July 29, 2002: Cardinals trade for all-star third baseman Scott Rolen

When the trade was finally complete, the newest St. Louis Cardinal, Scott Rolen, recalled his father taking him to games at Busch Stadium in the 1980s.

Now, following a trade that sent Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin to the Phillies for Rolen and minor-league pitcher Doug Nickle, the 27-year-old from Jasper, Indiana, would be playing on the same infield that Ozzie Smith, inducted in the Hall of Fame just one day earlier, once patrolled.

“It may be the best place to play in the game, and it’s the place I always dreamed of playing,” Rolen said.[1]

St. Louis was equally excited to have him. The day the trade was announced, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Dan O’Neill wrote, “He will be baptized in a sea of red, cuddled like a lost puppy, accepted into the Cardinals’ community with high honors. Rolen didn’t just leave a last-place team for a first-place team, he just became the most popular guy in town.”[2]

The 1997 Rookie of the Year, Rolen’s relationship with the Phillies had deteriorated rapidly since spring training 2001, when Rolen turned down a contract offer that would have paid him a guaranteed $90 million over seven years. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the proposal called for Rolen to earn $7 million in 2002, $13 million in 2005, $14 million in 2006, $15 million in 2007, and $15 million in 2008, plus incentives. Additionally, there was a $16 million team option for 2009 and player and club options for $16 million in 2010 and $18 million in 2011. A no-trade clause would kick in beginning in 2005.[3]

In Rolen’s four seasons with the Phillies, however, the club had never finished above .500. To remedy that situation, he requested a clause in his contract that would require the Phillies to rank among the league’s highest payrolls.[4] The Phillies were not interested.

Things only got worse during the season. Rolen feuded with Phillies manager Larry Bowa, and the two didn’t speak to one another late in spring training.[5] Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Jim Salisbury wrote, “The biggest push out of town came … when Bowa was quoted as disparaging Rolen’s play. Bowa denied saying Rolen’s lack of offense was ‘killing us.’ But the damage had been done. From that day on, Rolen detested playing for Bowa.”[6]

Once one of the Phillies’ most popular players, Rolen began to receive boos from his home fans. In June, Rolen hit two home runs in a win over the Expos and refused to acknowledge the fans seeking a curtain call.

“Maybe we’re even,” he said.[7]

Later that month, one of Rolen’s teammates anonymously referred to him as a clubhouse cancer.[8]

In November, when Rolen refused to negotiate further with the Phillies, the team publicly announced that it had offered him a deal worth up to $140 million over 10 years. At the winter meetings, the team tried to trade Rolen, but a deal with the Orioles fell through.[9]

In the first half of 2002, Rolen hit .253/.349/.458 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs and was named to the National League all-star team for the first time in his career. With Rolen due to be a free agent at the end of the season, Phillies general manager Ed Wade didn’t have much time remaining to get something more than a compensatory draft pick in exchange for his star third baseman.

Enter Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty.

On July 26, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Cardinals were engaged with talks about Rolen, with discussions centered around Polanco, top pitching prospect Jimmy Journell, and additional pitching.

“We’ve talked about some things but I’m not sure anything’s there,” Jocketty said.[10]

On July 27, Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz outlined the challenges to making such a deal, noting that reports indicated the Phillies had rejected an offer of Polanco and left-handed pitcher Bud Smith.

“According to baseball insiders, Wade wants a trading partner to pay for the remaining $2.9 million of Rolen’s contract in addition to giving up two quality players,” Miklasz wrote. “The other complicating factor is the labor situation. If the players go on strike, teams would receive no real benefit in acquiring Rolen. Why give up good players for a free agent when there’s a distinct chance of a labor shutdown?”[11]

That same day, Fox Sports erroneously reported during its Cardinals-Cubs broadcast that the trade had been completed. Others speculated that Fernando Vina, who was out of the lineup for the second day in a row, might be included in such a deal. Vina, however, was day-to-day with a right wrist injury.[12]

On July 28, the Post-Dispatch reported that trade talks now included Polanco, Smith, and Journell, but were stalled as the two sides determined whether the Phillies would cover “a significant portion” of the costs of Rolen’s remaining salary and whether Rolen would be open to re-signing with the Cardinals.[13]

For his part, Rolen indicated that he would be open to such a scenario in St. Louis.

“If the situation arose, I’d be willing to talk about a contract extension,” he said. “Right now, it’s out of my hands, as it always has been.”[14]

On the July 29 Post-Dispatch, Jocketty described the trade talks as “stuck in neutral,” and sources said Jocketty was no longer willing to include Journell in a trade.[15] That day, however, Jocketty and Wade finally agreed on the deal.

Rolen was batting .259 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs at the time of the trade.

