We’ve come to the end of our review of John Mozeliak’s trades since he took over as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in October 2007. In this post, we’ll tackle the last three years and we’ll leave an overall look for one more final post. (Edit: Ha ha, no we won’t. This post again got away from me, so we’ll just look at 2014.) In case you are behind, here are the past posts:
With that housekeeping out of the way, let’s look at an eventful year of deals for Mo.
Trade 26: James Ramsey to Cleveland for Justin Masterson
Reaction Post: Catching Up, In More Than One Way
If you were to design a “typical” Mozeliak trade deadline move, it tends to be a mid-range prospect for pitching help. (This is not the only such trade we’ll be looking at in this post.) Mo didn’t stray out of his zone at all here, not only making his version of a comfort food trade but making it with a team that he’s dealt with more than any others. (Obviously, Mozeliak didn’t hold any grudges against Chris Antonetti for almost getting the Cards GM job before they went with Mo.)
James Ramsey may have been a first round pick of the Cardinals, but that really was the symptom of the club trying to game the system. Taking Ramsey, a college senior with limited leverage and a solid but unspectacular portfolio allowed them to sign him for well below slot and save some of that signing pool money for others with more upside, such as Stephen Piscotty (drafted with a compensation pick right after Ramsey) and Michael Wacha (taken a few picks before). The club did like Ramsey’s makeup and character, but the idea that he’d be anything more than a fourth outfielder at the big league level didn’t have much traction.
Ramsey did show some power in the minors, combining for 16 homers across three teams in 2013 and made it to Springfield just a year after being drafted. (He even got one game at Memphis in their season finale.) Returning to Springfield for 2014, he was hitting .300 with 13 homers at AA before Cleveland decided he was worth a veteran pitcher.
The problem is that Justin Masterson wasn’t exactly the guy that made the All-Star team in 2013. Sporting a 5.51 ERA when he came over, he proceeded to get much, much worse. Put it this way–he had given up six home runs in 98 innings in 2014 for the Indians. He matched that total in just 30.2 frames for the Cardinals. By the end of run in red, Cardinal fans were hoping for a 5.51 ERA (he wound up with a 7.04 mark).
Masterson did give the Cardinals one great start, when he shut down Miami in his third time out and went seven scoreless. Take that game out and his numbers….you know what, let’s not go there. I don’t even want to see how bad it would be. That was all that the club got though and when September rolled around, Masterson found himself in the bullpen, where he did have three outings totaling 3.1 innings with no runs. So at least he ended on a high note.
I think that year was the first year we as bloggers got a chance to ask Mo questions after the year and I asked him about Masterson and what happened there. Here’s what he said:
I think the untold story of Justin Masterson was that he wasn’t 100% when we got him. Unfortunately it affected how he pitched and had a direct correlation to his performance. I will say in his defense, he gave us one huge game in Miami when things weren’t going well for our club. But in the end, I can see why people do not look at this as a positive deal.
Did the club not get the right medical information? Did they not ask the right questions? Did they know he might be hurting but took the risk? I don’t know. Whatever the case, it didn’t get any better for him when he returned to Boston in 2015 and he spent all of 2016 in the minors for Pittsburgh after having shoulder surgery. He’s still hoping to pitch in the majors again, but you have to think it’s going to take a team pretty desperate to take him on.
Rating: While the Cardinals didn’t give up much in this one, there have been times of late where a little outfield insurance wouldn’t be terrible. No telling if Ramsey would have been that guy–he never made it to Cleveland and now is property of the Dodgers–but given how rough Masterson was in St. Louis, even the chance makes this a loss for Mo.
Trade 27: Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston for John Lackey and Corey Littrell
^–Still active with team
Reaction Post: Catching Up, In More Than One Way
So, right after Mozeliak pulls off a “comfort food” trade with the Indians, he flips the whole table by trading two well-loved Cardinals to Boston for a crusty, cantankerous Texas. It was a trade that not many people liked on a personal level, but it’s hard to deny that it was a good move for a myriad of reasons.
