Cardinals trade Kelly, Craig to Red Sox for RHP Lackey

ST. LOUIS — Entering 2014, the Cardinals pinned a lot of hope on their young starting pitchers. Besides 32-year-old ace Adam Wainwright, their Opening Day rotation included pitchers who then were 22, 23, 25 and 26.

As talented as are the young arms, their performance did not live up to their stuff.

After trading with the Red Sox for 13-year veteran John Lackey and the Indians for 29-year-old Justin Masterson, the Cardinals won’t have to rely so much on youth.

The cost for Lackey on Thursday morning was expensive. The Cardinals sent to Boston one of the young starters, now 26-year-old Joe Kelly, as well as outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig. Though Craig has struggled all season, he was considered one of the NL’s top run producers just five months ago. The Cardinals also received 22-year-old lefty Corey Littrell, a fifth-round pick in 2013, and cash considerations, the club said in a news release.

Unlike Masterson, who is due to become a free agent, Lackey should be in St. Louis for next season as well as this one. His five-year, $85 million contract includes an unusual team option that is due to pay him the minimum salary in 2015 (a little more than $500,000). Lackey informed the Cardinals that he plans to honor his contract, according to a report by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. If he decides not to honor the contract, his option would be to retire.

Even at 35, Lackey is pitching better than he has since 2010, his first year with the Red Sox. He pitched with a sore arm in 2011, missed 2012 because of Tommy John surgery and enjoyed a strong comeback in 2013 by working 189 innings in 29 starts with a 3.52 ERA. His season culminated with a 6-1 victory over the Cardinals in the decisive Game 6 of the World Series.

Lackey has continued to impress this season, with a 3.60 ERA in 21 starts and 11-7 record for the last-place Red Sox.


"His arm has bounced back," a scout said Thursday morning. "He’s got an average fastball and a very good curve. He’s around the plate and a tremendous competitor. I see him as a good addition, a solid No. 4 starter."

The scout added that Lackey’s stuff isn’t quite as good as it was when he was with the Angels, but his experience makes him a more reliable starter than Kelly. Considering both will be making about the same money, the Cardinals should be better off with Lackey than Kelly for at least another year.

The departure of Craig should open right field for Oscar Taveras to play on a regular basis.

Masterson has not enjoyed as much success as Lackey this season but enjoyed an even better season than Lackey in 2013. Masterson went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA last year and is 4-6 with a 5.51 ERA in 2014. The right-hander will come off the disabled list (knee) to make his St. Louis debut on Saturday against the Brewers.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.