Lackey deal tugs the heartstrings but makes Cardinals a better team
Moving Allen Craig (left) and Joe Kelly (right) for John Lackey (center) was GM John Mozeliak stepping up and saying, 'Hey guys, don't get too comfortable. If you can't do the job, we'll try to find somebody who can.'
USA TODAY Sports/Jeff Curry - Kim Klement - Matt Marton
ST. LOUIS — After the Cardinals’ uninspired 12-1 loss to the Padres on Wednesday night, Jim Edmonds said what anyone watching would have to agree with.
"Somebody in the clubhouse needs to jump up and down and scream. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency," Edmonds said — to paraphrase — on the FOX Sports Midwest postgame show.
Well, somebody sure shook up the club Thursday: General manager John Mozeliak.
Wednesday’s trade for Justin Masterson was a nice little deal to bolster the innings-eating capability of the rotation.
Moving Allen Craig and Joe Kelly for John Lackey on Thursday morning was more, way more.
This was Mozeliak stepping up and saying, "Hey guys, don’t get too comfortable. If you can’t do the job, we’ll try to find somebody who can."
It remains to be seen if that happens, of course. But give Mozeliak credit for acting bold.
With one trade, he injected a sense of urgency — his own, at least — into the team. He also added experience to a rotation that needed it and he cleared out some dead weight in the lineup. He did it all without having to cash in any of the Cardinals’ most prized prospects.
A pretty good day at the trade deadline, if you ask me. And while the club needed offense, don’t fault Mozeliak for not landing a bat. It’s difficult to find offense when none is available.
Sure, Kelly and Craig will be missed. Listening to manager Mike Matheny on KMOX Radio before Thursday’s game, you could tell he was shaken. He talked about the team being a family and how tough it was losing two of the club’s mainstays, both top contributors to last year’s pennant-winning effort. The clubhouse was as somber as it has been all season, FOX Sports Midwest’s Jim Hayes reported early in the telecast of Thursday’s game. It’s tough to say goodbye to friends.
But as Matheny likes to say, "We’re in the winning business." And Mozeliak’s moves the past two days should help that business. Three reasons:
The rotation is much more solid. Since Michael Wacha went out with a shoulder injury in June, the only reliable starters have been Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn. Lackey brings 12 years of experience, a competitive streak as mean as Chris Carpenter’s and an ability to work deeper into games. He has gone at least six innings in 15 of his 21 starts this season, including the past three. Masterson has struggled in part because of a knee injury but is thought to be healthy. Even at less than his best, he throws a heavy sinker that makes hitting less than comfortable against right-handers. His first start is set for Saturday against the first-place Brewers, a team heavy in right-handed hitters.
While Masterson figures to be a rest-of-season rental, Lackey is likely to remain in the rotation through 2015 — at the major-league minimum in 2015 because of an unusual injury-based team option in his contract. Mozeliak said during the FOX Sports Midwest telecast Thursday that Lackey plans to honor his deal and play next season for the major-league minimum.
"For us to do this deal, we wanted him to be a part of our club next year at those dollars," Mozeliak said in the FSMW interview.
The bullpen will benefit, too. Not only should its workload be lessened with the boost to the rotation, one of the starters figures to move to the pen at some point. When Wacha returns — September, the club hopes — there will be a surplus of starters with Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, Masterson and Shelby Miller. Carlos Martinez, don’t forget, already has been moved back to the bullpen.
Oscar Taveras might finally blossom. With the departure of Craig, the rookie right fielder no longer should have to look at the lineup card to see if his name is in there after going 0 for 4. Unless he really hits a tailspin, Taveras figures to play just about every day. In his first at-bat after Craig was traded, he hit his first homer since his first day in the majors. A burden lifted? Who knows, but he sure appeared happier in the dugout.
After moving past the disappointment of losing two valued teammates, the rest of the dugout will, too. After a jolt from their GM, they’re playing for a better team.