Cardinals counter Garciaparra with Walker

By Jim Callis

August 6, 2004

Less than a week after the Cubs traded for Nomar Garciaparra, the Cardinals responded to their National League Central rivals with a move of their own. St. Louis acquired Larry Walker from the Rockies on Friday for low Class A righthander Jason Burch, two players to be named later and $8.25 million.

The Rockies had tried to deal Walker to the Diamondbacks in November 2002 and the Rangers and Marlins last week, only to have him exercise his no-trade rights each time. Colorado will save $9.25 million on the remainder of his contract, which calls for $12.5 million this year and next (about $4 million remains in 2004) and either a $15 million option or $1 million buyout in 2006. With the savings, the Rockies plan to re-sign outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and pitchers Shawn Chacon, Jason Jennings and Jason Kennedy. They also plan on making a late run at their 14th-round pick, Georgia high school outfielder Dexter Fowler. Ranked as a first-round talent by Baseball America, Fowler slid in the draft because of signability concerns. A five-tool player, Fowler has a full scholarship offer from Miami.

The Cardinals owned a 9½-game lead over the Cubs at the time of the deal, so they had the NL Central pretty much sewn up. Walker’s addition will make them even stronger for the playoffs. The 37-year-old outfielder missed most of the first three months of the season with a strained left groin, but since returning he quickly has regained the batting stroke that made him a five-time all-star, three-time NL batting champion and the 1997 NL MVP. In 38 games, he has batted .324/.464/.630 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 38 games. He’ll obviously miss Coors Field, but he’ll still be a dangerous hitter. While Walker isn’t as quick in the bases or in right field as he used to be, his baserunning and defensive instincts are still top-notch. His once-powerful throwing arm also has slipped a little, but the seven-time Gold Glover still throws well. He’s a career .315/.401/.568 hitter with 357 homers, 1,232 RBIs and 224 steals in 1,844 games.

Burch, 21, was a 21st-round pick out of Nebraska in 2003. Managers recently rated his slider as the low Class A Midwest League’s best breaking pitch in Baseball America’s annual Best Tools survey. It’s not a hard slider, but it has a lot of sideways break that makes it difficult to hit. At 6-foot-5, Burch also delivers the ball from angles that make his pitches tough for batters to pick up. His other main pitch is a low-90s fastball with a little sink. In 44 games at Peoria this year, he has gone 5-5, 3.61 with a 60-24 strikeout-walk ratio in 52 innings. Opponents are batting .219 with one homer off him. His pro record is 5-8, 3.36 in 74 appearances.

Aug. 11 update: The Cardinals sent lefthanders Chris Narveson and Luis Martinez to the Rockies to complete the trade.

Narveson, 22, signed as a second-round pick out of a North Carolina high school in 2000. He quickly established himself as one of the Cardinals’ top pitching prospects, only to succumb to Tommy John surgery in August 2001. He bounced back last year and has pitched better in 2004 than his record at Double-A Tennessee (4-10, 4.43 in 22 starts) would indicate. He has a 112-51 strikeout-walk ratio in 120 innings, while opponents have batted .245 with 11 homers. Narveson’s strength is mixing four solid pitches (high-80s fastball, slider, curveball, changeup), with the changeup probably his best offering. He has a career mark of 26-33, 3.38 in 93 minor league games.

Martinez, 23, signed with the Brewers out of the Dominican Republic in 1996. He was one of the top lefties in the Milwaukee system, but the Brewers waived him in February after he shot a man twice in the chest and once in the left leg after a traffic dispute in the Dominican. Local authorities ruled that Martinez acted in self defense. He has gone 7-12, 4.40 in 23 starts this season between Tennesse and Triple-A Memphis. He has a 112-59 K-BB ratio, .284 opponent average and 14 homers allowed in 137 innings. Martinez’ best pitch is a changeup, and he also throws an average fastball and mediocre curveball. His career record in the minors is 40-59, 4.84 in 179 games, and he went 0-3, 9.92 in four starts for the Brewers last year.