If anyone actually figures out why Allen Craig completely fell off the face of the baseball planet, please present yourself to 700 Clark Street because you might have a job in baseball waiting for you. All of us remember the very good hitter Craig was and his key hits in the 2011 World Series were vital to the club’s 11th championship. You could make a very good case for Craig being the MVP of that Series, even though he didn’t start a number of the games. One of the reasons that the club didn’t feel like they had to counter Anaheim’s offer to Albert Pujols was that they expected they could get some good production out of Craig at first and, for a while, that turned out to be the case.
After back to back years with OPS+ in the 130 range, 2014 saw Craig start slow. And by slow, we mean Yadier Molina in a footrace slow. While Craig was struggling, hitting just .220 in the month of April, Oscar Taveras was making his ascension to St. Louis. Eventually, as Craig continued to struggle and Taveras bounced between the St. Louis bench and the Memphis lineup, fan criticism of Mike Matheny’s usage of Craig grew deafening. While it was true that Craig had done a lot for the club, it was frustrating to see the shadow of a good player blocking what seemed to be the next big thing.
While this was going on, Joe Kelly was just trying to get healthy. During his third start of the season, where he threw four scoreless innings against the Brewers to lower his ERA to 0.59, he pulled a hamstring trying to leg out a bunt and wound up missing all of May and June. When he returned on July 11, the layoff had clearly affected him as he allowed six, five, and four runs in his four July starts. Kelly had always been a talented pitcher for the club (most famously dubbed “the Ferrari in the garage” when he was a spot starter/long reliever) but the Cardinals were in third in the division, 2 1/2 back of the Brewers. Something needed to change and even Mo knew Justin Masterson wasn’t going to bridge that gap.
2014 was one of the off years for Boston in that stretch where they seemed to finish either first or last in the division every year. With the Sox out of contention, they looked to sell off a few of their more intriguing pieces. Jon Lester was sent out to Oakland just hours before this trade was completed, sending Lackey to St. Louis.
You could argue that Lackey brought a dynamic to the clubhouse that it hadn’t had since the retirement of Chris Carpenter. A take-no-prisoners, give-way-to-nobody “crusty veteran”, Lackey also brought a 3.60 ERA from the AL East and almost a strikeout an inning. He also brought a quirk in his contract–since he’d missed a year during the span of his deal due to injury, he was scheduled to make the league minimum in 2015. And you know how Mo likes a deal….
It took some adjusting for Lackey and his new team (he allowed nine runs to Baltimore in his second outing with the Redbirds), but for the most part, Lackey brought exactly what he was supposed to bring. He went seven or more innings in four of his ten starts and threw a great game against the Dodgers in the NLDS before stumbling in the next round against the Giants.
That might have been enough to win the deal, but the Cardinals had Lackey for the next season as well and all he did was put up a 2.77 ERA and finished ninth in the Cy Young voting. Lackey was so valuable that Mike Matheny turned to him twice, once on short rest, against the Cubs in the NLDS that season, a decision a bit more understandable when Lance Lynn underwent surgery after the season but still a strong vote of confidence.
Corey Littrell might be the afterthought in the deal, but he still may be able to help out the Cardinals as early as this season. The club left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, but surprisingly no team took him. His 2016 at Memphis wasn’t outstanding (4.56 ERA) but he still struck out about 8 1/2 batters per nine innings and he’s a lefty to boot. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him at some point in time this season if the Cardinals need a reliever or a short-term starter, especially when they can free up 40-man spots with longer DL stints, etc.
Rating: An obvious win for Mo here, though I think we’ll all be glad to see Kelly return with the Red Sox in May. Still, when the two players you trade off combine for 0 WAR, you are doing pretty well.
Trade 28: Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden
Reaction Post: Initial Reaction on Today’s Jason Heyward Deal
It was the trade the Cardinals never wanted to make.
In an alternate dimension, an Earth-2 or Earth-19 that the Cardinals beat the Giants and kept Oscar Taveras in the United States longer or a place where Taveras didn’t go out and drive after drinking, Jason Heyward finishes his contract in Atlanta and then enters free agency, where perhaps he still winds up in Chicago without the detour under the Arch.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. As much as we would wish it otherwise, the Taveras tragedy happened. And, eventually, Mozeliak had to take that master plan that had Taveras in right and batting third for the next decade and alter it on the fly. Targeting Heyward made a lot of sense. While Heyward’s 2015 wasn’t exactly up to what his potential would seem to be, he still hit .271 with 11 home runs. Even if he just repeated those figures, he would have been an upgrade over Craig’s time out there. There were a lot of expectations that, when he moved out of the leadoff spot and got comfortable, he’d be closer to the 20 homers that he’d hit in the past.
