The 2007 Cardinals finished six games under .500. Their second-best offensive player might have been David Eckstein. That wasn't a sentence you could write about the 1997 Florida Seminoles, nor was it a sentence you could write about the 1999 Trenton Thunder. It might have been true for the '07 Cardinals. That's usually a sign that things need to change.
Jim Edmonds was a star for the Cardinals for eight seasons, building a pretty solid Hall-of-Fame case during his time in St. Louis. He played in just 110 games in 2006, and 117 in 2007 because of injury. In his last three years as a Cardinal, his OPS went from .918 to .822 to .728, and he was scheduled to make $6 million in 2008.
He was a former star, but at that price, teams weren't going to trip over themselves to offer a top prospect. It was going to be fliers-and-lottery-tickets for the Cardinals if they wanted to get rid of an expensive and declining player. The Cardinals picked up $2 million in the deal, but they still weren't going to get a prospect of note.
They got this guy:
Right before the December trade, Baseball America ranked David Freese as the 28th-best prospect in the Padres' system, two spots above Matt Bush. He was an older player putting up strong numbers against younger players in a hitters' league. He was a non-prospect. And the Padres weren't especially keen on him. If they were, they probably wouldn't have waited until the 273rd pick of the draft to take him, just a few picks after Brian Bocock.
The Padres lost 99 games in the season that followed the trade, and Edmonds hit just .178/.265/.233 for them in 90 at-bats -- about what Callix Crabbe did in his limited time that season -- before the Padres released him on May 9. Edmonds went on to post a .937 OPS with the Cubs that year. So in exchange for 90 at-bats of Jim Edmonds, the Padres gave up $6 million and David Freese. Seems fair.
The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series because they had Freese. They wouldn't have made the playoffs without him. They might not have made it through the NLCS without him. And it was Freese who managed to drive a 98-m.p.h. fastball the opposite way to keep the Cardinals' season alive before setting a postseason record for RBI. He's been injury prone over the last two years -- missing a half-season in both 2010 and 2011 -- but he was always productive when he was in the lineup. Now he's on a short list of the greatest World Series heroes of all-time.
A lot of teams made trades to help their chances this year. The Phillies traded for Hunter Pence, a right-handed bat to slot in between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Didn't work out. The Giants traded for Carlos Beltran, a rental who hit better than the rest of their outfielders taped together. Didn't work out. The Tigers traded for Doug Fister to sneeze strikes and bolster a rotation that was leaking oil.
And the Rangers traded two pitching prospects, a young hitter, and a majors-ready starter to bolster their bullpen. The idea was to build a bridge to Neftali Feliz in the ninth inning, and they didn't shop at Dollar Tree. They went to Nordstrom, flashed a platinum card, and picked up two of the very, very best eighth-inning relievers in baseball. It wasn't cheap, but they went for the quality to make absolutely sure they could hold a lead in the playoffs.
Didn't work out.
The Cardinals traded their former #1 draft pick and prospect for a couple of relievers and a free-agent-to-be. Worked out just swell! And a couple of years ago, when they were in a little bit of disarray, they dumped some salary in exchange for a mildly interesting prospect. That, plus about 12,034 other different, random, and unexpected things, are why the St. Louis Cardinals are World Series champs. Baseball's just making this crap up as it goes along. Don't feel bad that you didn't see it coming.