Looking Back: Why the 2009 Trade for Matt Holliday shows us the Cardinals may struggle to get a big bat at this year’s trade deadline.

Believe it or not, the MLB Trade Deadline is fast approaching. Over the first half of a mediocre 2017 season for the Cardinals, it has become clear that something has got to change. Despite under-performing, the Red Birds are still in the hunt for a Division Title, yet they will not reach it if they continue the play the showed in the first half of the season. But will they be able to pull off a blockbuster trade, like the one that landed them Matt Holliday in the summer of 2009? I say no.

The Holliday Trade

In five years with Colorado, Matt Holliday was a perennial All-Star type player. From 2004-2008 with the Rockies, Holliday hit .319 with 128 homers and a whopping .552 slugging percentage. Before the 2009 season, however, he was dealt to Oakland in a trade that included Houston Street, and then prospect Carlos Gonzalez.

Holliday performed a tad below his usual line in the first half of 2009 with the A’s, but was still a threat at the dish. In the first four months of the season, he hit .286 with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. But it was when, at the 2009 trade deadline, he was dealt to the Cardinals, he really took his old form. Over the last two months of the season, Holliday hit over .350, with 14 homers and 55 RBI.

This great stretch to end the 2009 Cardinals season started what would become a great career in the Red Bird uniform for a fan favorite in St. Louis. However, let’s take a look at the transactional details that got Holliday to the Gateway City.

The trade with Oakland sent three Cardinal prospects to the Bay Area in exchange for an All-Star displeased with his new team. These prospects were Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson, and Clayton Mortensen. Although all three of these players would have time in the big leagues (though none with the Athletics), only Wallace had any sort of appreciable career, coming mostly with the Astros and Braves. 

However, all three were considered top level prospects at the time of the trade, and it took this type of deal to get the biggest slugger on the market in 2009, and likely top five in such a category in the past 10-15 years.

The Trend

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, the Oakland A’s are all about digging into farm systems, and finding cheap returns for their “big fish” in the trade market. However, looking at recent deadline trades, this seems to be the trend. 

One need look no further than a few years back, in another one of the biggest July trades of the last decade, when the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers for prospects. Of course, Michael Fulmer, one of the young Mets farmhands included in that trade, has since turned out to be a star with Detroit. But the point seems to be clear; in a league that is becoming younger, more athletic, and that is relying more on the stars of the game, trades including big names, especially at the deadline, are more likely to include 20-21 year old prospects with star potential, rather than average Big Leaguers who have passed their prime. 

These prospects are the guys who today’s game is bred for, a game that has become all about high risk, high reward, as shown even by the astronomical strikeout, and home run rates we are seeing in our league. To have a strong farm system is more important than ever in 2017, for the future, and the now.

The Cardinals, as they stand

No one will say the Cardinals’ farm system is extraordinarily weak. With the likes of players such as Harrison Bader and Carson Kelly, the Red Birds certainly have pieces to offer a potentially rebuilding team. However, no list that I have seen has put them in the Top 10 in terms of best farm systems in the league, and rightfully so.

Things get even more complicated when you add in the fact that a lot of the Cardinal position players have drastically underperformed this season, pressuring the front office to make some premature call-ups. Despite these moves having been an improvement thus far, with players like Paul DeJong and Luis Voit making an impact thus far in their short time with the big club, it does have certain ramifications.

With some of the Cardinals’ best prospects up right now filling the holes of underperforming starters, that means that the Red Birds have less pieces within their farm system to move. It would also not be very wise to move too many young prospects at one time, seeing as how volatile the team as it is has been this season so far.

But why not include one of the more established guys in a trade, one of the so-called “underperforming starters?” Well, 10 years ago, maybe this wouldn’t be a terrible idea. In 2010, teams would perhaps be more likely to take a Randall Grichuk or a Kolten Wong in a trade. However, while these guys are still young, the more they play, and the more they plummet, the more their trade value goes down, especially in a day-and-age predicated more on risk-and-reward. 

Organizations these days would rather take a player without a day of MLB experience, on the chance he could become a star, than an average big leaguer who has played for 3-5 years already. So for the Cardinals “core lineup,” and I know you know the guys I’m referring to, to keep struggling like they have been, just further pressures teams to look toward prospects that the Cardinals don’t have, because they are in use at the big league level.

So all this talk about the Cardinals going out and getting a big bat from a tanking team, like Josh Donaldson, of Giancarlo Stanton, don’t hold your breath. I’m not by any means saying it’s impossible, but looking at the state of the Cardinals right now, despite only being two games under .500, and 6.5 back in the NL Central race, they, in my opinion, are not poised to make a run at any blockbuster deal at this year’s trade deadline.