Revisiting Cards' top 5 Winter Meetings deals

December 7th, 2020

This week is baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, and because of the coronavirus pandemic, conference calls and Zoom chats with teams and agents will replace the usual in-person bustle at a hotel. The Cardinals’ activity at the Winter Meetings has varied over the years. Some Meetings have fostered a flurry of moves, while others have been quiet as the club laid a foundation for what it would accomplish later that offseason.

This year's Winter Meetings could go in either direction for the Cardinals, as they look for jolts of offense to strengthen their lineup in 2021. As we wait to see how the week unfolds, let’s look back on some past Winter Meetings and how they’ve shaped the Cardinals’ future.

Here are five notable Cardinals Winter Meetings transactions:

1) Dec. 7-12, 1980: Whitey Herzog remakes the Redbirds

The 1980 Winter Meetings were among the most active for the Cardinals. The team was remade into manager -- and then general manager -- Herzog’s club in Dallas, Texas. Herzog had been hired halfway into the '80 season to make the Cards a championship-caliber team, and he knew the kind of club he wanted in order to achieve the goal.

Herzog was willing to trade, sign and deal his way to it, too.

First, Herzog signed free-agent catcher Darrell Porter, who would go on to win the 1982 World Series Most Valuable Player Award, on Dec. 7. The next day, Herzog sketched out an 11-player trade with San Diego, sending Terry Kennedy, John Littlefield, Al Olmsted, Mike Phillips, Kim Seaman, Steve Swisher and John Urrea to the Padres for Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley, Gene Tenace and Bob Geren.

Four days later, Fingers was traded to the Brewers, along with Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich, for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorenson.

Herzog punctuated the week with a deal to get closer Bruce Sutter, who would go on to throw the fastball to Gorman Thomas that ended the 1982 World Series. The Cardinals traded Ty Waller, Leon Durham and Ken Reitz for Sutter on Dec. 9. In all, Herzog made four deals that involved 22 players, turning the Cards into contenders who would come to dominate the '80s.

“I did my job as general manager,” Herzog told reporters after the Meetings. “Now if the manager doesn’t screw things up, we’ll be all right.”

2) Dec. 10, 1981: The Wizard comes to St. Louis
STL acquired: SS , RHP Steve Mura, LHP Al Olmsted
SD acquired: OF Sixto Lezcano, SS Garry Templeton, RHP Luis DeLeon

Herzog did his job in 1980, but he wasn’t done. At the '81 Winter Meetings in Hollywood, Fla., he dealt Templeton to the Padres for Hall of Famer Smith, who captivated baseball with his backflips and wizardry in the infield.

The Cardinals also dealt DeLeon and Lezcano in the trade for Olmsted and Mura.

Although the deal came together and the transaction was listed as official at the Winter Meetings, it took some time to announce Smith as a Cardinal, according to reporting from Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, because of a clause in Smith’s contract with the Padres. It was eventually resolved, and Smith became one of the best in history to put on a Cardinals uniform. He won 11 consecutive National League Gold Glove Awards in St. Louis, finished as high as second in NL Most Valuable Player Award voting and was a 14-time All-Star in his 15 seasons with the Cardinals.

3) Dec. 13, 2003: Top pitching prospect acquired from Braves
STL acquired: RHP , LHP Ray King, LHP Jason Marquis
ATL acquired: OF J.D. Drew, C Eli Marrero

While Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty was negotiating with Braves GM John Schuerholz in Atlanta’s hotel suite at the 2003 Winter Meetings in New Orleans, La., 22-year-old Wainwright was on St. Simons Island, Ga., ignoring the buzzing of his cell phone and trying to focus on the conversation at hand. He couldn’t take the call; he was asking his future father-in-law for his blessing to marry his daughter, Jenny.

In the next few hours, Wainwright got permission to propose, the Braves lost a prized prospect and the Cardinals gained one of their most successful starters.

The Cardinals traded Drew and Marrero to the Braves for King, Marquis and Wainwright. Jocketty wouldn’t budge on his request for Wainwright, the Braves’ top pitching prospect. Atlanta executives left the room when Jocketty insisted on Wainwright. But they came back, altering Cardinals -- and Braves -- history forever.

The deal also helped the big league squad -- Marquis was added to the Cards' rotation, and King was added to the bullpen. By moving Drew and Marrero, Jocketty had money available to pursue other free agents the Cardinals needed to win. Later that month, he signed right-hander Jeff Suppan and outfielder Reggie Sanders, both crucial to St. Louis’ dominance over the next few years.

4) Dec. 8, 2011: leaves for Anaheim

This is notable for the Cardinals for the wrong reasons, of course, as they lost their three-time NL MVP to the Angels in free agency. Pujols accepted a 10-year, $254 million deal on the last day of the 2011 Winter Meetings, ending his 11-year career as the Cardinals’ offensive centerpiece just months after he helped them to a World Series. The Cards had tried to negotiate a contract extension two years prior to him hitting the open market, but the two sides never came to an agreement, and Los Angeles eventually outbid St. Louis, which was reluctant to commit more than 20 percent of projected payroll to one player, according to reporting at the time.

Pujols’ relationship with Cardinals management had soured because of the negotiation process, but it was clear when Pujols returned to Busch Stadium for the first time as an Angel in 2019 that most had moved past the situation.

“I haven’t felt, and I’m being honest, any bad experience,” Pujols said in 2019. “Maybe two or one percent of the fans were angry about it, then you have 99 percent of the fans that say, ‘Hey, it’s business.’ I’m happy where I am. I think I made the right decision for me and my family, and the Cardinals made the right decision, too. You just move on.”

5) Dec. 13, 2002: becomes a Cardinal

The Cardinals formally signed their future ace on Dec. 13, but the one-year deal with the right-hander came together the day before, on the final day of the 2002 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. He was recovering from surgery that repaired a torn labrum in his shoulder, so the Cards took him on at a bargain, hoping he could help at the end of that year. Injury complications kept him from pitching in '03, but the Winter Meetings deal in '02 helped set in motion a nine-year career with St. Louis.

Carpenter won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award and the '09 ERA title. He was also part of two World Series championships and was a three-time All-Star.

Honorable mentions

• At the 1998 Winter Meetings in Nashville, the Cardinals traded Armando Almanza, Braden Looper and Pablo Ozuna to the Marlins for , who was the Cards’ starting shortstop in the early 2000s and part of the 105-win juggernaut in 2004.

• The day after the 1999 Winter Meetings ended, the Cardinals signed free-agent catcher , who was the club’s starting backstop for five years before becoming their manager after the 2011 season.

• The Friday before the 2001 Winter Meetings began, the Cardinals signed a closer who would become their all-time saves leader: . The right-hander’s four-year deal became official on Dec. 10.