In the spirit of the off-season, we here at Cardsblog take a look at some of the best free agent signings made by the Cardinals since the turn of the century. Here’s your top ten:
10. Carlos Martinez
In 2010, following issues with his Visa, Martinez was signed by the Cardinals as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He quickly moved through the system, and since making his Major League debut on May 3, 2013 in Milwaukee, Martinez has established himself as a star in St. Louis. In now three full seasons in the big leagues, two as a top of the rotation starter, Martinez has posted just above a 3.20 ERA, with his innings count almost touching 200 in 2016. The Cardinals organization and fan base is extremely excited about this kid, as they should be. He looks to be a big piece in the Cardinals’ future.
9. Lance Berkman
Despite only spending two years with the Red Birds in 2011 and 2012, Berkman certainly made his mark. Signed as a free agent after his disappointing 2010 season in pinstripes, Berkman proceeded to win Comeback Player of the Year in 2011, hitting .301 with 31 homers and 94 runs batted in. Despite falling off the cliff a little in 2012, his 2011 season was invaluable, as not only did he put up ridiculous numbers for a 35 year old, but had what was perhaps one of the biggest hits in Cardinal history in Game 6 of the World Series against the Rangers, only to be overshadowed by perhaps the greatest single game performance by an individual in the history of the sport.
8. Jhonny Peralta
On November 24, 2013, Peralta signed a 4 year, $53 million contract with the Cardinals coming off of a career season with Detroit. However, the Dominican third baseman’s signing was surrounded with talk of connection to the biogenesis scandal, and it was found that Peralta had, indeed, been involved. No matter, the deal got done, and Peralta was to start at short stop for the Cards. Over his first two seasons with the team, Peralta averaged 156 games played, with over 300 hits and almost 40 home runs. Despite accumulating significantly less playing time in 2016 due to an influx of young talent in the infield, Peralta remains a veteran influence in the club house, and post respectable stats, like his .260 average last season at the plate. Look for Peralta’s playing time to start to decrease even further, but his value to stay high as a clutch, veteran influence.
7. Mike Matheny
The oldest player on our list, when Mike Matheny was signed on December 15, 1999, it was for anything but his offense. Batting just .245 with barely 20 home runs in five years with the team, not many people would call Matheny a “force” at the dish. However, it was his defense that made the difference. One of the most accomplished defensive fathers of his era, Matheny racked up a whopping 4 gold glove awards, and set record streaks for errorless games and chances. It’s no wonder that he was the predecessor to a one Yadier Molina, who got his chance because of a Matheny injury, and now sits on the bench coaching the Cardinal legend.
6. Kyle Lohse
Kyle Lohse wasn’t supposed to be who we was for the Cardinals. Coming off of a long string of mediocre years with Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, the Red Birds look a low-risk contract and signed Lohse to a one year, $4.25 million in the spring of 2008. They caught lightening in a bottle. Loose went 16-5 that year, pitching a career high 200 innings and a posting a career low 3.78 ERA. This awesome year earned Lohse an extension worth $41 million over four years. Despite a rocky 2009 and 2010, Lohse picked it back up for the final two years of his contract, hosting a combined record of 30-11, and pitching a whopping 211.0 innings in 2012. Lohse then signed with division rivals Milwaukee, and although he would be a solid pitcher for the next two years, he would never post anything close to the numbers he had with St. Louis. No one will say Kyle Loshe is an elite, top tier pitcher, but for those years with st. Louis, he pitched like one, at a bargain of a price for the Cardinals’ front office.
5. David Eckstein
Remember him? Well if you even peaked at the Cardinals between the years of 2005 and 2007, I’m sure you do. Despite having at most one of the classic “Five Tools,” (although some would say none), David Eckstein was a big time player for the Red Birds. Signing with the Cardinals after the 2004 season with the Angels, Eckstein provided stability at the short stop position. Batting around .300 for all three years with the club, but hitting a high of 8 home runs in 2005, he was the perennial “slap” hitter. As well, he was nothing special defensively, but he got the job done. Thats what could be said about Eckstein. He got the job done, day in, day out. So much so, that it lead him to All-Star Game appearances in 2005 and 2006, and a World series MVP in 2006, in which he hit .364 with 4 RBI. Despite his lack of any truly outstanding skills as a baseball player, Eckstein was an integral piece for the Cards in the mid-2000s, as he was just what they needed, a guy to get the job done.
