The Trade History of John Mozeliak, 2009

Last week, we started our examination of the trade history of Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.  He came out with a bang in 2007, trading two pieces of what we would now term “the core” and then wrapped up 2008 with what is one of his most disappointing trades.  In the next two years, Mo picked up the pace, making 10 such moves.  I thought I would be able to do both years in this post, but I started getting wordy (imagine that) so we’ll look at 2009 here and 2010 in the next one.

Trade 6: Brian Barton to Atlanta for Blaine Boyer

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
4/20/09 Brian Barton 0.0 0.0 Blaine Boyer -0.2 -0.9*

*–Still active

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Brian Barton was an interesting one.  A former Cleveland minor leaguer (Mo tapping that connection again), the Cards took him in December 2007 during the Rule 5 draft.  As you know from following Matthew Bowman this past season, Rule 5 folks have to stay on the major league roster all year long.  Barton had two seasons of double-digit homers in his minor league portfolio as well as three seasons of twenty-plus steals.  The talent seemed to be there and while nobody was dreaming 30/30 out of a guy like this, he profiled to be a productive piece of the puzzle.

He stuck around all of 2008, putting up a line of .268/.354/.392 in 81 games.  He only had a couple of homers and a handful of steals, but still seemed to be a solid choice for a fourth outfielder.  The next season, though, he didn’t make the team out of spring training and, after a week or so at Memphis, was dealt to the Braves.

It seems that Mo had a better sense of his evaluation than the rest of us did.  Barton wound up with one more major league at-bat–a strikeout on June 3–then bounced around in the minors and independent ball until 2014.  Another case of minor league talent just not translating well to the big leagues, though his ’08 season would have seemed to warrant someone taking another look here or there.

While Mo didn’t lose out on anything shipping Barton to Atlanta, he didn’t receive anything either.  Boyer only pitched 16.1 innings in St. Louis that season and had an ERA close to 4.50.  In what might be classic Mozeliak fashion, Boyer pitched five innings in his last game with the Cardinals, allowing just two runs (one earned), and then, having gotten perhaps all he could out of him, was put on waivers.  The Diamondbacks picked him up and he did pretty well for them (2.68 ERA in 37 IP).  After that, he’s been your typical veteran reliever, bouncing from place to place, playing around replacement-level ball.  He even spent part of 2013 in Japan.  He’s still going–he was with the Brewers last year, though he’s currently a free agent–but he’s not done anything to really spur regret.

Rating: Again, this one feels like a tossup.  Perhaps you could give it a loss given how long Boyer’s career has lasted versus Barton’s, but for the Cardinals, it really didn’t feel like this one much mattered.

Trade 7: Chris Perez and a PTBNL (Jess Todd) to Cleveland for Mark DeRosa

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
6/27/09 Chris Perez 4.1 4.0 Mark DeRosa 0.4 -0.9
Jess Todd -0.4 -0.4

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Maybe Mozeliak just shouldn’t trade relief pitching.  That seems to be his biggest issue when you look at these deals.  The only players that have really been extendedly great after being dealt have been relievers.  Which I guess if you are going to have a weakness, that’s the one to have.  Relievers tend to be a dime a dozen, at least reasonably good ones.

This trade is also a little hard to evaluate because three games after DeRosa arrived in St. Louis he hurt his wrist and went on the DL.  DeRosa never recovered from that and after the season had a wrist surgery that, afterwards, he termed a “total failure”.  We’ve seen a lot of wrist injuries in St. Louis over the past few years and we know that it seems like that never ends well, at least in the short term.  DeRosa hit .228 (though with 10 homers) the rest of the season and became a free agent afterwards, signing a deal with the Giants.  He didn’t play over 80 games again in his career until his last season in 2013, when he appeared in 88.  The demarcation of his career (10.7 WAR before St. Louis, -0.9 after) is pretty clear.

Would a healthy DeRosa make this a win for St. Louis?  Probably not, though it at least would have been a little more of a discussion.  Jess Todd, who I always kept up with since he was from the my alma mater (University of Arkansas), had a strong minor league track record, but I think it again had more to do with delivery and being a bit more developed than the competition.  As he got to Memphis, his momentum stalled, and he never was able to do much at the big league level.  (Years later, Todd wound up back in the Cardinal system, but again struggled at AAA.)  So a Todd for DeRosa deal would have been fine in retrospect.

It wasn’t, of course.  Chris Perez was the Cardinals’ first round pick in 2006 and he quickly moved up the ranks, showing that he was going to be a future closer and it wasn’t going to take long.  Perez had a solid rookie year in 2008 and, save for a couple of rough outings in June, seemed to be on track to do more of the same in 2009.  Moving over to Cleveland, he became the closer in 2010 and racked up 123 saves with an ERA a touch over 3 for the next four years, including two All-Star appearances.  In 2013, though he got 25 saves, he did see his general effectiveness start to drop off, so much that Cleveland released him at the end of the season.  (The fact that he was arrested during that season for marijuana possession might have factored in as well.)  He had another season with the Dodgers, tried to catch on a couple more places, but that was it.

