ATLANTA -- As the first full day of the 2003 Winter Meetings came to a close in New Orleans and some of the attendees were enjoying a Friday night on Bourbon Street, then-Braves general manager John Schuerholz and then-Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty found a comfortable spot to converse and share
ATLANTA -- As the first full day of the 2003 Winter Meetings came to a close in New Orleans and some of the attendees were enjoying a Friday night on Bourbon Street, then-Braves general manager John Schuerholz and then-Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty found a comfortable spot to converse and share a glass of wine at the hotel lobby's bar.
With media members, scouts and fellow executives within sight and wondering what these two highly regarded men might be discussing, Schuerholz and Jocketty were extending a conversation about J.D. Drew, the outfielder the Braves sought to add to their depleted lineup.
"My conversations with a good friend like Walt didn't normally start in a room or a private setting," Schuerholz said. "We were usually one-on-one in a social setting. We had a great friendship and mutual respect for one another. It was a setting where we could cordially talk about a potential deal."
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A little more than 12 hours later, the subject of their conversation was revealed when it was announced the Braves had acquired Drew and Eli Marrero from the Cardinals in exchange for Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis and Ray King.
Before going to New Orleans, the Braves had expressed interest in Drew. The Cardinals had countered by making it known which players they might want in return. But it was not until Saturday morning, a few hours before the deal was complete, that Jocketty mentioned Wainwright's name.
"Their strategy was to wait until the last part of the conversation to mention Wainwright's name," Schuerholz said. "I figure they wanted to gauge our interest [in Drew] and willingness to move one of our top prospects. They knew what they were looking for and where our team stood."
Upon hearing Wainwright would need to be included in the deal, Schuerholz summoned then-manager Bobby Cox and his top lieutenants for a meeting in his suite. The lone dissenting vote was issued by scouting director Roy Clark, whose strong bond with Wainwright dated back to the pitcher's days as a multi-sport athlete at Glynn Academy, which is located in rural Brunswick, Ga.
It should be noted Clark also expressed a dissenting vote the following year when asked whether to include Dan Meyer (who replaced Wainwright as Atlanta's top pitching prospect) in a deal with the A's that netted the Braves nine seasons' worth of Tim Hudson.
"It was unanimous minus one," Schuerholz said of the Wainwright/Drew vote. "If I tell these guys that I honor their work and analysis of players and don't act on the information or opinions they provide, then I'm just speaking out of both sides of my mouth. Still, the decision rests with the general manager, and it happened to be me at the time."
Fourteen years later, it is easy to declare a victor. The Cardinals have won two World Series and captured four National League pennants. Wainwright has remained in St. Louis throughout a 12-year career highlighted by four seasons as an NL Cy Young Award finalist.
Drew passed on the opportunity to continue playing in his home state after just one year with the Braves, who were eliminated by the Astros in the 2004 NL Division Series. But the Hahira, Ga., native's presence was significant enough to argue the Braves would not have won a 13th consecutive division title without him. The 8.6 FanGraphs WAR figure he produced that season ranks second in Atlanta history (trailing only Darrell Evans' 9.7 in 1973) and his 162 Weighted Runs Created Plus ranks 10th.
Wainwright was a beloved homegrown product whose rural Georgia upbringing further endeared himself to Braves fans who had closely monitored his progression since being taken in the first round of the 2000 Draft.
But the young pitcher was still a couple years away from being Major League-ready when the Braves ended the 2003 season needing to fill the tremendous offensive void created by the free-agent departures of Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux left that winter, too. But at the time, there was at least hope Mike Hampton and a promising young Horacio Ramirez would prove healthy enough to stabilize the starting rotation for many years to come.
"We believe we got exactly the player that fit our bill to fill our offensive needs and put us where we wanted to be as a playoff team with a chance to win a World Series," Schuerholz said. "We knew [Wainwright] was a high-quality, high-character guy, and we hated to lose him."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.