An undeterred underdog, Aaron Miles beat out the competition and emerged as the Opening Day starter at second base for the 2006 Cardinals.
On Dec. 7, 2005, the Cardinals traded disgruntled reliever Ray King to the Rockies for Miles and outfielder Larry Bigbie.
King, 9-6 with a 2.91 ERA in two seasons with St. Louis, had asked to be traded after not pitching in any of the Cardinals’ nine postseason games in 2005.
For Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, Bigbie was the prize in the deal.
Bigbie, 28, was seen as a leading candidate to replace the departed Reggie Sanders as the Cardinals’ starting left fielder in 2006. Also competing for the job were So Taguchi and John Rodriguez.
“Right now, I see him (Bigbie) as a starter for us,” Jocketty said after the trade. “He’s still a young player who we believe has high upside.”
Bigbie had hit a combined .239 for the Orioles and Rockies in 2005. He missed most of the second half of the season because of a strained Achilles’ tendon. The year before, he batted .280 and hit 15 home runs for the 2004 Orioles.
Good hit, no field?
Miles, 29, Deivi Cruz and Hector Luna were perceived as second-tier candidates behind front-runner Junior Spivey to replace the departed Mark Grudzielanek as the Cardinals’ starting second baseman in 2006.
“Miles is considered below average defensively but is adept at reaching base,” wrote Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Miles hit .281 in 99 games, including 58 starts at second base, for the 2005 Rockies.
At Cardinals spring training in 2006, Miles jammed his left hand diving into a base on March 3 and sat out for nearly two weeks. That appeared to clear the path for Spivey to win the second base job.
Spivey had played for the Brewers and Nationals in 2005, became a free agent after the season and signed with the Cardinals for a guaranteed $1.2 million. However, Spivey “struggled in all aspects of the game” during spring training, the Post-Dispatch reported. He “appeared tight defensively” and his spring training batting average at the end of March was .152.
When Miles returned to the spring training lineup, he went on a tear, with six hits in 12 at-bats. He struck out once in a stretch of 34 at-bats.
“He’s been a good player,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Miles. “He takes good at-bats. He’s caught the ball well to his left and right. He starts double plays.”
Before the regular season began, the Cardinals released Cruz, sent Spivey to Class AAA Memphis and declared Luna the backup at second base to Miles.
Meanwhile, Bigbie suffered a stress fracture above his left heel and was placed on the disabled list. Taguchi opened the regular season as the Cardinals’ starting left fielder, with Jim Edmonds in center and Juan Encarnacion in right.
(Bigbie would play in 17 games for the 2006 Cardinals and hit .240. He became a free agent in October 2006 and signed with the Dodgers. A year later, in the Mitchell Report on steroid abuse in baseball, Bigbie admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-05.)
The 2006 Cardinals opened the regular season on April 3 at Philadelphia against the Phillies. Miles, batting eighth, was 4-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored. He produced two doubles, a triple and a single. Boxscore
“It feels good to make sure these guys (the Cardinals) know they made the right decision with me,” Miles said.
Said La Russa: “He’s a tough out and any eighth hitter that gives you a tough out creates a lot of possibilities in the National League game.”
On July 30, 2006, the Cardinals traded Luna to the Indians for their second baseman, Ronnie Belliard, who displaced Miles as the St. Louis starter. In 54 games, including 53 starts at second base, Belliard hit .237 for the 2006 Cardinals.
Miles batted .263 with 20 doubles in 135 games for the 2006 Cardinals. He made 71 starts at second base and 33 starts at shortstop.
The Cardinals that year won their first World Series championship since 1982, defeating the Tigers in five games. Miles was 1-for-6 with a walk and two runs scored in the 2006 World Series.
In four seasons with St. Louis (2006-08 and 2010), Miles batted .288.
Previously: Mark Grudzielanek fit a need for 2005 Cardinals
Previously: Aaron Miles keyed Cardinals’ comebacks of 2006