The MLB trade deadline has passed, and teams have done all they can do put themselves in better position for the playoff race down the stretch run of the season. The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the winners of the day, getting two starting pitchers in two days that will greatly bolster a rotation that had been hit hard with injuries. Justin Masterson of the Cleveland Indians was traded to the Cardinals in exchange for outfielder James Ramsey, and then the Cards acquired John Lackey of the Red Sox for outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly. Both of these moves shake up the short and long term outlook of the Cardinals, in ways we will cover below. Let’s look at the impact of these two trades on the two main players, the Cardinals and the Red Sox.
Impact on the Cardinals
St. Louis has been looking for more starting pitching ever since they received word on on July 11th that back end starter with postseason experience Jaime Garcia would be lost for the season. They got two pretty good starters in Justin Masterson and John Lackey. Masterson’s stats aren’t very impressive this season, as he has gone 4-6 with a 5.51 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 98 innings for Cleveland. But he has struggled with injuries for the first half of the season, so if the Cards get a healthy Masterson, he could be really good for them down the stretch. He is also a free agent after this season, so there isn’t much long-term risk involved.
Also, the Cards didn’t give up much in this trade. Ramsey is an outfield prospect who is nearly ready for the MLB, but the Cards just don’t have a spot for him and he doesn’t factor into their long-term plans with better prospects like Stephen Piscotty coming along. Masterson will be joining the team down the stretch of the pennant race and although he hasn’t had much postseason experience, just 11.2 innings in his career, he could end up making some big postseason starts for St. Louis.
Lackey has had a better 2014 season than Masterson and required more for his services in the trade. The Cardinals gave up two young, talented pieces to get Lackey in Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Craig was so good last season for the Cardinals with runners in scoring position. Unfortunately, much of that timely hitting didn’t transfer to this season and Craig’s bat had gone somewhat silent in the first half of 2014. Look at the difference in his 2013 hitting with runners in scoring position and less than two outs and 2014 hitting in the same situation.
Allen Craig — RISP with less than two outs (batting average/on-base/slugging percentage)
2013: .448/.529/.672, 38 RBIs, 26 hits
2014: .191/.283/.383, 13 RBIs, 9 hits (thru 97 games)
That is some really lucky hitting in 2013 and the complete opposite in 2014. With Boston, those numbers should even. Also, the emergence of younger, higher ceiling stars in Matt Adams and Oscar Taveras left Craig without a true position to call his own. Adams has done nothing but hit since being called up to the big leagues, with a .316/.331/.513 slash line and 12 homers in 339 at-bats in 2014.
Craig was pushed to the outfield by Adams, and was pushed again by super-prospect Taveras. He was one of the top prospects in the MLB before being called up this season. He hit a home run in his first at-bat and hasn’t tore it up in the bigs, but the Cardinals today chose him as their long term right fielder after letting Craig walk.
Lackey is a solid pitcher and has a quirk in his contract that allows him to pitch in 2015 for the Cardinals for just 500,000 dollars. The clause in his original five-year, $82.5 million dollar contract said that if Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery during the life of the contract, that last year for just 500,000 dollars kicks in. Lackey went under the knife in 2011 and missed all of 2012, but there were some doubts that Lackey wouldn’t honor that contract. For now, however, Ken Rosenthal is reporting Lackey will comply.
Source: Lackey has told #STLCards he plans to honor his club option. No extension at this time.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2014
These two moves signal that St. Louis believes they can win the NL Central and get back to the World Series for the second year in a row. The playoff rotation now looks much stronger, with Adam Wainwright as the ace, John Lackey as the number two starter, and Masterson and Lance Lynn coming in to fill in the gaps.
Younger guys like Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller will factor in if their health allows. Remember, last season, Miller was so good in summer but ran out of gas in the postseason, falling completely out of the pitching rotation by the World Series. These two pickups will allow the Cards to keep his innings down and potentially move him to the bullpen to keep him fresh for October. Lackey and Masterson were two great pickups for the Cards and will have a big impact on the team as they head into the playoff push in August and September.
Impact on Boston
Boston’s long-term outfield picture got a lot clearer today as the Sox traded for two young talents with a lot of pop in Allen Craig and Yoenis Cespedes (Cespedes came over in a different trade involving John Lester earlier today). Craig could play in left field in front of the Green Monster and Cespedes in right, showcasing his above-average arm. I suspect Craig’s numbers could be helped by Fenway’s friendly dimensions and that he will see an uptick in his hitting with RISP after a rough start to this season.
Cespedes is better than Craig and has more to offer hitting behind Big Papi in the lineup, but only has one and a half years left on his contract. The Sox will have to re-sign him or else this trade will just be a short-term rental. It was a good day for the Sox. They were out of the pennant race and needed long-term solutions in the outfield. By trading away two starting pitchers who wouldn’t have made much of an impact in two months of meaningless late season start, they got two potential All-Stars at the corner outfield positions.