Randal Grichuk entered the 2015 season as a mystery. Yet despite sporadic starts and a month-long disabled list stint to start the season, the centerfielder ranks third on the St. Louis Cardinals in home runs with 12, fourth for runs batted in with 38, and leads the team in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) with .902.
This from a guy who was more or less a throw-in in a deal between the Cardinals and the Los Angeles Angels centered around third baseman David Freese – fan-favorite and postseason hero – for outfielder Peter Bourjos. Then-Angels general manger Jerry Dipoto wanted bullpen help, and Cardinals general manager had an excess of arms, Thus, Fernando Salas went west, and Grichuk donned the Birds on the Bat.
However, the journey for Grichuk (and Bourjos) ending up in the Gateway City goes back way before the trade was completed on November 22, 2013. In fact, let’s hop in our baseball time machine and travel back to January 8, 1998.
On this date, the Cardinals, coming off a 73-89 fourth-place finish in the National League Central, signed a pitcher by the name of Kent Bottenfield. This does not send shock waves through baseball. In fact, it hardly registered because Kent Bottenfield is not a very good pitcher.
Yet in 1998, he managed to start 17 mostly overlooked games (thank you Mark McGwire) for the Cardinals. Despite his 4-6 record and mediocre 4.44 ERA, Bottenfield secured a rotation spot in the Cardinals’ rotation for 1999.
He responded by going 18-6 and making his first and only All-Star Game at the age of 30. On March 23, 2000, the Cardinals package Bottenfield and second base prospect Adam Kennedy and ship them to the Anaheim Angels for centerfielder Jim Edmonds.
Kennedy would go on to have some success with the Angels and even win a World Series with them in 2002. Bottenfield was traded by the Angels just a few months later and was out of baseball after the 2001 season*.
*Bottenfield has done pretty well for himself post-baseball. He has produced two music albums and he currently serves as the head coach of the Palm Beach Atlantic University baseball team.
The arrival of Jim Edmonds signaled the beginning of a new era for the Cardinals – a dominant era. In his eight years as a Redbird, Jimmy Baseball made three All-Star teams, won six Gold Gloves, helped lead the team to two National League Pennants, and won a World Series in 2006. In 2014, he was among the first class elected into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. In the outfield, he was a running, leaping, diving highlight reel; and he was a force at the dish. Edmonds had a flair for the dramatic.
But in 2007, a 37-year old Edmonds began to play his age. With the Cardinals in a rebuilding phase, they shipped the centerfielder to the San Diego Padres for a young third baseman –and St. Louis native – by the name of David Freese.
At this point, Freese’s accolades are well known by Cardinals fans. The Lafayette High School alumnus struggled to stay healthy in his first few years with his hometown team, but caught fire during the 2011 postseason. He was named Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, and again in the World Series against the Texas Rangers.
Freese followed his breakout postseason with a season-long encore in 2012. He made his first All-Star team, and finished the year with a career-high 20 home runs and 79 runs batted in.
Alas, the following year in 2013, the injury bug bites again. Freese’s numbers plummet, and by the end of the season, the writing is on the wall. The Cardinals trade him and Salas for Bourjos and Grichuk.
So for those of you keeping track, but don’t feel like reading the whole article, the chain of events looks something like this:
Kent Bottentfield and Adam Kennedy traded for Jim Edmonds.
Jim Edmonds traded for David Freese.
David Freese and Fernando Salas traded for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.
That right there is why the Cardinals continue to be successful year after year. Beyond their recent drafting prowess, many of their trades have resulted in cornerstone (or at least core) players. And Grichuk is the latest talent to emerge.
How he develops remains to be seen. But I do know this. Kent Bottenfield is the gift that keeps on giving.