Deals still pay dividends for Cards, Braves
The night the Cardinals honored future Hall of Famer Tony La Russa was one of those games Tony wouldn't have enjoyed. Twelve innings, four minutes shy of four hours. The two teams went through 13 pitchers, until the Braves finally won, 9-7, on a Jason Heyward home run and a Craig Kimbrel save.
The side note to the affair goes back to the final days of last July's Trade Deadline. Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, who sorely wanted a legitimate leadoff hitter, preferably one who could play center field, gave the Astros four Minor Leaguers for Michael Bourn. Not a Cliff Lee headline trade, but rated G, for good.
That same day, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak traded Colby Rasmus and pitchers Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters to the Blue Jays for a starter, Edwin Jackson, and two relievers, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski. Rasmus had been a projection-tools favorite who had worn out LaRussa's patience, and St. Louis needed pitching depth. Again, G.
Hours before the July 31 Deadline, Mozeliak made one more trade that barely made the scroll on MLB Network. He dealt a Minor Leaguer for 33-year old Rafael Furcal, who had been limited to 37 games with the Dodgers and was batting .197.
Now, we know what happened to the two franchises after Aug. 31. The Braves ran out of gas and lost on the last night of the season to blow a nine-game lead in the Wild Card ... to the Cardinals. Bourn stole 22 bases in 53 games for Atlanta, but his on-base percentage was only .321. The horrors of the last month were hardly his doing, but he wasn't quite what Wren envisioned.
We also know what happened with the Cardinals and their historic run. Jackson was very good and the bullpen grew deep as Jason Motte -- who didn't have a save at the All-Star break -- became a dominant closer. Farm-system products like David Freese and Allen Craig blossomed.
Hey, LaRussa and Albert Pujols left and here they are in first place, leading the league in runs.
"We were in need of defense at shortstop at the time of the Furcal deal," says Mozeliak. "Then, at the end of the season, he'd done so much for us [including seven homers in 50 games] that we felt he was worth bringing back."
And after Friday's game, Furcal and Bourn were 1-2 in the National League in leadoff on-base percentage at .423 and .395. Furcal had a .926 OPS with 13 walks and 14 strikeouts. By no coincidence, the Cardinals and Braves were tied for the most wins in the National League, were 1-2 in runs and 1-2 in run differential.
Freese had a .917 OPS. Jon Jay, in the place of Rasmus, was batting .376 with a .910 OPS. Craig's OPS was 1.212. With Chris Carpenter down, Lance Lynn is 6-0 with a 1.40 ERA. By now, everyone looks at the arms in the St. Louis organization -- Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez -- and realizes why the Astros grabbed Jeff Luhnow away from Mozeliak to run the Houston reconstruction.
It's interesting how the Deadline deals work. The Indians got headlines with Ubaldo Jimenez, but Doug Fister went 8-1 for the Tigers. Aaron Hill didn't get to Arizona until Aug. 23 and hit .313 down the stretch.
"Everyone knew the energy Furcal had, and that was part of what we wanted, especially out of the leadoff position," says Mozeliak. Bourn's energy, as well as his speed and defense, was something Wren had been looking to acquire.
Nine months later, Furcal and Bourn have turned out to be immensely significant deals, parts that help make up the wholes that are teams.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.