John Mozeliak sent a loud wake-up call to his club Thursday afternoon. His message was clear; his team was underperforming, and the current trend could not continue.
Change was in order.
Mere hours before the non-waiver trade deadline expired, the Cardinals general manager broke up a once tight-knit clubhouse by dealing veteran outfielder Allen Craig and starting pitcher Joe Kelly to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for John Lackey.
The deal was announced shortly before the Cardinals took the field against the Padres for the finale of a three-game series.
Like it or not, Mozeliak came out on top during this year’s player-swapping extravaganza, which is why the GM gets an “A.”
When Mozeliak prioritized his needs, starting pitching took precedent over everything else, including offense. A day before the deadline, Mozeliak acquired Cleveland righty Justin Masterson in exchange for outfield prospect James Ramsey.
This move addressed two problems: a clustered outfield and the rotation. The Cardinals did Ramsey a favor by allowing him to further his career. Despite being ranked high in the organization, Ramsey was still in Double-A Springfield, due to the overly crowded outfield at the Triple-A and major league levels.
With Masterson, the Cardinals get an established veteran pitcher to accommodate Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn. Masterson has been on the disabled list since July 8 with a knee injury, but he’ll start Saturday against division-leader Milwaukee. At 29 years old, Masterson will help shore up the backend of the rotation, steal some wins in the final two months of the regular season and keep the bullpen fresh.
The right-hander has emerged as a reliable starter over the last three seasons with a record of 41-41 and a 4.08 ERA.
In acquiring Lackey, the Cardinals receive a workhorse. Lackey, 35, is a proven winner. He got the win in Game 6 of last year’s World Series against the Cardinals. Moreover, Lackey won’t be a rental, and the Cardinals will exercise his option for next season at $500,000.
Along with Lackey, the Cardinals received more than $1.5 million in cash and minor league left-hander Corey Littrell.
Was the trade worth it? Absolutely.
I’m sure many fans have questioned this trade, considering the Cardinals gave up a so-called cornerstone player and a promising young pitcher.
However, I don’t label Craig as a cornerstone for the future of this team. Yes, he had three good seasons here. His most impressive one was last year when he posted a .315 average and a .373 on-base percentage in just 134 games. He led the league with an absurd .454 average with runners in scoring position.
By the same token, this season has been a nightmare for Craig, who hit .237. He never found his groove at the plate, never looked comfortable and became an easy out for opposing pitchers.
Mozeliak didn’t pull a fast one on Craig. He waited and waited and waited for Craig to get out of his funk. So too did manager Mike Matheny, who kept Craig in the lineup on a consistent basis until there was no realistic alternative.
Craig wasn’t going to play first base with Matt Adams hitting as well as has been. Moreover, Craig was platooning in the outfield with rookie Oscar Taveras, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos.
With Craig gone, Taveras will be cemented in the lineup for years to come.
The other part of the trade was Kelly, a talented starter in the early stages of his career. Kelly was a classy guy, a competitor and a good pitcher. But Mozeliak deemed Kelly expendable.
The Cardinals weren’t going to part ways with Shelby Miller or any of their other top pitching prospects because it’s too early to forecast what they will become.
The Lackey trade outrages many fans. The Masterson deal puzzles more. But these two pitchers have a combined 206 wins, the same number as the entire Cardinals’ Opening Day rotation prior to Thursday’s 6-2 win over the Padres.
Mozeliak has flexed his muscles. His message is clear. He wants to win now. His work is done. It’s up to the players now.