The A’s/Cardinals Trade: the St. Louis Perspective

We asked Brian Gunn, formerly of the Redbird Nation blog (and now a book!), for his impression of the Mark Mulder trade. Here’s his response:

I’m not a fan of the trade. The Cards gave up a lot of talent — a future #3 pitcher in Danny Haren, a live bullpen arm with a lifetime ERA+ of 149 in Kiko Calero, and a teenage hitting prodigy in Daric Barton. If you’re going to give up all those goodies, you better make sure you get someone sturdy and dependable in return — if not a sure thing, then a reasonably sure thing.

Mark Mulder is not my idea of a reasonably sure thing. Before August 2003, he certainly was. In fact, from 2001 to 2003 he was one of the ten best starting pitchers in baseball. But he hasn’t been able to finish out either of the last two seasons. He went down with a stress fracture to his hip two years ago, and then last year simply fell apart. His ERA after the All-Star Break was 6.13, and only one of his starts down the stretch could be called even moderately decent.

That’s a curious fit for a team like the Cardinals, who seem to be building primarily for October. Even more curious is why Walt Jocketty would trade one of his two best pitching prospects (Anthony Reyes being the other), his best hitting prospect, and one of his best relievers for a guy who looks to me like Matt Morris’ twin brother.

Some might think this was a panic move by the Cardinals. (Tony La Russa lent credence to that idea with his comments on Saturday night: “You lose the guy who started Game 1 of the World Series [Woody Williams], you lose your catcher [Matheny], your leadoff guy [Womack], your shortstop [Renteria], fans are saying, ‘Are we going to do anything? What’s happening? What’s happening?’”) I don’t agree that this trade was made under duress, but I do think that Jocketty was overly concerned with finding a so-called big-name pitcher.

The lesson he took away from the Cards’ disastrous showing in the World Series is that they needed, above all else, someone who fit the bill as a Game 1 starter. Never mind that the Cards won 105 games without a “Game 1″ starter, or that they won two rounds of the playoffs without one, or that they lost the World Series due to lack of hitting more than lack of pitching.

Jocketty’s #1 target for months now has been a serious, big-game, power pitcher — which is just fine, if you can grab the right guy for the right price. I just don’t consider Mark Mulder that guy.

(One thing to keep an eye on — like Carpenter and Marquis, Mulder is one of the most extreme groundball/flyball pitchers in baseball, with a 2-to-1 ratio each of the last two years. So who the Cards sign to play second base and shortstop just became that much more crucial.)

Now, some upsides for Cardinals fans: first of all, despite my reservations about Mulder, it’s quite possible this deal improves the team in 2005. Haren has nifty stuff, but he still hasn’t quite learned how to pitch, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Mulder keeps more runs off the board than Haren and Calero combined.

For a team whose window of opportunity is closing (their outfield is particularly old), Jocketty may be right to focus on the near future, even if it means unloading a potential superstar in Daric Barton. And speaking of Barton, he sure looks enticing on paper (a .313/.445/.511 line in A ball, and he doesn’t turn 20 until August) — but he’s still got a long way to go. Plus his defense is only so-so, meaning he’ll probably be moved to a corner outfield slot, where his offense is less exploitable. And there are whispers that he’s battled weight problems, also not great for a catcher.

In other words, it seems like both Oakland and St. Louis took some big risks in this deal. If nothing else, it adds real spice to the Hot Stove League.

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