December 14, 1998: Cardinals fill their shortstop need with trade for Edgar Renteria

In December 1998, the Cardinals’ winding quest for a shortstop led them to Miami.

On December 14, the Cardinals traded pitchers Braden Looper and Armando Almanza and shortstop prospect Pablo Ozuna to the Marlins for Edgar Renteria. Just 13 months earlier, Renteria’s 11th-inning RBI single off Charles Nagy won Game 7 of the World Series.  

“We have the No. 1 guy we really wanted,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said.[1]

Renteria inherited a shortstop position that previously had been filled by Royce Clayton. In December 1995, the Cardinals traded Doug Creek, Rich DeLucia, and Allen Watson to the Giants for Clayton and a player to be named later. With the 41-year-old Ozzie Smith still on the roster for his final season in 1996, Clayton received the bulk of the playing time at shortstop, batting .277/.321/.371 with six homers, 35 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases.

In 1997, Clayton enjoyed the only all-star season of his career, batting .266/.306/.398 with nine homers, 61 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases. The following year, however, Clayton’s numbers dipped, as he hit just .234/.313/.327 in 90 games before the Cardinals traded him to the Rangers alongside Todd Stottlemyre for Darren Oliver, Fernando Tatis, and a player to be named later (Mark Little).

“Clayton represented everything wrong with this disappointing team: moodiness and stubbornness,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote. “He pouted when he didn’t bat leadoff. He never embraced the suggestions to hit smarter with two strikes. Clayton never tried to hit the ball the opposite way, no matter how many lectures he heard from batting instructor Dave Parker.”[2]

1998 Pinnacle

With Clayton gone, Luis Ordaz received the bulk of the playing time at shortstop and hit .203/.261/.235 for the year. Clearly, the Cardinals needed to find a replacement.

Discussions with the Marlins began months before the trade was finalized. Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski wanted both Looper and Ozuna included.

“To Dave’s credit, he held out till the end till he got us to cave,” Jocketty joked after the trade was announced.[3]

In November, Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, the 1995 National League MVP and a nine-time all-star, called a Dayton Daily News reporter ahead of the winter meetings and criticized the Reds’ trade of second baseman Bret Boone to Atlanta and the team’s seeming disinterest in competing for a pennant.[4] Soon afterward, Larkin’s agent, Eric Goldschmidt, gave the Reds a list of teams to whom Larkin would accept a trade: the Dodgers, Cardinals, Padres, Rangers, and Cubs.[5]

One deal rumored to be in the works would have sent Larkin and Reggie Sanders to the Dodgers for Raul Mondesi and Mark Grudzielanek.[6]

“Barry’s No. 1 objective is to stay in Cincinnati if the team has a chance to compete in 1999,” Goldschmidt said. “Depending on what their budget is and other moves Jim is allowed to make, then Barry would like to stay. If the team is basically in a rebuilding stage leading up to the new stadium, then Barry has asked to be traded.”[7]

However, Reds general manager Jim Bowden indicated he would need to be blown away by a trade offer for the team’s franchise shortstop and that the chances of Larkin opening the 1999 season as a Red were “99.9 percent.” [8]

“To move him just to move him would make absolutely no sense for Cincinnati,” Bowden said. “If we were able to move him to a club where he wanted to be and that club was willing to give equal value back or more, certainly we would have to consider that, but that has never happened in the last year and a half.”[9]

1998 Donruss Studio

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Rick Hummel noted that in any event, the Cardinals probably preferred to obtain the 23-year-old Renteria (Baseball-Reference.com now lists his age at the time as 22) at a salary slightly above $2 million rather than trade for the 34-year-old Larkin and his $5.3 million salary.[10]

The Marlins were in the midst of dismantling their 1997 World Series winner, and with the trade of Renteria just four players from that World Series 25-man roster remained: Cliff Floyd, Livan Hernandez, Craig Counsell, and Antonio Alfonseca.[11]

Renteria broke into the majors in 1996 and found immediate success, batting .309/.358/.399 while placing second in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting. In 1997, he hit .277/.327/.340 with four homers, 52 RBIs, and 32 stolen bases, then went 9-for-31 (.290) with two doubles and three RBIs in the World Series.