Rating: The 2009 Cardinals had Albert Pujols hit 47 home runs.  Next highest? Ryan Ludwick, the only other person over 20.  There was obviously a reason that Mo felt he needed to bring in offense.  All in all, the process worked–but the trade didn’t.  Sometimes you can do everything right and still have a loss result.  On the flip side, if this deal works, you wonder if the trade coming up in a couple would have happened, which would have significantly altered Cardinal history.

Trade 8: Chris Duncan to Boston for Julio Lugo

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
7/22/09 Chris Duncan 0.0 0.0 Julio Lugo 0.6 -0.3

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There is no doubt that Chris Duncan played a huge role in the 2006 run to a World Series title.  His 22 home runs that season (in just 90 games) powered the Cards into the postseason and beyond.  He had another 21 in 2007, but scuffled in 2008 and his season ended July 21 when it was determined he needed serious neck surgery.  He returned in 2009 but wasn’t the same player. with just one homer in 300 plate appearances.

As you can see in the post, Dunc got a lot of grief for falling from his heights.  The fact that his father, Dave Duncan, was the pitching coach on the team didn’t help matters at all.  Nepotism is a word that gets tossed around a lot when players are struggling (less when they are hitting well) and that was the case here.  Duncan’s neck issues were large, though, and it’s really not surprising that he never made it back to the bigs.  Boston sent him immediately to Pawtucket and the Nationals had him in their AAA squad the next year.

To get anything for Duncan was a pretty impressive feat for Mo.  As you remember from yesterday’s post, Khalil Greene was dealing with issues, which only left the unproven Brendan Ryan at shortstop.  Getting a veteran to provide depth and hopefully revive his career in the magical waters of St. Louis was usually a Walt Jocketty maneuver, but it worked this time as well.  Lugo was actually doing a tolerable job in Boston (though not to the heights of his earlier career) but they’d put him on waivers given their general shortstop situation.  Mo pounced, Lugo revived a bit in St. Louis, and it worked out.  Befitting the short-term nature of the deal, Lugo moved on to Baltimore in 2010 (we’ll get to that) and Atlanta in 2011 before retiring.

Rating: This has to be a win for Mo, since Lugo was worth more than half a win and Duncan never returned to the big leagues, though he is back in St. Louis doing radio these days.

Trade 9: Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson, and Brett Wallace to Oakland for Matt Holliday

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
7/24/09 Clayton Mortensen -0.9 0.0* Matt Holliday 23.1 23.1*
Shane Peterson 0.0 0.6*
Brett Wallace 0.0 -0.6*

*–Still active

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If you were to ask the random Cardinal fan about John Mozeliak trades, the first one mentioned probably would be the 2011 deadline deal.  A close runner up, though, would be this one.  It’s a deal that most GMs dream of making, a deal that probably couldn’t be made today.  I think prospect evaluation is different, more focused, than it was just eight years ago.

Obviously, Brett Wallace was the centerpoint of the deal from Oakland’s point of view.  Moneyball proved that they had no hangups about the way a ballplayer looked and Wallace was always thought to be too chunky to stay at third base.  He was the first round pick of the draft the year before and had already slugged his way to Memphis, where before the deal he had six homers and a .769 OPS.  The position may have been in flux, but his hitting seemed to be a lock.

Then you had Clayton Mortensen.  It’s hard to believe, in this era of amazing Cardinal pitching prospects, of hard throwing hurlers that dominate from the get-go, that Mortensen really was at the top of the list when it came to Redbird minor league pitchers.  His numbers at AA and AAA didn’t excite, which really made him the best of a weak lot.  (Remember, a lot of Jeff Luhnow’s picks were still in the lower minors at this time.)

Shane Peterson was a throw-in even then, a way to give the A’s another shot at a major leaguer.  Peterson’s ceiling always was of a fourth or fifth outfielder, but those guys do have some value, of course.

If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know that I’m often wrong in my thinking.  That’s probably part of the entertainment value.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been more wrong, though, than when I was concerned about losing Brett Wallace for Matt Holliday.  Hindsight and all that, but that one is really, really bad.

When you add up all the bWAR that the Cardinals got in all of these trades we are discussing, excluding this deal, you get a total of 37.7.  Holliday, by himself, was 23.1.  The next closest is Jason Heyward at 6.5.  Now, to be fair, it cost all that talent plus the fact that the Cardinals shelled out a record-setting contract when he did become a free agent at the end of the year, but the “get them in and sell them on the organization” technique, most notably used on Mark McGwire, worked here as well.  Holliday not only became a fixture in the lineup and in the clubhouse, but in the community as well.  We’re still wondering who takes over Homers for Health in the coming season and there are many gaps in the charitable landscape of St. Louis with him now moving on to New York.

Rating: It would take a lot for John Mozeliak’s tenure as general manager to be considered a flop after making a deal that was an obvious win like that.  He gave up three players that define replacement value (their combined bWAR since moving on is zero) for a guy that will one day wear a red jacket and be inducted into the Cardinal Hall of Fame.  Legends are made with deals like that.

All right, we’re 2000 words from where we started, so let’s take a break.  We’ll tackle 2010 coming up soon.

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