Support Local Journalism. Join Riverfront Times Press Club.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Walt Jocketty's Two Worst Trades, And Why Cardinals Fans Should Still Feel Worse

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Walt Jocketty. 
  • Walt Jocketty. 
You may or may not have heard yet, but Josh Hamilton had himself quite a game last night. 

The Texas Rangers outfielder became just the 16th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a single game as part of a 5-for-5 night that saw him collect 8 RBI and 18 total bases. Bizarrely enough, all four of his home runs were two-run shots, and all four of them came with the same man -- Elvis Andrus -- on base. I'm not sure if that's the first time something like that has ever happened, but I would be willing to bet it probably is. 

It wasn't just a single spectacular night for Hamilton, either; he's been brilliant in the early going this season and has to be considered the early favourite to win the American League MVP award. That would be his second MVP award, by the way. 

Now, you're probably asking why I'm writing about Josh Hamilton this morning. Well, I'll tell you why: because Walt Jocketty used to be the general manager of the Cardinals, and I find historically awful trades continuously fascinating. 

While Hamilton was crushing the Baltimore Orioles on his way into the record books, a friend of mine and I were texting back and forth. I said something about Carlos Beltran's remarkable night, and he brought up the evening Hamilton was having. 

My response: "Yeah, I saw that. Man, I wonder what Walt Jocketty is thinking about that Volquez deal now." 

The Volquez in that sentence is Edinson Volquez, the right-handed pitcher Jocketty traded for before the 2008 season, sending Hamilton to the Rangers in exchange for the talented but inconsistent righty. Hamilton was, at the time, coming off his first full season in the big leagues and trying to prove he could stay on the straight and narrow after years of substance abuse nearly cost him his career entirely. Volquez was a promising arm, to be sure; he was a monster prospect coming through the Texas farm system before struggling in his first major league action. Still, he was seen as having turned the corner and was considered by some a potential ace in the making. Jocketty went out and made the deal, trying to bolster the dreadful Cincinnati rotation. 

Since the trade, Volquez has been injured, having Tommy John surgery, and has struggled badly to reach anything approaching what was projected for him. Hamilton, meanwhile, has, well, I did say this would be his second MVP award, right? 

All in all, it was an awful trade for Jocketty and the Reds; just think of how terrifying that team would be if they had Josh Hamilton hitting in the same lineup as Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. And, of course, thinking of Walt Jocketty and awful trades, my mind was drawn to Jocketty's Cardinal Waterloo: the Mark Mulder deal. 

Mulder, you'll remember, was acquired by Jocketty and the Cardinals in the 2004-05 offseason in exchange for first base prospect Daric Barton, reliever Kiko Calero, and a right-handed starter by the name of Dan Haren. At the time, Barton was the one the Oakland Athletics seemed most excited to acquire, but Haren was the one many people around these parts -- including, I am pleased to say, yours truly -- thought the Cards were really going to miss. 

Since the trade, Haren has been one of the steadiest pitchers in all of baseball, providing high-quality innings year in and year out, all the while avoiding the injury bug in a way virtually no pitchers ever seem to these days, while Mulder has moved on to an ESPN analyst gig. On the upside for Mulder, he's still a pretty handsome guy. So that's nice. 

Thinking about these two trades, I couldn't help but wonder which one was actually worse. We Cards fans are inclined to say Mulder, I'm sure; watching Danny Haren's name continually come up each season as a dark horse Cy Young candidate has been nothing short of agonizing. Still, the value differential between Volquez and Hamilton has to be enormous, even with a far smaller number of years since the trade. 

And so, I did what any red-blooded American baseball geek with a computer would do: I pulled up Fangraphs and did a little research. 

Starting with the Hamilton-Volquez trade, I just compared the wins above replacement (WAR), that each player involved in the trade has produced since the time the deal was made. 

Edinson Volquez started off his Reds' career like a house on fire, throwing 194.1 innings in 2008 with a 3.21 ERA and 3.60 FIP, amassing 4.2 WAR on the season. Compare that to Hamilton's 2008, in which he was worth 4.1 wins, and it looked like an amazingly even and mutually beneficial trade. Add in the fact the Reds' difficulties in trying to procure quality starting pitching in the years before that, and it looked like Jocketty might very well have pulled off another of his signature brilliant moves. 

