10 biggest trades in Cardinals history

October 6th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Though there is often an urgency to declare winners and losers after a trade is executed, rarely is the full impact of a deal realized immediately. Time can peel away unforeseen layers and thus best judge whether one team pulled off a heist or whether both benefited equally.

With the gift of hindsight, let's take a look back at what could be considered the 10 biggest trades in Cardinals history -- from those that brought in Hall of Fame talent to ones that still elicit regret.

1. Brock for Broglio

Cardinals got from Cubs: OF Lou Brock, LHP Jack Spring, RHP Paul Toth
Cardinals gave up: RHP Ernie Broglio, OF Doug Clemens, LHP Bobby Shantz
Date: June 15, 1964

This remains one of the most lopsided trades in Major League history, as Brock became a Hall of Fame outfielder and one of the most prolific basestealers of all time after arriving in St. Louis. While with the Cardinals, Brock set a single-season record for steals with 118 in 1974 and broke Ty Cobb's MLB mark for stolen bases in a career, ending with 938 (both since surpassed by Rickey Henderson). The Cubs, in contrast, watched Broglio go 7-19 with a 5.90 ERA over parts of three seasons.

2. A swap of shortstops

Cardinals got from Padres: SS Ozzie Smith, RHP Steve Mura, LHP Al Olmsted
Cardinals gave up: OF Sixto Lezcano, SS Garry Templeton, RHP Luis DeLeon
Date: Dec. 10, 1981

At the time, this deal seemed to make sense for both clubs. Smith was asking for more money than the Padres wanted to pay, and Templeton wanted out of St. Louis. Templeton went on to have a nice 10-year run with San Diego, but the Cards ended up the big winner. Not only did they win a World Series during Smith's first season, but Smith went on to become the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball history.

3. Welcome Waino

Cardinals got from Braves: RHP , LHP Ray King, RHP Jason Marquis
Cardinals gave up: OF J.D. Drew, C/OF Eli Marrero
Date: Dec. 13, 2003

With the oft-injured Drew a year away from free agency, the Cardinals flipped the former first-rounder to the Braves for Atlanta's top pitching prospect. That young right-hander would become one of the top pitchers in franchise history. Wainwright made his debut in 2005, helped lead the Cards to a World Series championship in '06 and went on to be a top-three Cy Young Award finisher four times. Drew played one season in Atlanta. In 2023, Wainwright closed out his pitching career with a seven-inning, four-hit scoreless gem for his 200th victory in a Cardinals uniform. He joined Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines as the only pitchers in franchise history with 200 wins.  

4. A power coup

Cardinals got from Athletics: 1B Mark McGwire
Cardinals gave up: RHP Eric Ludwick, RHP T.J. Mathews, RHP Blake Stein
Date: July 31, 1997

Then-manager Tony La Russa convinced McGwire to accept a midseason trade to St. Louis, and Cardinals fans convinced the future home run king to stay by giving him in a standing ovation in his first at-bat. McGwire signed an extension before the end of the '97 season and went on to hit a then-record 70 homers a year later. McGwire blasted 220 home runs in parts of five seasons with the Cardinals.

5. Losing Lefty

Cardinals got from Phillies: RHP Rick Wise
Cardinals gave up: LHP Steve Carlton
Date: Feb. 25, 1972

This may be the most regrettable trade the Cardinals made under the ownership of the Busch family, who balked at Carlton's request for a raise after his 20-win season in 1971. Carlton was shipped to Philadelphia, where he went on to win 241 games and four Cy Young Awards over the next 15 years. Wise enjoyed a long Major League career, but he played only two of his 18 seasons for the Cardinals.

6. Angel for the outfield

Cardinals got from the Angels: OF Jim Edmonds
Cardinals gave up: RHP Kent Bottenfield, INF Adam Kennedy
Date: March 23, 2000

The Cardinals acquired Edmonds and later signed him to an extension that kept him in St. Louis for eight seasons. During that span, Edmonds averaged 30 homers a season and was a centerpiece on six playoff and two pennant-winning teams. He also won six consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Kennedy had a productive seven-year stint in Anaheim, while Bottenfield won just seven games for the Angels.

7. Adding a Hall of Fame closer

Cardinals got from Cubs: RHP Bruce Sutter
Cardinals gave up: 1B/OF Leon Durham, 3B Ken Reitz, UTIL Ty Waller
Date: Dec. 9, 1980

Sutter became the anchor of a Cardinals bullpen that went on to win a World Series championship in his second of four seasons with the club. The future Hall of Fame closer led the National League in saves during three of those years and tallied a total of 127 while in St. Louis. The Cubs turned down the Cardinals' offer to include Keith Hernandez in the deal, but did get some productive years out of Durham in the early '80s.

8. A Minor Leaguer named McGee

Cardinals got from Yankees: OF Willie McGee
Cardinals gave up: LHP Bob Sykes
Date: Oct. 21, 1981

One of the most beloved Cardinals of all time, McGee didn't actually begin his career in the Cardinals organization. The Yankees traded their 1977 first-round Draft pick to the Cardinals for a pitcher who would never appear in pinstripes. McGee made his Major League debut in '82 and spent 13 seasons in St. Louis. He was the '85 NL MVP winner and played in three World Series with the Cardinals.

9. Hernandez heads to NYC

Cardinals got from Mets: RHP Neil Allen, RHP Rick Ownbey
Cardinals gave up: 1B Keith Hernandez
Date: June 15, 1983

Unsure if they'd be able to re-sign Hernandez when his contract expired, the Cardinals chose to deal the elite defensive first baseman to the Mets midway through the 1983 season. Hernandez, who won co-MVP honors in the NL in '79 (with Willie Stargell) and five Gold Gloves while with the Cardinals, snagged six more Gold Gloves and three top-eight MVP finishes with the Mets. Neither Allen nor Ownbey went on to have extended careers with the Cardinals.

10. Reeling in Rolen

Cardinals got from Phillies: 3B Scott Rolen, RHP Doug Nickle
Cardinals gave up: INF Placido Polanco, LHP Bud Smith, RHP Mike Timlin
Date: July 29, 2002

Rolen, like Edmonds, became a key piece of the Cardinals' success in the 2000s after coming over via trade and signing an extension. A four-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner in St. Louis, Rolen was one of the best defensive third basemen of his generation. He also helped the Cardinals defeat the Tigers in the '06 World Series by batting .421 with four extra-base hits and five runs scored in five games.