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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

TCN Blog 2014 Top Story #7: The Lackey Trade

The St. Louis Cardinals accomplished at least two objectives in one in their July 31st trade with the Boston Red Sox. Winning the World Series was not one of them, however.

First, they added a veteran starter to their injury-plagued rotation in 35-year-old John Lackey, a big right-hander with a history of success in the post-season. Second, they divested themselves of struggling first baseman-outfielder Allen Craig and the responsibility to pay the approximately $28 million remaining on his contract.

In order to make the deal work, St. Louis also had to send starting pitcher Joe Kelly to Beantown. To complete the four-player trade, the Cards received minor league pitcher Corey Littrell, a non-prospect.

It was a stunner of a trade, as the Cardinals essentially admitted they could not repair whatever ails Craig and sold while they could. I never had the feeling the Cardinals were as high on Kelly as his results had indicated.

A big winner in the deal looked to be Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras, who was given the first opportunity to take over the right field job vacated by Craig. On the other hand, as I said at the time, expecting Taveras to fix the Cardinals ailing offense would have been unfair, and as it turned out, not doable.

In addition to passing Craig’s contract to Boston, the Cardinals also made out well financially with Lackey. He brought with him a team option for 2015 at the major league minimum salary of $500,000 due to a prior injury clause in his contract.

On the downside, the Cardinals lost three and a half years of control of Kelly at an arbitration-level salary. Many team followers were also disappointed to see home-grown Cardinals and fan favorites in Craig and Kelly depart.

Lackey initially joined Justin Masterson, acquired from Cleveland the day before, in a revamped Cardinals rotation. They replaced injured starters Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha, pitching in the rotation with holdovers Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller.

With St. Louis, Lackey was uneven, logging a 3-3 record and a 4.30 ERA in 10 regular season starts. During money time in October, he made two starts, one in each round. One was great, the other much less so.

Facing the Dodgers in Game 3 of the Division Series, Lackey did precisely what he was acquired to do. He pitched a great game, holding the visitors from Los Angeles to just one run on five hits and a walk over seven innings. That put St. Louis up two games to one on their way to a four-game series victory.

As the deadlocked Championship Series shifted to San Francisco for Game 3, Lackey immediately put the Cardinals in a deep hole by allowing four runs in the very first inning. Though he put up zeroes over the next five frames, major damage was done as St. Louis eventually lost 5-4 on Randy Choate’s two-base throwing error in the 10th inning.

The Cards have already picked up Lackey’s option for next season, though they may sweeten the deal as part of a potential extension to keep a second veteran arm in the rotation along with Wainwright beyond 2015.

In a short term analysis, it is difficult to determine if Lackey pitched any better than Kelly would have. The rookies who primarily replaced Craig, Taveras and Randal Grichuk, continued to struggle. If there was any hope that Craig was fixable and had the club known they would soon have to scramble following the death of Taveras, perhaps this deal would not have taken the same shape.

But, it is what it is. Only time will tell how the trade will grade out.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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