Right off the bat, it’s tough to lose a classy guy like Joe Kelly and a hitter that served as an RBI production factory for two straight seasons like Allen Craig. That’s surface level critiquing right there. When you pop the hood on this John Lackey deal, things look much nicer. Let’s break it down real quick into five talking heads.
1) Lackey is a proven durable starting pitcher. He was putting together a solid season for a team struggling all season. He is a legit 3 WAR for his career and proved his mettle in the World Series against the Cardinals in 2013. In 14 innings, Lackey allowed 4 runs and struck out 11 Cardinals while walking only 3. He is 11-7 this season with a 3.60 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 4-1. Lackey is an 11 year veteran with 149 wins and someone a team can depend upon for innings and quality in the stretch run. He is coming here to fill a #3-#4 spot in the rotation. In my mind, Lackey is an upgrade over Kelly because he has pitched 30-33 starts in a season for a long time and can fill the Cards needs this year and next.
2)That’s right. The Cards get Lackey for 500,000 dollars in 2015 or 23,000 less than what Joe Kelly makes this season. That is the trigger on this deal for Mozeliak. He saw a chance to get a quality arm for the stretch run in 2014 and someone he can plug into the 2015 rotation for a cheap cost. This is where Mozeliak thrives. Finding the things that make the Cards look like masterminds. Here, the 2015 option on Lackey was the icing on the cake.
3)The parts lost aren’t as bad as some may think. Craig may bounce back from a horrible stretch here in 2014 or he may not. That’s a risk the Cards work with. His salary bumps from 2.75 million to 9 million in 2015 though, so the risk now belongs to the Red Sox. Craig’s contract gets larger as the years go on and if he comes out of his funk, it will be in the American League where pitching is easier to hurt. I hope he finds his way. He is a good guy who was blindsided by failure this season and is 30 years old and mentally broken. He needs this change to get out of town and release himself from Oscar Taveras scrutiny. Kelly may thrive or he may get pummeled with a team not as defensively adept as St. Louis. Kelly will be pitching in a hitter’s park and hasn’t looked great in his three starts since coming off the disabled list. He is under control until 2019 and I am sure Mo didn’t want to part with that. However, it was going to be Shelby Miller or Kelly being shipped out and the Cards kept the right guy. Kelly’s ceiling isn’t as high as his sense of humor so I don’t mind losing his services.
4)Oscar Taveras gets to start every day. Or most of the time. As I write this, he has smoked a 2 run home run in today’s San Diego finale. Taveras will get the bulk of the playing time in right field and free rein to let his talent be unleashed. He doesn’t have to worry about going 0-4 and finding himself in pinch hit duty for 2 games. Taveras will earn his at bats but now he gets to stretch his legs a bit. August will be a revealing month and we can only hope Oscar takes off like Kolten Wong did in June. Maybe, the Cards offense takes off with the help of the kids.
5)The Cards supply the rotation with innings eaters. When Justin Masterson is right, he is eating up innings and fooling hitters with his sinker. The Indians wore their socks high to may tribute to him last night so that has to speak for something of Justin as a teammate. Lackey has averaged 184.2 innings over the course of his career. As Bernie Miklasz pointed out in his column Wednesday, the Cards rank last in the league in innings pitched by a starter since Michael Wacha’s last start on June 17th. The rotation needed this bump and now there is no immediate pressure on Wacha to be amazing the minute he returns.
In the end, the Cards got another strong pitcher in Lackey with 104 innings pitched in the postseason with a 3.03 ERA. They gave up a young pitcher and an ailing hitter with a growing contract. A tough deal because of the good guys that Kelly and Craig were but a great baseball transaction and one that makes the Masterson deal look even better.
Cards fans get a taste right away. Kelly’s first start will come against St. Louis next week and the same goes for Lackey. They may pitch in the same game. Craig will be in there. The trade will speak for itself soon enough. Until then, I call this deal a big success for the St. Louis Cardinals.
One more thing. In both trades, John Mozeliak relinquished zero Memphis assets.