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Numbers Game: Cardinals get Lackey, Masterson

Scott Cullen
7/31/2014 4:22:38 PM
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The St. Louis Cardinals added two starting pitchers in the last two days, bringing in John Lackey and Justin Masterson.

Numbers Game looks at two trades that improve the Cardinals' chances of returning to the postseason for the fourth straight season.

The Cardinals Get: RHP John Lackey and RHP Justin Masterson.

Lackey, 35, has been a solid starter for the Red Sox, particularly in the past two seasons since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. After a year off for recovery, Lackey has gone 21-20 with a 3.55 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 50 starts. Not dominant, but good enough to rank 24th among starting pitchers in Fan Graphs WAR over the past two seasons and rank 49th among starting pitchers in the TSN.ca Player Rankings this year.

He's relying more on his fastball, throwing it 65.6% of the time, his highest percentage since 2003, and his average velocity (92.1 MPH) is the best of his career.

The Cardinals add a steady veteran pitcher, with postseason experience (3.03 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 19 postseason appearances), one that can easily fit in the middle of the rotation for a St. Louis team that, one game out of a wild card spot, justifiably has playoff aspirations.

While those numbers paint a picture of a nice addition to the Cardinals' rotation, there is a definite cherry on top of the sundae and that is that Lackey's contract. While it pays him $15.25-million this year, there is a 2015 club option at league minimum salary because Lackey missed the entire 2012 season (a clause in the contract acknowledging Lackey's previous elbow troubles). Provided that Lackey still intends to pitch next season, he would provide exceptional value to the Cardinals.

Masterson is a 29-year-old who has had some good seasons with the Indians, but is undeniably struggling this year, posting a career-worst 5.51 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 19 starts. He's recently spent time on the DL with a knee injury, but Masterson's bigger issue is that he's lost some velocity. In 2011, his fastball was clocked, on average, at 92.7 MPH. This year, it's down to 89.1 MPH, and for a guy who throws such a high percentage of fastballs, that's a killer.

According to Fan Graphs, Masterson's fastball has been the least effective in the majors this season. He has been somewhat unlucky with a career-worst .350 batting average on balls in play, but some of that is simply a reflection of Masterson getting hit hard this season.

However, if Masterson fills the fifth spot in the Cardinals' rotation --behind Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Lackey and Shelby Miller -- then that's an adequate contribution for the last couple months of this season. He would have to dramatically improve his performance to qualify as a starter for the postseason, but he may be a viable bullpen arm to face right-handed hitters (getting rocked to the tune of a .935 OPS by left-handed batters this season).

Earning $9.7625-million this season, Masterson will be eligible for arbitration at season's end and can be a free agent after the 2015 season. This is an opportunity for the Cardinals to buy low and see if they can get Masterson back on track, while hopefully helping their chances to get into the playoffs this season.

The Red Sox Get: RHP Joe Kelly and RF/1B Allen Craig.

A 26-year-old righthander, Kelly has made 38 starts (and 30 relief appearances) for the Cardinals over the past three seasons. As a starter, he's 15-11, with a 3.25 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, with 130 strikeouts in 213 1/3 IP. His ERA is the same, but Kelly's strikeout rate is dramatically higher coming out of the bullpen (49 K in 52 2/3 IP).

Kelly throws hard (average fastball speed of 94.7 MPH) and has cut back on his ineffective slider, having more success in this season's small sample, with his curve ball. He should have a great opportunity to start regularly in Boston over the next couple months, in an effort to establish that he can be a rotation regular next season.

This early in his career, Kelly is an inexpensive option, making $523,000 this year, and not arbitration eligible until 2016 at the earliest.

Craig is a 30-year-old who was a productive hitter before suffering a foot injury last season. He still has an .803 OPS for his career, but has struggled this year, posting seven homers and a .237 batting average, with a .638 OPS.

There has to be some expectation on the Red Sox part that they can get Craig back on track. He simply hasn't made as much solid contact this season, with a career-high 56.5% groundball rate. Presuming that Craig can get healthy and bounce back to his previous levels, he's a potential middle of the order bat for the Red Sox who is signed through 2017. Craig is making $2.75-million this year and his contract will pay $26.5-million over the next three seasons, with a club option for 2018.

Craig should get a look in left field with the Red Sox, effectively taking over for Jonny Gomes, who was traded to Oakland earlier in the day. Of Craig's 117 career starts in the outfield, 35 have been in left.

With Craig leaving St. Louis, that leaves an everyday job for top Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras. The 22-year-old has struggled (hitting .208 with a .508 OPS in 32 games) this season, but he's the top prospect in the organization, so he'll get a crack at the everyday job. If he can't hack it, Jon Jay can handle right field for the Cardinals, with Peter Bourjos in centre, if need be.

Lackey's contract situation obviously helped the Red Sox secure real value in return and they got two pieces that could be part of a contending club in 2015.

The Indians Get: OF James Ramsey.

A first-round pick by the Cardinals in 2012, 24-year-old James Ramsey is an outfielder that is having a pretty strong showing at Double-A, hitting 13 home runs, and hitting .300 with a .916 OPS in 67 games. Ranked by Baseball America as the Cardinals' No. 8 prospect in the offseason, Ramsey is likely not too far away from getting his shot in the big leagues.

Considering how the season was going for Masterson, that's not a bad move for the Tribe. They get a prospect who will have a chance to play in their outfield in the not-too-distant future, and they can keep young righthanders Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar in the rotation for the rest of the season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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