By the time the 1998 season began, however, many of Renteria’s teammates were gone, including Moises Alou, Devon White, Jeff Conine, and Al Leiter. As the season progressed, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield were traded to the Dodgers, and Mike Piazza, who arrived in the same trade, was dealt in turn to the Mets.

As the Marlins limped to a 54-win season, Renteria continued to play well, batting .282/.347/.342 with 41 stolen bases. Nonetheless, he was frustrated by the Marlins’ decision to break up a winning team.

“This year I feel like nothing,” he said. “It was hard to play this year knowing we had no team to compete. I feel bad growing up in the organization. We win the World Series and the next year they broke the team up.”[12]

“When you’re on the Marlins team, you never know what’s going on,” Renteria continued. “This year, I said they’d never trade Charles Johnson. When they did, I said, ‘I’m next.’ That happens in baseball. I have no control over that. I want to play for the Cardinals. I want to show the fans I can play hard for a team that can win.”[13]

Dombrowski agreed that Renteria would likely play even better in the Cardinals’ winning environment.

“He had such highs with what we did in 1997 that it was tough for him last year,” Dombrowski said.[14]

The Marlins were willing to trade Renteria because they had another shortstop prospect on the verge of the majors in Alex Gonzalez. The 22-year-old Gonzalez hit .277 with 10 homers and 51 RBIs in 1998 for Triple-A Charlotte, and the Palm Beach Post reported that, “Many in baseball believe Gonzalez has the potential to be at least as good if not better than Renteria in the future. He’s already a slick fielder with a big-league-ready glove, and even though he needs to develop as a hitter, he has encouraging power, and the Marlins feel his offensive development isn’t far away.”[15]

As additional insurance, the Marlins drafted Benji Gil in the Rule V draft on December 14.

2004 Donruss Studio

When Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called the Columbian-born Renteria to welcome him to the team, La Russa spoke in Spanish. Renteria answered in English. “I know Tony can speak good Spanish,” Renteria said, “but I try to speak good English. I know English a little bit.”[16]

La Russa planned to bat Renteria leadoff with rookie J.D. Drew batting second and Mark McGwire batting third.

“I know Renteria is a classic No. 2 hitter,” La Russa said. “The way he puts the ball in play and hits the ball to the right side … with whoever’s on first (base), it’s first and third or first and home.”[17]

However, by batting Renteria in the leadoff spot, that allowed Drew plenty of protection from McGwire and cleanup hitter Ray Lankford. La Russa then envisioned Eric Davis batting fifth and Tatis hitting sixth, followed by Eli Marrero, the pitcher’s spot, and the second baseman.

“I think I’ve got a good chance to steal many more bases with Big Mac behind me,” Renteria said. “Big Mac can do a lot of things. I respect him a lot for what he did for baseball last year.”[18]

To get Renteria, the Cardinals gave up a talented shortstop prospect and drew from their pitching depth.

1998 Leaf

Looper was the team’s first-round draft choice out of Wichita State University. The 6-foot-4 right-handed reliever had spent the 1998 season with the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in Memphis, where he posted a 3.10 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings.

Jocketty said that while the Cardinals valued Looper’s upside, they felt they had depth at the position with Juan Acevedo and Ricky Bottalico.

“We felt it was a strength that we could deal from,” Jocketty said. “Looper’s got a chance to be a dominating closer someday. On the other hand, we think Acevedo does too.”[19]

Almanza, a left-handed reliever, was a 21st-round draft pick in 1993 out of New Mexico Junior College. He split the 1998 season between Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Memphis, posting a 3.16 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 68 1/3 innings.

