Cardinals Proved Last Season Minor Moves Can Make Major Differences

June 21, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detail of the World Series champions patch on the jersey of St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs (not pictured) at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

The St. Louis Cardinals proved last season you don’t need to make a blockbuster trade to get over the top.

The Cardinals were an ever-evolving team last year that was constantly moving pieces around, cycling through players and getting better. They survived injuries to several of their best players and managed to completely transform their bullpen over the course of the season.

A huge part of St. Louis’ World Series run was the stellar play of call-ups like Allen Craig and Lance Lynn, but they also made several key additions around the trade deadline.

On July 27, the Cardinals made a unique trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, giving up promising but disgruntled center fielder Colby Rasmus and three pitchers for a package of veterans Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepcynski and Corey Patterson.

Some experts scratched their heads and wondered if the trade made the Cards any better. They did, after all, trade an up-and-coming star for a group of veterans and rental players. Jackson was a solid for St Louis over his 12 starts, and Dotel and Rzepcynski helped solidify a once turbulent Cardinals bullpen.

On the actual trade deadline, the Cardinals traded for oft-injured shortstop Rafael Furcal, giving up promising prospect Alex Caastellanos. It was another move that raised eyebrows, as Furcal had missed a big chuck of the season to that point and Castellanos looked like he had a future as a major leaguer.

Furcal failed to eclipse 100 games the previous two seasons and managed to appear in just 37 of the Dodgers’ 105 games up to the trade. Things worked out nicely, however, as Furcal stayed healthy in St. Louis and stabilized the shortstop position for the Red Birds.

Even after the deadline passed, the Cardinals managed to scoop up a key piece in August, signing ageless wonder Arthur Rhodes after he was released by the Texas Rangers. By the end of the year, the bullpen had been transformed from a dull pair of safety scissors into a Swiss Army Knife. Having such a diverse group of pitchers seemed to suit manager Tony LaRussa.

The Cardinals identified their needs, took a few risks and became the best team in baseball once everything came together. Some of the moves being made or rumors floating around may not seem like much as they happen, but when the 2012 season is all said and done, history may have a different perspective.

We’ve already seen one unheralded swap result in a huge shift in the American League West. The Los Angeles didn’t exactly dominate front pages when they acquired anonymous San Diego Padres reliever Ernesto Frieri back on May 3. Now that he looks like the second coming of K-Rod (circa 2006), that trade’s looking pretty important.

Not every team has the ability to pull off a blockbuster, but any trade can help swing a team’s fortune. Just look at the 2011 Cardinals.

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