The St. Louis Cardinals have a long history of draft success, a key contributor to the club being a perennial contender. When a talent gap occurs, the team has not been hesitant to step into the free agent market when necessary.
Of course, trades are the most common method of trying to improve a club instantly. A proven major leaguer is added who helps spur the team to greater heights. There are many such examples in Cardinals franchise history.
Yet the full benefits of some deals are not immediately evident.
That is the focus of this article. I have been thinking about the best Cardinals that came over from another major league organization while still in the minor leagues, then reaching the big-leagues and becoming a star with St. Louis.
Four names come to mind almost immediately – two from the past and two from the present. Three are in the organization today – two as active players and one in the front office. There are probably others worthy of consideration that I have forgotten.
Julian Javier – The second baseman was acquired from the Pirates in a four-man trade in May 1960 as the Bucs had some guy named Mazeroski playing there. Then in Triple-A, Javier reported to St. Louis and never played another game in the minors. The Dominican native held down second base for a dozen seasons, starting more games at the position than any player in team history. Javier was a two-time all-star and a key member of the great Cardinals teams of the 1960s.
Willie McGee – The former first-round pick was snatched from the Yankees in October 1981 for reliever Bob Sykes and became an immediate star as the 1982 Cardinals won the World Series. McGee won two batting titles and the 1985 National League MVP and he helped lead the Cards to another title in 1987. The four-time all-star won three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. McGee spent 13 of his 18 years as a player with St. Louis and is a special assistant to the general manager today.
Adam Wainwright – While the Cardinals received immediate help in pitchers Jason Marquis and Ray King, the jewel of the December 2003 J.D. Drew trade with Atlanta was the Braves’ former first-rounder, Adam Wainwright. Then a 21-year-old in Double-A, Wainwright reached St. Louis to stay in 2006. The right-hander has been integral to two World Championships and is a two-time all-star and Gold Glove Award winner.
David Freese – Forever linked to the Cardinals improbable 2011 World Series comeback, the third baseman was acquired from San Diego in December 2007 for the late-career Jim Edmonds. The local boy first joined St. Louis late in the 2009 season and in addition to the 2011 title, was named a 2012 National League all-star.