After 11½ seasons, two World Series rings and one radical position change with the Cardinals — the only organization he’s known — Skip Schumaker drove to Los Angeles on Wednesday to complete what he called a “bittersweet” deal and take his career in a completely new direction.
He’s going home.
Schumaker, a native of Southern California, passed a physical with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon to finalize the trade that sent him west in exchange for Class AA shortstop Jake Lemmerman. The Cardinals and Dodgers officially announced the deal as Schumaker made the hour drive from LA toward his Orange County neighborhood.
“I get to come home. My off days are at home,” Schumaker said. “I loved my time with the Cardinals, and I will miss the people, the fans there. I know this is a great opportunity. If I had to be traded, this was the best scenario.”
When Schumaker learned of the deal late Tuesday night, he first called his parents to say he would be playing at Dodger Stadium and then called Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, one of his closest friends in the game. No one was surprised. The Dodgers’ interest in Schumaker had been public for more than a week, and a trade had felt inevitable since the end of the season. After an exit conversation with general manager John Mozeliak, Schumaker returned to California with the realization he and the club that drafted him had drifted apart.
He and his agent expressed to the Cardinals they would be open to and appreciative of a trade if one was “mutually beneficial.”
“I felt like maybe my time had run its course with the Cardinals,” said Schumaker, the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2001 draft. “I saw my role diminish to a point where I felt like I could have contributed more, or contributed in a different way. I felt like there might be a better situation where I could have a strong role. I thought that would benefit both sides.”
Schumaker, 32, joins the spree-spending Dodgers as a backup at second base and center field. He is the lefthanded complement that general manager Ned Colletti had been seeking for his bench and a player new hitting coach Mark McGwire lobbied to get. Schumaker has one year remaining on a two-year, $3 million extension. To make room for Schumaker on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers designated St. Louis native Scott Van Slyke for assignment.
Lemmerman, 23, was the Dodgers’ fifth-round pick out of Duke in the 2010 draft. The Cardinals have him penciled in as the everyday starting shortstop at Class AA Springfield, a position they did not have filled with an internal candidate. Lemmerman will get a chance to compete for a utility role at Class AAA.
The righthanded-hitting infielder batted .233 with a .347 on-base percentage and seven home runs in 116 games for the Dodgers’ Class AA affiliate in 2012. He was a California League All-Star the year before with a .293 average at high Class A. Lemmerman, who played this past fall for Israel’s team in the World Baseball Classic’s qualifiers, is considered a reliable defensive player at a premium position. The Cardinals are thin at shortstop at the higher levels, especially if Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson are needed in the majors.
Even after the trade of Schumaker, the Cardinals remain in the market for a free agent to strengthen the big-league bench. The Cardinals’ preference is to sign a righthanded bat, and they remain interested in Scott Hairston. The Cardinals are one of five teams talking to the infielder, according to ESPNNewYork.com. Hairston is seeking a multi-year deal.
In a utility role, Schumaker hit .276 with a .339 on-base percentage in 107 games. But his playing time became scarce later in the season. He started only 14 games in the final month.
It was a curious ending for a veteran who was part of the Cardinals’ internal identity and the clubhouse’s quality control. Schumaker debuted in 2005, received a World Series ring in 2006 for his contributions that season, and became an everyday player by 2008. Before 2009, manager Tony La Russa encouraged Schumaker’s move to second base, a position he had never played. The diligence he put in that spring to become a viable starter at second strengthened his teammates’ fondness for him.
“It just makes you sad to realize that all that quality time you get to spend with someone as a teammate is over,” outfielder Matt Holliday said. “I understand it’s part of the business. That doesn’t make it any easier when it’s one of your best friends. … Guys like Skip can’t be appreciated like they should (be) based on the stat sheet. Skip was a big part of the Cardinal swagger when I got here.”
Schumaker joins a Dodgers team that has been a financial goliath this winter. Flush with cash from new owners and a forthcoming television rights deal, the Dodgers have signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal and upped their All-Star-studded payroll to more than $200 million. Joining the Dodgers will reunite Schumaker with Nick Punto, an infielder on the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series team and a neighbor. They can carpool to home games.
This coming season, Schumaker’s family was going to remain in California during the school year and not come with him. He was bracing himself for that lengthy time apart.
The trade means he doesn’t have to.
“All in all it’s a bittersweet deal,” Schumaker said. “I made lifelong friends in that organization. I grew up there. I grew up professionally there. I’m not going to dwell on the last couple months and let that change what really was a great experience, one that gave me a chance to play in the major leagues.
“Even though we’re moving on, I’ll cherish those memories forever.”