You have to give to get, of course, and Shelby Miller was a tough thing to give up. While Miller had had his conflicts with the organization and hadn’t quite looked like the first-round draft pick that he was, he still was just a year removed from 15 wins and his 2014 ERA of 3.74 was the highest of his big league career. Going into his Age 24 year, there was no reason to think that the future wasn’t very bright for him. The problem was going to be finding room in St. Louis to blossom.
That was the bulk of the deal, of course, but the Cards were excited to get Jordan Walden to help shore up the back end of the bullpen. So excited, in fact, that they signed him to an extension before he had ever thrown a pitch for them. Tyrell Jenkins was a bit of a lottery ticket for the Braves, who were already getting into their rebuild mode. Jenkins was drafted with limited baseball experience, but had plenty of athletic tools and just needed to harness them.
It looked like a win-win deal for each side. And it probably was, though not the way anyone thought.
First off, Walden had a nice April for St. Louis, then went on the DL and never returned, not in 2015 or in 2016. The Cards got 10.1 innings out of him for just over $6 million. (Relievers and two-year deals are a bane for Mo.) As for Jenkins, he finally made his major league debut with the Braves last year, getting into 14 games and posting a 5.88 ERA. This offseason was eventful for Jenkins, who was traded to the Rangers, then released and signed by the Reds, then released and signed by the Padres. So far he’s stuck there in San Diego, but we’ll see whether he’s on the big league roster or back in AAA when the season starts.
Then there are the principals of the deal. Miller flourished for the Braves, though he didn’t get a lot to show for it. He led the league in losses with 17, but had a 3.02 ERA on the season which just goes to show how much you shouldn’t pay attention to win-loss records for pitchers. After winning his fifth game on May 17, he didn’t win another game until October 4, when he threw eight scoreless innings against, of course, his former team to break the streak. (To be fair, the Cards had already clinched the division, so their play in that Atlanta series was less than inspired. Also, the Cards did beat him in that span, though he allowed just one run in 7.1 innings in that July 25 matchup.)
Miller’s greatest value to Atlanta, though, turned out to be a trade chip as the Braves front office took advantage of a less-than-stellar Diamondback organization headed by Dave Stewart to get three players, including Ender Inciarte and number one prospect Dansby Swanson. Miller cratered in the desert, posting a 6.15 ERA and generally looking lost. What 2017 will bring, we’ll have to wait and see.
We know what happened with Heyward. After a slow start, Heyward hit .318 in the second half (with just four homers) and helped push the Cards past Pittsburgh and to 100 wins. None of us are going to forget his peg of Anthony Rizzo at home in a key late season game against the Cubs which helped staunch the rising Chicago tide. All in all, Heyward’s season in St. Louis was a quite good one. The 6.5 WAR he earned in Cardinal red is second only to the 23.1 mark by Matt Holliday by Mozeliak acquisitions.
It was extremely frustrating to see him spurn the big money St. Louis offered to sign with the hated rivals from the north side. Many got a lot of joy out of his terrible start to the season, comparing his numbers to Stephen Piscotty and pointing out how much cheaper Piscotty’s contract was. There’s no doubt that statistically Heyward’s 2016 was his worst season, but he wound up being part of the historic Cubs team with a World Series ring to show for it. That’s going to help ease a lot of concerns about his .230 average.
Rating: A lot of people criticized this trade after Heyward left, saying that the club lost Miller for nothing long-term. Which is true, but even as good as Miller was in 2015, there was no place for him to play in St. Louis. The club had historic pitching numbers that season–Miller wasn’t going to force anyone out of the rotation and it’s not likely the club could have done better with him on the squad. Maybe he could have been moved for something else, but I doubt anything else could have made the impact that Heyward did in his season in Missouri. I’m marking this one as a win in my book.
Again, I think I’m going to cover a lot of trades, then 2500 words later I’ve only covered one season. While the rest of these deals are pretty minor, I’ve already presumed upon your patience enough. We’ll do 2015 and 2016 another day!