St. Louis Cardinals Double Down on Youth


The St. Louis Cardinals doubled down on Oscar Taveras when they traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to the Boston Red Sox for veteran starter John Lackey and a minor league pitcher last week. The trade ended the time-share in right field created by the strange and precipitous offensive decline of the Wrench. It allows the Cardinals to start the 22-year-old Taveras on a daily basis, and get younger in the process.

Since the Boston Red Sox decided to retool mid-season, and send away four starting pitchers, they needed a starting arm and got it with the inclusion of Kelly in the deal.  Ironically, Lackey wouldn’t have been enough return for Allen Craig a year ago. The St. Louis Cardinals noticed the discrepancy between Kelly’s high velocity and low strikeout totals and figured he’d already reached his ceiling. So, the Red Sox bought low on two players who made good impressions on them in last fall’s World Series.

A similar argument could be made for the Cardinals–that they coveted a pitcher who performed well against the team last October. The deal makes the pitching staff older, but with the fortuitous situation of Lackey’s contract–$500,000 for 2015–the opportunity to add a solid number two starter was too good to pass up.

Craig’s failure hurt the club badly. The Cardinals counted on him to anchor the middle of the order. Since he got more playing time his groundball and strikeout rates steadily climbed, while his walk and flyball rates sank. Then there’s the inability to pull pitches in the air with authority. Is the foot he injured last September still bothering him? Well, he twisted his ankle on the same foot in his first game in Boston, and hasn’t played since.

Oscar Taveras just turned 22. There’s much documentation testifying to the fact that the earlier a player arrives in the major leagues, the more likely that player will have a long career. The St. Louis Cardinals must hope that they aren’t wrong about Taveras, because his failure to thrive would leave a glaring hole in an outfield that is already near the bottom of most offensive categories.

Another matter that hasn’t been broached: John Lackey may well be Michael Wacha insurance. If Wacha cannot recover, and surmount his stress reaction condition, he won’t be on the club. The rotation in 2015 could be Wainwright, Lackey, Lynn, Miller, and Martinez. (Note Carlos Martinez has been sent down to Memphis to start.)

Finally, majority owner Bill DeWitt, Jr. has not spoken about the trade. One wonders how much frustration with Craig emanated from the owner’s box. With Boston taking on Craig’s contract, and the savings derived from Lackey’s, the Cardinals are positioned to be aggressive in the off-season, would they be so inclined.

The Cardinals now have a 23-year-old second baseman, a 25-year-old first baseman, and a right fielder who was 21 a little more than a month ago. Kolten Wong, Matt Adams, and Oscar Taveras are the new core of the St. Louis Cardinals, for better or worse.