Who is the biggest free-agent the Cardinals have signed in this century? Is it Dexter Fowler? Is it Chris Carpenter who they signed off the Blue Jays scrap heap? Lance Berkman?
According to my personal Cardinals encyclopedia, the gluttonous Stephen Nations, the answer is this;
“Biggest ones: Izzy, Reggie Sanders, Tino Martinez...Matt Holliday, but that was a trade-then sign…Considering average contracts at the time of signing, Isringhausen is probably the most we’ve ever splurged on a free agent.”
And Nations remembers everything. Everything. Just say the words “Kiko Calero” and he rattles off names like Dustin Hoffman talking to Tom Cruise.
What does that list of names tell us? Most every great player the Cardinals have obtained since Y2K hysteria died and Clinton left office has come via trade or draft. That’s what this organization is made of. Free agents are just a single-serving bag of Cheddar Sun Chips to the main dish: home-grown players. Throw in a killer trade every few years, and BAM, you have a National League dynasty.
So my fellow friends of Fredbird, what’s with all the madness?
Breathe. Ask yourself this question. “Who are the players that led this squad, and were the cornerstones of these past four pennants and two World Series rings? “
Here’s the list…
- Albert Pujols: 13th round draft pick 1999
- Yadier Molina: 4th round draft pick 2000
- Chris Carpenter: Free agent signing after release in December of 2002
- Adam Wainwright: Received as a minor-league pitcher with an ERA north of four via trade in 2003 for Eli Marrero and J.D. Drew (Hilarious personal side note. My best friend Dave’s dad, Mr. Birk, hated J.D. Drew and would only refer to him sarcastically as “Mickey Musial”.)
- Jimmy Edmonds: Received via trade in 2000 for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield (WOW)
- Scotty Rolen: Received via trade in 2002 for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin. (WOW again)
- Matt Holliday: Received via trade in 2009 for Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson, and Brett Wallace. (WHO???)
- Allen Craig: 8th round draft pick in 2006
- David Freese: Received via trade in 2007 for a broken down Jim Edmonds.
- Lance Berkman: Free agent signing in 2010 after the worst season of his career.
- Matt Carpenter: 13th round draft pick in 2009.
A few takeaways.
First, Walt Jocketty was a genius. Second, there’s not a single free agent signing where the Cards truly won a player “Sweepstakes.” Their best free agent signings were players other teams were done with, Chris Carpenter and Fat Elvis. Both coming off of injury-riddled seasons and just looking to extend their careers for one last shot at the big time. Third, there's not a single 1st round pick that truly changed the direction of the club. The second greatest Card of all time was a 13th round pick.
So, before we lament and cry and whine about not dropping 200 million on Eric Hosmer or J.D. Martinez, take a look at the last 17 seasons of success, the list I gave you above and maybe do a little research into some names like Mike Hampton, Josh Hamilton, and B.J. Upton.
This organization was built, and hopefully will continue to be built, with great drafts, finding late round gems, picking up reclamation projects and making a big trade every few seasons for reinforcements.
If I learned one thing from the Yankees it’s this. Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina have a combined zero World Series rings.