The 23-year-old Ozuna, a cousin of future Cardinal Marcell Ozuna, led the Cardinals organization with a .357 batting average and 122 runs scored in 1998 for Class A Peoria. He also stole 62 bases in 133 games.

“(Ozuna) was the toughest one to give up,” Jocketty said.[20]

1998 Multi-Ad Peoria Chiefs

“We would like to have all of our top kids end up in St. Louis with us, but when you can get a value like Renteria, I don’t have a problem with that,” said Mike Jorgensen, Cardinals director of player development. “Ozuna played low Class A ball last year. He has tools, but it’s so difficult to project young shortstops. We were able to get Renteria, who’s already established, and because Renteria is young, we have some flexibility. We can start moving some of the other (shortstop) prospects to other positions.”[21]

The trade certainly worked out for the Cardinals. Renteria played six seasons in St. Louis, batting .290/.347/.420. In 2000, he hit .278 with 16 homers, 76 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases to earn an all-star nod and win his first Silver Slugger Award. He won the Silver Slugger again in 2002 and 2003, posting the best season of his Cardinals career in ’03 when he hit .330/.394/.480 with 13 homers, 100 RBIs, and 34 stolen bases.

In 2004, he earned another all-star bid and helped the Cardinals capture the National League pennant. Following the season, he signed a free-agent contract with the Red Sox.

Looper went on to play 12 years in the majors. After five seasons with the Marlins, he played two years with the Mets before signing a free-agent deal with the Cardinals. He pitched in St. Louis from 2006 through 2008. After Looper went 9-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 2006 and helped the Cardinals win their 10th World Series championship, the Cardinals converted him to a starting pitcher. Looper retired following the 2009 season with a 72-65 career record and 103 career saves.

1999 Fleer Tradition

Almanza played seven major-league seasons, compiling a 14-13 record and 4.82 ERA over 214 2/3 innings. After five seasons with the Marlins, he appeared with the Braves and Diamondbacks. The Cardinals signed him in August 2005 but released him the following month.

Ozuna carved out a career as a utility player, appearing in 309 major-league games over seven seasons. In November 2002, the Marlins traded Ozuna to the Rockies, where he appeared in 17 games in 2003. In 2005 he returned to the majors with the White Sox. He appeared in 208 games with the White Sox over four seasons before ending his major-league career with the Dodgers in 2008.


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals acquire shortstop Renteria,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 15, 1998.

[2] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards GM salvaged some future options in trade with Texas,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1998.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals acquire shortstop Renteria,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 15, 1998.

[4] Chris Haft, “Larkin trade 99.9% unlikely,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 12, 1998.

[5] John Erardi, “Bowden: Larkin talks ‘casual’” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1998.

[6] John Erardi, “Bowden: Larkin talks ‘casual’” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1998.

[7] John Erardi, “Bowden: Larkin talks ‘casual’” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1998.

[8] Chris Haft, “Larkin trade 99.9% unlikely,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 12, 1998.

[9] Chris Haft, “Larkin trade 99.9% unlikely,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 12, 1998.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Dodgers sign Brown for $105 million,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1998.

[11] Dan Graziano, “Series hero Renteria traded to Cardinals,” Palm Beach Post, December 15, 1998.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Pitchers are likely to hit 8th again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Pitchers are likely to hit 8th again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals acquire shortstop Renteria,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 15, 1998.

[15] Dan Graziano, “Series hero Renteria traded to Cardinals,” Palm Beach Post, December 15, 1998.

[16] Rick Hummel, “Pitchers are likely to hit 8th again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Pitchers are likely to hit 8th again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

[18] Rick Hummel, “Pitchers are likely to hit 8th again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

[19] Rick Hummel, “Pitchers are likely to hit 8th again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

[20] Rick Hummel, “Pitchers are likely to hit 8th again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

[21] Bernie Miklasz, “Cardinals must grow talent on the farm, hunt for bargains,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 1998.

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