(Updated March 23, 2014: The Orioles have signed Brett Wallace to a minor-league contract.)
In dealing Brett Wallace, the Cardinals acquired one of the cornerstones of their batting order, left fielder Matt Holliday, and cleared the way for David Freese to become their third baseman.
When the Astros released Wallace, 27, on March 12, 2014, it was a reminder that the Cardinals made an important and smart move when they traded Wallace to the Athletics in 2009.
Wallace, a first baseman and left-handed batter, was chosen by the Cardinals with the 13th pick in the first round of the June 2008 amateur draft. At Arizona State University, he twice led the Pacific-10 Conference in batting average, home runs and RBI.
Though the Cardinals hoped Wallace could handle third base, scout Chuck Fick said, “His position is hitting.”
“It’s too difficult to walk away from a guy who has this kind of chance to hit … He’s a dangerous hitter,” Fick said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals’ vice-president of player development: “He knows, as do we, his value is what he does at the plate.”
Wallace was listed at 6 feet 1 and between 230 and 245 pounds. The Cardinals’ other 2008 first-round pick, awarded for the loss of free-agent reliever Troy Percival, was pitcher Lance Lynn. Wrote Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch: “Lynn, like Wallace, has a bulky frame and the Cardinals acknowledge both players will have to watch their weight to reach the potential that got them drafted.”
After receiving an estimated bonus of $1.8 million from the Cardinals, Wallace reported to the minor leagues in July 2008. In 54 games combined for Class A Quad Cities and Class AA Springfield, Wallace had 68 hits and a .337 batting average.
Wallace was playing third base and batting .293 (65 hits in 62 games) for Class AAA Memphis in 2009 when he was traded on July 24 to the Athletics with two other prospects, pitcher Clayton Mortensen and outfielder Shane Peterson, for Holliday.
Wallace was the “keystone of the deal,” said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who added that his counterpart, Billy Beane of the Athletics, insisted on Wallace being involved in any trade talks.
“He’s a guy we’ve always sort of longed for,” Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Cardinals were bullish on Wallace’s offense _ Mozeliak said Wallace “is not the type of hitter you’re going to replace easily” _ but didn’t see him fitting a position. With Albert Pujols at first base, the Cardinals saw third base as the best option for Wallace.
Wrote Goold: “There was debate within the Cardinals’ front office whether he could be an everyday third baseman in the majors. Uncertainty about that made him available in the right trade.”
Bernie Miklasz, Post-Dispatch columnist, endorsed the trade: “Wallace represents tomorrow, but you don’t worry about tomorrow when Albert Pujols is batting third in your lineup today. Make the most of it.”
Steal for St. Louis
Freese, who was at Springfield, replaced Wallace as Memphis’ third baseman. He became the Cardinals’ starter the next year and was a World Series hero in 2011.
Holliday immediately boosted the 2009 Cardinals’ production. He batted .353 (83 hits in 63 games) with 55 RBI, helping St. Louis win the Central Division title. In his five years with St. Louis, Holliday has been a consistent force, batting .306 and producing a .389 on-base percentage.
Wallace never played in a big-league game for the Athletics. He was traded to the Blue Jays and was stuck in their minor-league system until he joined the Astros, where he eventually was reunited with Luhnow, who became their general manager in December 2011.
In four years (2010-13) with the Astros, Wallace batted .242 with 29 home runs. He had more strikeouts (318) than hits (235). He played 263 games at first base, 17 at third base and eight at designated hitter.
Previously: Fernando Salas: Cool Hand Luke of 2011 Cardinals