July 24, 2009: Cardinals acquire Matt Holliday in trade with A’s

On July 24, 2009, the Cardinals finally acquired the slugger Tony La Russa had been seeking to provide protection for Albert Pujols in the middle of the St. Louis lineup.

In exchange for top third base prospect Brett Wallace, minor-league pitcher Clayton Mortensen, and outfield prospect Shane Peterson, the Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday to bat cleanup and patrol left field. The A’s also sent $1.5 million to the Cardinals to assist with the balance of his $13.5 million salary for the season. Holliday’s contract was due to expire at season’s end.

“I’m extremely excited to be back in the National League, to be back in a pennant race,” Holliday said.[1]

Though rumors also had connected the Cardinals to the Nationals’ Adam Dunn,[2] La Russa clearly prized Holliday above anyone else available on the trade market.

“We’ve been talking about him since last winter,” he said.[3]

Adam Wainwright was even more straightforward. “How big of a deal to get a player like (Holliday)?” he asked. “It’s as big as his biceps.”[4]

Wainwright had plenty of reason to be excited. Holliday burst onto the big-league scene with the Rockies in 2004, batting .290 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs in 121 games. In six seasons with the Rockies, he hit .319 with 130 homers and 486 RBIs, making three all-star game appearances and winning three Silver Slugger awards. He placed second in the National League MVP voting in 2007 when he led the league with 216 hits, a .340 batting average, 50 doubles, and 137 RBIs.

The Cardinals’ pursuit of Holliday had begun while he was still in Colorado, and had advanced far enough that Skip Schumaker said he preparing to play his home games in Denver.[5] Instead, the Rockies traded Holliday to the A’s for Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street following the 2008 season. In 93 games for the A’s, Holliday hit .286 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs.

In June, the Cardinals were once again engaged in discussions regarding a trade for Holliday, this time with the A’s. Oakland general manager Billy Beane had indicated that with his team in last place and little likelihood of re-signing Holliday, he wanted at least two first-round talents for his star outfielder. The Cardinals met that requirement with Wallace, the 13th overall pick of the 2008 draft, and Mortensen, the 36th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Peterson was the Cardinals’ second-round pick from 2008.

Prior to the deal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell advocated for acquiring Holliday, even if it required including Wallace in the deal.

“If the price for bringing in Holliday, a proven bat and a three-time all-star, is a kid who could turn into a major-league bat, then what’s the issue?” Burwell wrote. “There are only two reasons why a farm system exists. It’s to develop kids who turn into major-league stars on your team and to convince other teams to take the others off your hands in exchange for proven veteran talent.”[6]

Wallace, whom Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak referred to as the “keystone of the deal,”[7] had advanced quickly through the Cardinals’ system. Upon being drafted out of Arizona State University, Wallace hit .327 in 41 games in Class A Quad Cities. In 49 at-bats in Double-A Springfield, Wallace batted .327 with five homers and 25 RBIs.

In 2009, Wallace returned to Springfield, batting .281 in 32 games before getting the call up to Triple-A Memphis. Wallace was batting .293 against Triple-A pitching at the time of the trade.

Beane said the A’s had strongly considered taking Wallace themselves with the 12th overall pick in the draft. Instead, they took second baseman Jemile Weeks, and the Cardinals claimed Wallace with the next selection.

“At last year’s draft we had a difficult choice between him and Jemile,” Beane said. “Now we couldn’t be happier we have both of them. … We think (Wallace) is a middle-of-the-lineup power guy, which going forward is something we need.”[8]

“Wallace is not the type of hitter you’re going to replace easily,” Mozeliak said. “Our scouting department is going to have to work that much harder to find another one. That’s how this business works.”[9]

Mortensen had begun his Cardinals’ career in Batavia, their low-Class A affiliate, before advancing to Quad Cities during his first pro season. In 2008, the Cardinals promoted him to Double-A Springfield, where he posted a 4.22 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings.

In Triple-A Memphis, he thrown 80 innings prior to the trade, posting a 5.51 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 80 innings pitched.

Like Mortensen, Peterson started his Cardinals career in Batavia, where he hit .291 with 39 RBIs in 275 plate appearances before advancing to Springfield. He played just 18 games there prior to the trade, batting .284 in 80 plate appearances.

Holliday was in the A’s team hotel in New York, where the A’s were playing the Yankees, when he was informed of the trade by text message. Accompanied by his wife and two sons, Holliday took a train to Philadelphia, where he arrived 30 minutes prior to batting practice.[10] As an old-school player, Holliday’s old-school form of travel didn’t distract him in his Cardinals debut. He singled three times and doubled while scoring St. Louis’s first run in an 8-1 win over the Phillies.

“You look at the lineup card and it’s exciting,” said Ryan Ludwick, who moved from cleanup to No. 5 in the lineup with Holliday’s arrival. “You take a hitter like him and it’s instant offense.”[11]

Holliday brought that instant offense for 7 ½ seasons. In January, he signed a seven-year, $120 million contract that marked the largest deal in franchise history.[12] As a Cardinal, Holliday batted .293/.380/.494 with 156 homers and 616 RBIs. He was part of the Cardinals’ 2011 world championship team and helped the Redbirds reach the National League Championship Series in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

In 2017, he signed a free-agent deal with the Yankees, where he hit .231 with 19 homers and 64 RBIs. He returned to the Rockies in 2018, appearing in 25 games before retiring following his age-38 season. The following year, he joined his brother Jeff’s coaching staff at Oklahoma State University.

Wallace never lived up to the high hopes for his potential. After the 2009 season, the A’s traded Wallace to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor, and seven months later the Blue Jays traded him to the Astros for Anthony Gose.

Wallace played four seasons for the Astros, batting .242/.313/.391 before he was released. The Orioles signed him ahead of the 2014 season and the Blue Jays purchased his rights in July, but he didn’t return to the majors until the Padres signed him as a free agent ahead of the 2015 season. The 28-year-old Wallace looked as though he might have put it together after batting .302 with five homers in 107 major league plate appearances that season, but in 2016 his average fell to .189 in 256 plate appearances. He retired after the season.

Mortensen started six games for the A’s in 2009, going 2-4 with a 7.81 ERA, and started one game in 2010 before he was traded to the Rockies. He played one season in Colorado, posting a 3.86 ERA in 58 1/3 innings before he was traded to Boston. There, he was used exclusively as a reliever, posting a 3.21 ERA in 2012. In 30 1/3 innings in 2013, his ERA jumped to 5.34. He never returned to the majors.

Peterson appeared in two games for the A’s in 2013. He hit .259 in 226 plate appearances for the Brewers in 2015 and batted .253 in 88 plate appearances for the Rays in 2017. He retired following the 2019 season.

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[1] Joe Stiglich, “Holliday traded to the Cards,” Fresno Bee, July 25, 2009.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Redbirds explore ‘a lot of’ options,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 24, 2009.

[3] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals Get Holliday from A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 2009.

[4] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals Get Holliday from A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 2009.

[5] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals Get Holliday from A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 2009.

[6] Bryan Burwell, “Cardinals in need of a Holliday now,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 24, 2009.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals Get Holliday from A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 2009.

[8] Joe Stiglich, “Holliday traded to the Cards,” Fresno Bee, July 25, 2009.

[9] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals Get Holliday from A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 2009.

[10] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals Get Holliday from A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 25, 2009.

[11] Joe Stiglich, “Holliday traded to the Cards,” Fresno Bee, July 25, 2009.

[12] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals get their man,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 6, 2010.

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