From there, though, Volquez's career took a nasty turn. He was hurt and required surgery in 2009, missing the bulk of that season and a large chunk of 2010 to boot. He was worth 0.2 WAR in '09 and 0.9 in 2010; neither of those numbers are really terrible for a player dealing with an arm injury. The 2011 season, however, was another matter entirely. Volquez was supposedly healthy, yet managed to be worth -0.3 wins, putting him below replacement level. That's almost hard to imagine for a player with his level of talent. 

Prior to this season, Volquez was shipped out to San Diego as a throw-in in the Mat Latos deal, as Jocketty tries yet again to trade for an ace pitcher. In his Cincinnati career, Volquez was worth 5 WAR even over four seasons. That's...not great, and when you consider almost all of that came in one season it looks even worse. 

Hamilton, on the other hand, has been a steady, powerful performer for the Rangers since being traded to Texas. He had a down year in 2009, the result of time missed to injury, but went crazy in 2010, winning the AL MVP and amassing 8.5 WAR. He came back down to earth last year with a 4.2 WAR season, but is on pace or another monster campaign so far this year, with 2.7 WAR already under his belt. All in all, since being dealt to the Rangers Josh Hamilton has been worth 20.9 WAR, or roughly four times the value the Reds extracted from Edinson Volquez. That is a remarkably bad deal. 

But how does that compare to the Mark Mulder deal? Well, the addition on Mulder is extraordinarily easy, largely because we're not dealing with very large numbers. 

After coming over from Oakland, Mulder turned in a very average season in his first year wearing the Birds on the Bat in 2005. He was worth 2.2 WAR, throwing 205 innings of 4.30 FIP ball and cementing his reputation as a crafty lefty, because he certainly wasn't getting anyone out based on stuff. 

Mulder spent three more seasons in a Cardinal uniform, with an enormous percentage of those seasons spent on the disabled list. In 2006 and '07 he was worth -0.4 wins each season; in 2008 he was exactly neutral in just 1.2 innings. All told, Mulder was worth just 1.4 wins in the four seasons he was here; that includes the two years Jocketty signed him for after he started having all the shoulder problems which would eventually drive him out of the game. Throwing good money after bad was a rather nasty habit of Walt's at times. 

Looking at the players traded away for Mulder, a rather grisly picture emerges. Kiko Calero, the throw-in player and least interesting part of the deal, amassed 2.2 WAR on his own in the three seasons immediately following the trade. He was worth an additional 0.1 wins in 2008 for the A's before they cut him loose. He did have a very nice season for the Marlins in 2009, worth 1.5 WAR, but hasn't pitched in the big leagues since. All told, Calero has been worth 3.8 wins in the years since he was traded away by Jocketty and the Cardinals. Remember: Calero was the throw-in, and he nearly tripled the value Mulder gave the Cards. That's a bad sign. 

Barton, who was the Cards' number one prospect at the time of the deal, has had a very uneven career since. He's had one outstanding year -- a 5.1 WAR campaign in 2010 -- one dreadful season -- a -0.3 WAR last year -- and a couple of decidedly underwhelming seasons. He's never turned into what most prospect-y types expected of him, but he hasn't been a complete failure either. Overall, Barton's major league career has accounted for 7.6 wins above replacement to date, with nearly all of that value concentrated in one season. 

The really bad news comes when you look at Dan Haren's numbers. I knew it was bad, but, to be honest, I had no idea just how awfully the Cardinals had missed on Haren. 

Since 2005, Haren's first campaign in an Oakland uniform, he has never been worth less than 4.0 wins in a season. Never. He's been worth better than 6 wins in three separate seasons; twice with Arizona and last year for the Angels. In short, Dan Haren's name doesn't come up often when discussing some of the best pitchers in the game, but maybe it should. 

Haren's total WAR since 2005 is a rather horrifying 37.0. I'll just give that a minute to sink in. 

Add it all up, and you get 48.4 wins above replacement the Cardinals traded away for Mark Mulder's 1.4 wins. That's not even beginning to quantify what the Cards paid for the privilege of watching Muldoo's shoulder slowly collapse on itself; remember, the players they traded away were basically free, at least for the first couple years. 

So, how bad should Walt Jocketty feel about trading away Josh Hamilton? The answer is, not nearly as bad as he feels about the Mulder deal. Sure, there's more time that has passed since that trade was made, so the numbers look a little worse, but that doesn't change the fact the Cardinals got virtually nothing out of the supposed ace they went out and mortgaged the future to buy following the 2004 season. Even if Josh Hamilton continues to play like Josh Hamilton, it's going to be a long time before that trade looks anywhere near as bad as the Mulder deal does for Jocketty.

Tags: ,

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

June 9, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2021 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation