The Oakland Athletics traded their second top starter in three days, sending left-hander Mark Mulder to the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals yesterday for a package...

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OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics traded their second top starter in three days, sending left-hander Mark Mulder to the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals yesterday for a package of prospects.


Mulder follows Tim Hudson out of town, leaving Barry Zito as the only remaining member of Oakland’s vaunted “Big Three” pitchers. Hudson was dealt to Atlanta on Thursday for three mostly unproven players.


“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves every year,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “This is probably the most drastic. … There’s certainly some sadness losing first Tim and then Mark from a personal standpoint. Unfortunately, this is something we’ve had to deal with. We’re still the Oakland A’s. We’re still going to go on.”


Mulder could be the top-notch pitcher the Cardinals sorely lacked when they got swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, but that’s if he’s healthy.


In return, the A’s acquired pitchers Danny Haren and Kiko Calero and minor-league catcher Daric Barton.


“We’re extremely excited to have obtained a pitcher of Mark’s caliber,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. “He is the top of the rotation-type pitcher we’ve been working hard to obtain this offseason.”


Mulder replaces Woody Williams, who was not offered salary arbitration by the Cardinals and signed a free-agent deal earlier this month with San Diego. Mulder will join Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan and Matt Morris in a rotation where all five pitchers won at least 15 games last season. Morris might not be available until May after going undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.


Mulder might have some health questions of his own, especially after his perplexing finish to last season.


The 6-foot-6 lefty, the American League starter in the All-Star Game, seemed destined for Cy Young award consideration midway through the season, but went winless in his last seven starts — 0-4 with a 7.27 earned-run average.


On Aug. 24, he became the first 17-game winner in the majors, then didn’t win again. There was speculation he was hurt and not telling anyone.


Mulder repeatedly claimed to be healthy despite a drop in his velocity late in the year.


Mulder was drafted second overall by the A’s in 1998 and was signed through the 2005 season with a club option to return in 2006.


After Hudson was swapped to the Braves, the news of Mulder’s departure was even more shocking. At least in Hudson’s case, there had been rumors swirling.


“What, you’ve got to be kidding me,” outfielder Eric Byrnes said of Mulder being traded. “Wow. I don’t know what to tell you.”




Notes


• Chicago White Sox officials adamantly denied published and broadcast reports they were going to send Paul Konerko and pitchers Damaso Marte and Jon Garland to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Javier Vazquez, whom the Dodgers are expected to acquire in the Randy Johnson trade.


• Right-hander Matt Clement and the Boston Red Sox are closing in on a three-year contract worth $25 million, according to the pitcher’s agent.


The defending World Series champions targeted the hard-throwing free agent after losing Pedro Martinez to the New York Mets.


Ted Abernathy, who twice led the National League in saves during the 1960s and pitched for seven teams during his major-league career, died Thursday at 71. Abernathy appeared in 681 games and picked up 148 saves during a career from 1955 to 1972. He had a 63-69 record and a 3.46 ERA.


Lorenzo LarryJ. Ponza Jr., who developed and perfected the modern pitching machine, has died. He was 86. Ponza died Wednesday at his home of cancer-related illness.