As the season presses on with the Reds now tied for first place in the National League Central, there are some obvious holes that need to be filled if they hope to stay in contention. The biggest hole is clearly in the bullpen, where there is very little in the way of reliability out there right now. Thankfully, the Reds aren't oblivious to their holes, and also thankfully they have a GM that has proved himself to be quite proficient over the years at improving his team as the season goes on.
Looking back at Walt Jocketty's time in St. Louis, we see that the Cardinals were in the pennant race in mid-July (i.e. less than 5 games back on 7/15) in 8 of his 14 seasons as the general manager. In 6 of those 8 seasons, Jocketty made significant in-season deals to try to improve his team. Let's take a look at those deals and their outcomes:
|6/13/1997||Scott Livingstone, Phil Plantier, Fernando Valenzuela||SDP||Rich Batchelor, Danny Jackson, Mark Sweeney|
|7/31/1997||Mark McGwire||OAK||Eric Ludwick, TJ Mathews, Blake Stein|
The first deal was a bunch of junk for a bunch of junk. Everyone involved with the deal was out of baseball after the 1997 season except Scott Livingstone, who had 118 PA for Montreal in 1998, and Mark Sweeney, who played 11 more seasons as a pinch hitter/5th outfielder, posting a .248/.340/.393 line after the deal. None of the players acquired by Jocketty a positive contribution to the Cardinals in 1997.
The second deal ended up being perhaps the most important deal Jocketty would make with the Cardinals. McGwire led the AL in home runs at the time of the trade, and would go on to hit 24 more homers for the Cardinals in 1997, batting .253/.411/.684 along the way. While McGwire wasn't able to help the Cardinals to the playoffs that year, the positive vibe in St. Louis led to a contract extension for him, which meant that his 70 HR campaign in 1998 took place in the Lou, drawing fans in droves and revitalizing baseball in the city. The new influx of fans increased Jocketty's budget and gave him the opportunity to make deals for key cogs as the years went on.
||BAL||Chris Richard, Mark Nussbeck|
The Cardinals 2000 team was a lot like this 2010 Reds team. They were scoring a ton of runs (5.8 RS/G thru the end of July), but they were also giving up quite a few (5.1 RA/G thru July). A big problem was the bullpen, who had only closer Dave Veres (3.26 ERA in 44 G thru July) as a reliable option. At this point in the season, the bullpen had 5 different guys who had pitched in at least 14 games and had an ERA over 5.25. They clearly needed some help and Timlin came in to solidify the 'pen a bit. Improvements from Mike James and the emergence of Matt Morris, who was coming off of Tommy John surgery (*cough* Edinson Volquez *cough*), also helped.
Will Clark was acquired at the deadline to fill in for the injured McGwire who missed most of July and all of August in 2000. Clark basically carried the team to the playoffs, batting .345/.426/.655 in 51 games with the Redbirds, who went on to win the division by 10 games. It looked like St. Louis was going to revitalize another career, but at 36, Clark decided to call it quits after the 2000 season.
Coco Crisp, Luis Garcia
Scott Rolen, Doug Nickle
||PHI||Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, Bud Smith|
||CHC||Jared Blasdell, Jason Karnuth|
||MIL||Mike Matthews, Chris Morris|
The good thing about Jocketty is that he doesn't waste time standing around. When Daryl Kile died on June 22, the Cardinals needed to find a quality replacement in the starting rotation. Less than month later, they had 7-time 16-game winner Chuck Finley in the fold. Finley went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA over 14 starts with the Carindals before retiring at the end of the year.
Jocketty's also not afraid to make a blockbuster deal during the season, as he did when he traded for a disgruntled Scott Rolen from Philadelphia. We all know how Rolen went on to be a corner piece of the Cards over the next 5 years, and while Jocketty gave up a pretty good return (maybe one of the best he's ever surrendered), he still got a player that solidified not only the 2002 team, but the franchise for several years.
Jeff Fassero and Jamey Wright are two more examples of Jocketty bringing in players to tweak the bullpen or the rotation. Fassero was strong over the last month of the season, pitching in 16 games with a 3.00 ERA. Wright, well, he filled a need for a starting pitcher for a month.
Ben Julianel, Justin Pope
||MIL||Mike Crudale, John Novinsky|
Looking back, I get the impression that Jocketty may not thought he had much with this team and therefore held off on any deals before the deadline. However, after the Cards made a run at the Astros and Cubs in early August, he probably felt like he should get something done. Trading for Hitchcock worked, as he the lefty went 5-1 with a 3.79 ERA over 8 games, but the DeJean move only had mediocre results as he posted a 4.00 ERA over 18 innings for the Cards, who finished the season in 3rd place, 3 games out.
Luis Martinez, Chris Narveson, Jason Burch
When the Cardinals made the deal for Walker, they had a 10.5 game lead in the division and the best record in baseball, but the deal was made for the playoffs. Walker gave the team another potent bat in front of Albert Pujols and Rolen. And while Walker hit very well for the Cards over the last two months (.280/.393/.560), he was even better in the playoffs (.293/.379/.707). Walker went on to play one more season with the Cards before hanging up the spikes.
The thing about the moves that Jocketty makes is that they always seem to have a way of working out to the best case scenario for the acquired player (look at Scott Rolen for the Reds as an example). It's safe to say that that wasn't the case with the deals he made in 2006. Weaver (5-4, 5.18 ERA), Belliard (.237/.295/.371), and Sosa (5.28 ERA in 30.2 IP) all performed well below what Jocketty was hoping for. Ironically, it didn't matter as the team went on to win the World Series that year, though Weaver and Belliard both ended up being major contributors during the playoffs.
In summary, I think history has shown that the Reds are in pretty good hands with Jocketty around the trade deadline. Almost all of the deals that he makes work out well for his team and it is rare for him to make a deal that flat-out hurts the team. Part of that is because you rarely see Jocketty make a move out of desperation. Keeping that cool head will hopefully mean good things for the Reds as they try to fill the gushing hole in the bullpen and give the city their first playoff run in more than a decade.
Special thanks to Fungoes for their list of Walt Jocketty's trade history with the Cardinals.