While it’s undoubtedly a surprise to most of the baseball world that the St. Louis Cardinals emerged as the 2011 World Series champions, those in St. Louis and more specifically those within the Cardinals organization would tell you otherwise.

Like all contenders during the season, the Cardinals were buyers at the trade deadline with the thought that a few midseason moves could add the final pieces to a championship-caliber puzzle.

As a mid-to-large market club with a payroll of nearly $110 million, the St. Louis front office was able to utilize substantial funds to make worthwhile free agent signings and acquisitions, but at the same time needed valuable contributions from cheap and young players. Some players, like Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter, have been with the club for years, while others arrived in St. Louis for the first time in July and August.

The 2011 Cardinals represent an excellent blueprint of how to put together a winning, cohesive ball club, so to recognize when and how they did it is a worthwhile exercise.

Like the aforementioned Pujols, many players were “homegrown” products — either drafted or signed as amateurs and developed in their minor league system before reaching the pros. Although hard to imagine now, Pujols was amazingly not drafted until the 13th round (402nd overall) of the 1999 draft.

Other key players like Lance Lynn (first round, 39th overall, 2008) Yadier Molina (fourth round, 2000), Skip Schumaker (fifth round, 2003), Allen Craig (eight round, 2006), Jason Motte (19th round, 2003) and Jaime Garcia (22nd round, 2005) were all drafted and brought up by the Cardinals, with most of them being under-the-radar prospects.

Although the farm system is obviously useful to develop players, it can also be used to acquire veterans in trades. After using the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft on first baseman Brett Wallace, the Cardinals sent him to the Athletics in July 2009 (along with pitcher Clayton Mortensen and outfielder Shane Peterson) for Matt Holliday. A free agent after that season, Holliday re-signed with the Cards for seven years and $120 million in 2009.

Ironically, World Series MVP David Freese came to the club in the exact opposite manner. After being drafted in the 9th round of the 2006 draft by the San Diego Padres, Freese found his path to the big leagues blocked by the likes of Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Before the 2008 season, Freese was fatefully shipped to St. Louis for former all-star center fielder Jim Edmonds, who was in the twilight of his glittering career.

Many other players throughout the roster were acquired primarily through free agency. Drafted originally by the Blue Jays, starter Chris Carpenter came to St. Louis in 2003 after injuries derailed his career in Toronto. Although he was forced to miss the entire 2003 season, Carpenter went on to win the NL Cy Young award in 2005 and has been the ace of the St. Louis staff ever since.

Fellow rotation mainstay Kyle Lohse also came to St. Louis in 2008 after a relatively mediocre career in Philadelphia, signing a one-year, $4.25 million deal with the Cards before re-upping with a four-year, $41 million extension. After being acquired in a three-way 2010 midseason trade, rotation mate Jake Westbrook re-signed with the club through 2012 with a club option for 2013.

This offseason brought Lance Berkman and Nick Punto on one-year deals after lackluster 2010 seasons. Berkman’s resurgence was a shock, and he was ultimately a bargain at $8 million.

Perhaps the greatest move conducted by General Manager John Mozeliak, however, was a controversial and seemingly crazy three-way trade July 27 with the Blue Jays and White Sox. In two two-team deals, the Cardinals shipped former top prospect and budding star center fielder Colby Rasmus to Toronto with pitchers P.J. Walters, Trever Miller and Brian Tallet, while acquiring starter Edwin Jackson, relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, outfielder Corey Patterson and three players to be named later or cash.

The deal was a shock to the baseball community, as Rasmus had essentially been groomed to be the next face of the franchise if Pujols were to leave this offseason. But problems with manager Tony LaRussa made the move possible, and Mozeliak’s bold play — along with a little luck — ultimately wound up constructing a World Series champion.

Preston Barclay is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. TURNING TWO IN THE 202 appears every Tuesday.

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