“We are very pleased and excited to add Scott Rolen to our lineup,” Jocketty said in a statement. “He is an all-star, a proven run producer, and an excellent defensive player.”[16]

Polanco was batting .288 with nine homers and 49 RBIs, and had a .296 career batting average with the Cardinals. In addition to third base, he played at both shortstop and second base.

“The Cardinals have tinkered with their cohesive chemistry in parting with Placido Polanco,” O’Neill wrote. “They gave up a versatile and resilient player, one admired by his teammates, one who has been a fixture in the Cardinals’ circle of Latin players.”[17]

Smith threw a no-hitter for the Cardinals in 2001 on his way to a 6-3 rookie season, but struggled in 2002, going 1-5 with a 6.94 ERA, and had been sent to Triple-A Memphis.

Timlin, a 16-year veteran, had appeared in 134 games for the Cardinals over three years, compiling a 3.36 ERA over 163 1/3 innings. He was due to be a free agent at the end of the season, and the remaining portion of his $5 million salary helped to offset Rolen’s remaining salary.[18]

“Three things would have to happen for this deal to haunt the Cardinals,” O’Neill wrote. “They miss the World Series, Rolen signs elsewhere, and Smith develops into a big winner. You have to like the odds.”[19]

Including 2002, Polanco played seven seasons with the Phillies, batting .290 with a .341 on-base percentage. He totaled 51 homers, 281 RBIs and 31 stolen bases before he was traded to the Tigers in 2005. In Detroit, he had his greatest success, earning two all-star appearances, a Silver Slugger Award, and three Gold Gloves. He retired in 2013 after a 16-year major-league career.

Smith stayed in the Phillies’ minor league system through 2004. He pitched for the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in 2005, then played two seasons of independent baseball before retiring.

Timlin pitched the remainder of the 2002 season with the Phillies, posting a 3.79 ERA through 35 2/3 innings. He signed with the Red Sox following the season and played the final six years of his 18-year career in Boston.

Nickle didn’t stay with the Cardinals long. After 14 appearances with the Memphis Redbirds in which he went 3-1 with a 4.60 ERA, he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Padres. When rosters expanded in September, he played in 10 games for the Padres and claimed his only major-league win against the Rockies. He spent the rest of his career in the minors and retired after the 2004 season at age 29.

Rolen had the best years of his career with the Cardinals, making four all-star appearances and winning three Gold Gloves. Together, he, Albert Pujols, and Jim Edmonds were nicknamed “MV3” as they made the Cardinals’ offense one of the best in the league.

In 2004, Rolen hit .314 with 34 homers and 124 RBIs, helping the Cardinals win the National League pennant and placing fourth in the MVP voting. In 2006, he hit .296 with 22 homers and 95 RBIs. After struggling in the NLDS against the Padres and the 2006 NLCS against the Mets, Rolen went 8-for-21 (.421) with a homer and two RBIs as the Cardinals beat the Tigers for their 10th world championship.

By 2008, Rolen’s relationship with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had deteriorated and he was traded to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus. Rolen played two years in Toronto before playing the final four seasons of his career in Cincinnati, where he made two more all-star appearances and won a Gold Glove in 2010. He retired following the 2012 season with a career .281 batting average, 316 home runs, and 1,287 RBIs.


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[1] Bob Brookover, “The Deal Is to the Cards,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 2002: Page E4.

[2] Dan O’Neill, “Rolen’s acquisition is worth the risk for the Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E1.

[3] Bob Brookover, “The Deal Is to the Cards,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 2002: Page E4.

[4] Rob Maaddi, “Cardinals deal for Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E5.

[5] Rob Maaddi, “Cardinals deal for Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E5.

[6] Jim Salisbury, “Once-happy union ends in divorce,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 2002: Page E4.

[7] Rob Maaddi, “Cardinals deal for Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E5.

[8] Rob Maaddi, “Cardinals deal for Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E5.

[9] Bob Brookover, “The Deal Is to the Cards,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 2002: Page E4.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Isringhausen bags No. 100 but focuses on team wins,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 26, 2002: Page D5.

[11] Bernie Miklasz, “Phils’ Rolen would fit in nicely with the Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 27, 2002: Page 3OT.

[12] Joe Strauss, “Cards GM continues pursuit of Phillies’ Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 28, 2002: Page D10.

[13] Joe Strauss, “Cards GM continues pursuit of Phillies’ Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 28, 2002: Page D10.

[14] Joe Strauss, “Cards GM continues pursuit of Phillies’ Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 28, 2002: Page D10.

[15] Joe Strauss, “Journell’s out of any trade to get Rolen, sources say,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 29, 2002: Page C5.

[16] Rob Maaddi, “Cardinals deal for Rolen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E5.

[17] Dan O’Neill, “Rolen’s acquisition is worth the risk for the Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E1.

[18] Dan O’Neill, “Rolen’s acquisition is worth the risk for the Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E5.

[19] Dan O’Neill, “Rolen’s acquisition is worth the risk for the Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2002: Page E1.

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