December 14, 2003 will be forever remembered as the day in which the St. Louis Cardinals completed one of the greatest trades by the organization since its founding all the way back in 1882.
St. Louis sent its All-Star caliber, yet injury prone right fielder, J.D. Drew, and backup catcher, Eli Marrero, to the Atlanta Braves for two major leaguers, Jason Marquis (SP) and Ray King (RP), along with the Braves’ top pitching prospect, Adam Wainwright.
According to an article on ESPN.com the day of the trade, a national league scout described Wainwright as having “a chance to be a No. 2 or 3 starter. He’s 6-8 and has a great arm.” Well, that scout was almost right–Wainwright does have a great arm, but he is not just a No.2 or 3 starter, he is the ace of the pitching staff of a team that has the best record in baseball.
The General Manager of the Braves at that time (he is now the Braves’ President), John Schuerholz, had this to say about Wainwright, “Adam is our No. 1 pitching prospect and that [trade] was tough to do, but under the circumstances we had no choice.”
Well, Cardinal Nation is grateful that the Braves “had no choice” and dealt the young prospect to the Cards. That young prospect has turned into a franchise cornerstone who just signed a contract extension for five years, $97.5 million. With Chris Carpenter going down with an injury before the season, there was finally no discussion needed about who was the Cardinals’ ace–the rotation now belonged to Wainwright.
He has lived up to the final year of his contract so far this season and is making the Cardinals very happy about being able to lock him up long term in Spring Training. In 14 games started this season, Wainwright leads the league with 10 wins and has been able to compile an unbelievable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10.8 to 1. For all you sabermetrics fanatics out there, he is currently the MLB leader in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for all pitchers with 4.1. He is also in the top ten for innings pitched, strikeouts, and earned-run average. Needless to say, he is living up to his title as ace this season.
Also, if you are like my father, you always say, “Well, what have you done for me lately?” Here is what Wainwright has done for St. Louis lately. Just yesterday, he out-dueled Mets’ phenom pitcher, Matt Harvey, who, prior to the game, was undefeated and looked to be one of the top choices for the All-Star Game starter. Wainwright threw seven scoreless innings and left the game up to the Cardinals’ dynamite set-up man (Trevor Rosenthal) and closer (Edward Mujica). Ultimately, the Cardinals won the game 2-1 which gave Wainwright a 10-3 record and handed Harvey his first loss (5-1 record).
What about the Braves?
The Braves got exactly what they were looking for in Drew, but there was one big problem. They only had him for one season. In 2004 with Atlanta, he finished sixth in MVP voting with a .305 batting average, .436 on-base percentage, 31 home runs, 118 runs scored, and 93 RBI. However, they basically got a one year rental player out of Drew who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the season. Marrero also had a good 2004 season for the Braves, but like Drew, he left after the season.
The Cardinals got enough out of Wainwright in his first full season with the team. He was the one that closed out the NLCS against the Mets with a devastating curveball to Carlos Beltran. He followed that up by closing out the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. Thus, in just one season, he helped give the Cardinals what Drew (and Marrero) were unable to give the Braves–a World Series title. Wainwright’s impact did not stop there, either. In five and a third seasons as a starting pitcher, he has accumulated 90 wins (63% winning percentage) and 1,005 strikeouts.
The kicker that turned this trade into probably the best ever for the Cardinals was the fact that their return did not stop with just Wainwright (even though that would have been more than enough). They were able to get a reliable starting pitcher in Marquis and a tough left-handed reliever in King. Marquis was able to accumulate 42 wins for the Cardinals over three seasons with the team, and King appeared in 163 games out of the bullpen for the two seasons he was in St. Louis.
Thus, ten years later, St. Louis still has one of the key members of that trade. Both members Atlanta received left after one season and have since retired. Thank you very much, Atlanta. It was a pleasure doing business with you.
Until next time…