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.

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