeff Gordon and Kevin Horrigan, “Cards Acquire Milt Thompson,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 17, 1988.

[3] Jeff Gordon and Kevin Horrigan, “Cards Acquire Milt Thompson,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 17, 1988.

[4] Vahe Gregorian, “Newcomer Thompson Likes Herzog’s Style Of Ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1988.

[5] Vahe Gregorian, “Newcomer Thompson Likes Herzog’s Style Of Ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1988.

[6] Vahe Gregorian, “Newcomer Thompson Likes Herzog’s Style Of Ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1988.

[7] Vahe Gregorian, “Newcomer Thompson Likes Herzog’s Style Of Ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1988.

[8] Jeff Gordon and Kevin Horrigan, “Cards Acquire Milt Thompson,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 17, 1988.

[9] Vahe Gregorian, “Newcomer Thompson Likes Herzog’s Style Of Ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 1988.

[10] Paul Hagen, “Phillies Dealt Two Cards for Thompson,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 17, 1988.

[11] Paul Hagen, “Phillies Dealt Two Cards for Thompson,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 17, 1988.

[12] Jeff Gordon and Kevin Horrigan, “Cards Acquire Milt Thompson,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 17, 1988.

[13] Paul Hagen, “Phillies Dealt Two Cards for Thompson,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 17, 1988.

[14] Jeff Gordon and Kevin Horrigan, “Cards Acquire Milt Thompson,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 17, 1988.

[15] Paul Hagen, “Phillies Dealt Two Cards for Thompson,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 17, 1988.

[16] Paul Hagen, “Phillies Dealt Two Cards for Thompson,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 17, 1988.

[17] Paul Hagen, “Phillies Dealt Two Cards for Thompson,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 17, 1988.