4. Jason Isringhausen
After signing with the club before the 2002 season, Isringhausen spent a whopping 7 years in St. Louis with the Red Birds. Over that time, he posted a stellar 2.98 ERA out of the pen. As well, he racked up a massive 217 of his career 300 saves during his span with the Cards, posting a career high 47 in 2004. Perhaps more impressively, Isringhausen pitched to the tune of a career 2.36 playoff ERA, with 11 career playoff saves, 8 of which came with St. Louis, and 3 in 2004 alone. Overall, Isringhausen is one of the most consistent relief pitchers the Cardinals have had in recent memory, truly acting as a lockdown force in the closer role from 2002 to 2008 for the Red Birds.
3. Carlos Beltran
Despite only spending two years with the team, Carlos Beltran certainly made his impact felt in St. Louis. In 2012 and 2013- his age 35 and 36 seasons- Beltran hit around .280, while slugging a total of 56 home runs and knocking in an astounding 181 total runs on his way to two All-Star game appearances. This production was nothing new for the veteran, and the Cardinals knew that when they signed him coming off a 2011 season split between the Giants and the Mets in which he hit .300 and slugged 22 home runs- in what was probably an off season for the future hall of famer. Beltran brought a needed switch hitting presence to the Red Birds, as well as much needed power and consistency, and one more thing-his infamous postseason ability. Beltran is arguably one of, if not the, best postseason hitters of all time. With a career .3232 average,16 homers, and 41 RBI in just 55 games, its hard to argue with that assertion. In just 2 years with the Cardinals, not only did he help lead them to the playoffs with his astounding regular season play, but the man- in his mid 30s, mind you- in 98 at bats, hit .306 with the Cards in the playoffs, helping lead them to an NL pennant in 2013. If you want an example of someone making a massive impact in a short amount of time, just look at Carlos Beltran. He’s done it everywhere he’s gone, and St. Louis was no exception. The Cardinals were lucky to have him.
2. Matt Holliday
I know, the wound of the Cardinals not resigning this All-Star and long time fan favorite still burns fresh. But Matt Holliday has been one of the biggest, most important players for this franchise in the millennia thus far. And you may be thinking, hey, wasn’t he traded from Oakland to St. Louis in the middle of the 2009 season? Why is he on this list? Well, that is true, but after the 2009 season, Holliday filed for free agency, and was resigned by the team before the 2010 season, after hitting .353 with the team in the second half of the year. Holliday would end up spending another seven years with the team, posting a .293 batting average over his St. Louis career, with over 150 home runs and 600 RBI in his stint with the Cards. Holliday would as well make 4 trips to the All-Star game during his time in St. Louis, and would win the Silver Slugger award in 2010. While his numbers in a Cardinal uniform weren’t quite compatible to those he put up in Colorado at the beginning of his career, there is no doubt Holliday was one of the most impactful offensive players the Red Birds have had since 2000, carrying elite production over an extended period of time. And what Cardinal fan will ever forget where they were when Matt walked up to the plate, as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 5-0 game against Pittsburgh, and hit an 0-2 pitch “out to deep right..yes, yes, yes…” Matt Holliday will always hold a special place in hearts of Cardinal fans, as he should. He gave the city all he had, for over seven great years.
1. Chris Carpenter
When Chris Carpenter signed with the Cardinals following the 2002 season, he had a career ERA of almost 5.00, and a winning percentage under .500, in six seasons north of the border. As well, Carpenter was recovering from mid-season elbow surgery, and despite expectations that he would be ready by the middle of 2003, he ended starting his Cardinal career in 2004. All Carpenter did that year was go 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA, en route to NL Comeback Player of the Year honors, and a start of what would be a truly illustrious, nine year career with the Red Birds. Despite a constant struggle with injury, such as elbow issues in 2007 and 2008, causing him to miss nearly all of that span, and the onset of thoracic outlet syndrome in 2012, Carpenter was a force when healthy. Placing in the top three in Cy Young voting three times in his Cardinal career, including winning the honors in 2005, Carpenter pitched to the tune of a 95-44 career record with the Cards, posting a 3.07 ERA. The man also ate innings. He threw over 235.0 innings three times with the Cardinals, and added another 221.2 in 2006. While no one would consider him a strikeout fiend, Carpenter simply won. And he won in the playoffs. Carpenter, in his time with the Cards, went 10-4 in the postseason with a 3.00 ERA, going 3-0 combined in the 2006 and 2011 World Series Championships. Carpenter stands at 7th all time in postseason wins, one behind Schilling and Maddux, who each have 11.
Chris Carpenter, along with all the players on this list, have made immense marks on the Cardinal franchise after being signed in free agency. For some, it was expected, for others, the front office caught lightning in a bottle. And for one or two, there’s still time to see what’s in store. Either way, the free agent signings will not easily be forgotten by Cardinal fans down the road. But tell us-did we miss anyone? If you can think of any big Cardinal free agent signing in the 21st century not on this list, tweet us @Cardsblog and let us know.