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Tuesday 17th Oct 2017

I have no idea how the investigation of St. Louis Cardinals front office employees who illegally accessed the Houston Astros baseball operations database will conclude. I do know that the sparkling reputation of one of Major League Baseball’s most successful franchises has been tarnished, and especially St. Louis’ baseball ops organization, headed by general manager John Mozeliak.

That reputation had been earned through strong drafts, good player development, and smart player personnel decisions. This article will document several of the latter, made at the expense of the Boston Red Sox.

As I type this Friday evening, John Lackey is pitching in the seventh inning while holding the Chicago Cubs to two runs despite not having his best stuff. The 36-year-old came into the night doing what he has done his entire 13-year career - eat innings and deliver consistent results. In 2015, the right-hander has been pitching over 6 1/3 innings on average while logging a 3.41 ERA.

Just 11 months ago, Lackey was a member of the Boston Red Sox. With the Cardinals in need of a veteran starter down the stretch in 2014, they sent two younger players, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, to the BoSox in return for Lackey and a minor leaguer.

Fast forward to today. Lackey is plugging along most Lackey-like, while Craig and Kelly are still teammates – but now with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Still, when the trade was announced, a sizeable segment of St. Louis fans were anguished. Saying goodbye to homegrown players stings badly for some, but especially in the case of Craig, the Cardinals’ move was brilliant.

Not far removed from two consecutive 90 RBI seasons but having lost his mojo apparently due to a foot injury, Craig had become a major liability. Batting .237 for the 2014 Cards, he was still due well over $30 million on his contract with no turnaround in fortune seemingly in sight.

As it turned out, the change in scenery did nothing to fix what ails Craig as he batted .128 for the Sox after the trade. This season, he was hitting .135 when taken off the 40-man roster and sent down.

A successful college reliever, Kelly was made a starter as a professional. Despite his mid-90s sinking fastball, Kelly has never been able to locate his pitches and miss enough bats consistently enough to excel. Yet with St. Louis, he often seemed to find a way to win.

When demoted this week, Kelly took heat from some corners due to his widely-quoted spring prediction that he would win the 2015 Cy Young Award. Knowing Kelly, it was likely a joke, but his 5.67 ERA in 14 starts is no laughing matter.

On the other hand, Lackey’s base 2015 salary is at the major league minimum level due to a clause in his Red Sox contract that kicked in when he missed the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery.

Ironically, named to take Kelly’s place among the Boston starting five is Justin Masterson. The former Cleveland standout had also joined St. Louis at the same time as Lackey last summer, but after Masterson pitched ineffectively down the stretch, he was removed from the rotation and ultimately left off the postseason roster, As such, few were surprised when the Cardinals made no attempt to re-sign the 30-year-old for 2015.

In stepped the Red Sox, who are paying Masterson $9.5 million this season in return for an ERA that is even worse than Kelly’s, 6.37 in seven starts.

The Red Sox have multiple years of control of Kelly and Craig remaining, so they still could win the trade over the long haul. Further, unless the development of young starter Marco Gonzales stalls, the Cards could let Lackey walk this fall.

But in the here and now, in this series of moves in which the two clubs intersected, St. Louis pushed all the right buttons. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, last-place Boston struggled into Friday with a 32-42 mark, while St. Louis has logged MLB’s best record at 48-24.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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