The Cardinals finalized a trade on Saturday that will send Edmonds and about $1.5 million to the Padres in exchange for infield prospect David Freese. Edmonds, 37, has played in St. Louis since the start of the 2000 season.
"Obviously what happened over the last 24 hours was something that was very difficult for the St. Louis Cardinals and me personally," general manager John Mozeliak said on Saturday afternoon. "It wasn't an easy decision to do."
Edmonds approached the Cardinals about a possible move due to concerns about his playing time in 2008. He saw very little time against left-handed pitchers in 2007, and it was evident that trend would continue and probably become even more pronounced.
However, as a player with full 10-and-five no-trade protection, he could dictate where he was and was not willing to go. Edmonds has 10 years' Major League service time, including the past five with the same team, a combination which provides a player the right to veto any trade.
But Edmonds hails from Orange County, Calif., making San Diego an appealing destination. He has hinted that 2008, the final season on his current contract, could be his last year in the big leagues before retirement.
Acquired from the Angels for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy during Spring Training in 2000, Edmonds was a cornerstone of one of the great runs in franchise history. He made three All-Star teams and won six Gold Gloves as a member of the Cardinals. He also hit 241 homers with St. Louis -- fourth most in team history. The Cards made the postseason six times in Edmonds' eight seasons, winning two pennants and the 2006 World Series title.
"We're going to miss him," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's had a major influence on the success we've had here, on and off the field."
Mozeliak explained the deal as providing flexibility, both financially and in terms of roster space, for the Cardinals. He cautioned against expecting a corresponding move immediately, and asked for patience from fans as he remakes a club that has been hamstrung by hefty, and sometimes long, commitments to a number of aging players.
"When you look at Jim Edmonds' contribution to this organization over the last eight years, it really became clear when you look at what he's done for us, relative to what we were going to get back in something like this -- on the surface it doesn't make a lot of sense," Mozeliak said.
"As we started to enter this offseason and realize that we weren't going to hit big on some free agents or maybe nail a major trade, we started to look at this club and we had to figure out ways to create that flexibility, not only for players that are in our organization, but potentially what we might do down the road."
Following the World Series championship, St. Louis surprised even Edmonds by offering him a two-year deal rather than simply exercising his contract option for 2007. Edmonds accepted the pact, but struggled with injuries and posted his worst season in a Cardinals uniform.
With the emergence of Rick Ankiel and the impending arrival of top prospect Colby Rasmus, it was clear that Edmonds would not be the unquestioned center fielder for 2008. That prompted him to seek out Mozeliak, asking the GM to find what options might exist.
"They couldn't guarantee me how much I was going to play," Edmonds said from his home in Irvine, Calif. "So we talked to them about moving me. They couldn't give me an answer if I was going to be a platoon player or not."
That issue was only likely to grow as the season went on. Rasmus will probably begin the season at Triple-A Memphis, but his ETA in the Majors is sometime before the '08 campaign ends.
"My concern," said Mozeliak, "was what happens when we get to July and we feel Rasmus is ready to play. And all of a sudden, we have this young core of outfielders that are already playing, then you have Rasmus ready to go and you want to insert him. Then I envisioned some sort of problems. So I'd look at it as a little bit of a preemptive strike there, if you will."
For the time being, Ankiel sits atop the center-field depth chart, but the Cardinals outfield will feature a good bit of mixing and matching if there are no further moves. Chris Duncan will be the primary starter in left field, and Ankiel will see close to everyday work in center and in right, but three other flycatchers are in line for time.
Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick can play any of the three positions, and Schumaker may be one of the club's more appealing options as a leadoff man. Ludwick offers right-handed power, something in short supply on the current roster. Brian Barton, a Rule 5 Draftee, can also play center and could lead off.
Freese, who will turn 25 in April, was selected in the ninth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. After an impressive pro debut split between short-season Eugene and low Class A Fort Wayne, he had a big year at high Class A Lake Elsinore in his first full pro season. Freese hit .302 with a .400 on-base percentage, a .489 slugging percentage, 17 home runs, 69 walks, 96 RBIs and 102 runs scored.
A native of the St. Louis area, Freese will likely report to Double-A Springfield at the start of 2008.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.