July 31, 2014
Cardinals Trade from the Depths
Note: The Red Sox portion of this transaction analysis will run separately on the site today.
The Cardinals have traded quantity for quality. Given how cheap John Lackey will be next year, you could also say that the Cardinals have traded quantity for value. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly are useful baseball players, but for the Cardinals they are no more than a collection of redundant talent (depth if you are want call it so) and four first names. Had Kelly not been a part of this deal, he would be the starter pushed out of the rotation by Lackey’s arrival. A sixth starter is valuable, but a sixth starter that is not definitively better than your seventh, eighth, and ninth starters (Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, and Marco Gonzalez presumably) is not as valuable. Combine this with the fact that Michael Wacha is due back in September, and you understand that Joe Kelly the Cardinal was very expendable.
Craig has in the relatively recent past been more notable than Joe Kelly ever was (posting WARPs of 2.3, 1.7, and 2.3 in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively), but he has been terrible this year. Moreover, Craig’s playing time will be replaced by much heralded prospect Oscar Taveras. Taveras has also been terrible in a sporadic, 101 plate appearances this year, but that might be due more to the "sporadic" than any inherent "terrible." The Cardinals certainly think so—if Taveras doesn't turn things around, St. Louis knows it will have either the non-corner bat of Jon Jay or the non-corner bat of Peter Bourjos in a corner. That said, the Cardinals were not getting average production from their Craig-Taveras time share either. Instead of trading assets for a more productive bat, they removed one obstacle that might have been blocking a Taveras flourish.
Finally, on to what the Cardinals’ depth yielded: Lackey. In short, Lackey has been good since the start of 2013; striking out 272, walking only 72, and compiling 4.1 WARP in 327 innings, plus a sterling 2013 postseason. Along with Justin Masterson, Lackey eases the Cardinals' reliance on Shelby Miller (curiously bad) and Michael Wacha (scarily infirm). With the unusual $500,000 injury-triggered option for 2015, he's more than a rental—assuming, of course, Lackey consents to honor that contract without much fuss. In the event of fuss, the Cardinals will either have the luxury of trading him to a large market (any team can afford him), having substantial negotiating leverage with him, or telling him, “tough luck, kid. You signed up for this.” All three of those outcomes should play out as net gains for St. Louis. —Jeff Quinton
Not to be confused with famous clothing designer Gordon Gartrell, Corey Littrell is a reasonably polished lefty with a deep arsenal and solid pitchability. Working mostly off an upper-80s/low-90s fastball, the former fifth round pick in the 2013 draft can throw strikes and use his secondary arsenal to keep hitters off balance. Along with the standard fare of curveball and change, Littrell can show a solid mid-80s cutter to slip the ball off the meat of the barrel. The ceiling isn’t crazy here, but the floor is higher than most High-A arms, as the 22-year-old profiles as a back-of-the-rotation arm with a bullpen reality if the arsenal doesn’t pack enough punch multiple times through an order. Not a bad throw-in player in the deal, especially given his risk factor and overall feel for pitching. —Jason Parks
Lackey was already having a fine year, but he gets an instant fantasy upgrade with the switch to the National League and the advantage of facing the opposing pitcher one or two times per game. Lackey’s already solid whiff rate should take a pretty healthy jump in the Senior Circuit. Lackey was already start-worthy in all formats; now he gets a moderate spike in value with the move to a team that gives him a better chance at wins and a park that improves his overall ERA/WHIP outlook.
This wasn’t a secret, but the Cardinals worries about Wacha manifested themselves in two starting pitcher acquisitions at the deadline. Wacha will not return until September, and there is a good chance he will not start again in 2014. In standard, non-keeper mixed leagues, Wacha is droppable.
With Allen Craig out of the picture, Taveras should be freed up to see regular at-bats down the stretch for St. Louis. There are obviously no guarantees, but the talent is definitely there for a 15 HR, .270 batting average pace the rest of the way. In 14-team or deeper mixed leagues where he was dropped, Taveras should be added back again. Standard mixed league owners might want to stash him on reserve first prior to adding him to the active roster. This advice is immaterial in keeper leagues; no fantasy player in his right mind would have dropped Taveras there. —Mike Gianella
Jeff Quinton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jjq01