St. Louis Cardinals Trade Retrospective: Allen Craig and Joe Kelly
Six years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals shook up their roster in a big way by trading away Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. Let’s revisit that trade and see what it looks like now.
Every once in a while, there are baseball trades that are truly shocking. Sometimes they aren’t even blockbusters, but they still can come out of left field. In 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals shocked a lot of fans when they traded away Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.
If you’ll remember, Craig broke into the league in 2010 at the age of 25 after being a mid-teir prospect his whole minor league career. From there, he helped in a huge way during the 2011 World Series run, putting up a wRC+ of 154 on the year over just 219 at-bats.
After catching the final out of the World Series, it seemed Craig was going to be a fixture in the middle of the lineup for years. In 2012, the Cardinals (as a team), were deadly with RISP. They hit .264 as a team, but Craig specifically led the way with a .400 batting average and a 1.130 OPS with RISP over 149 plate appearances. That is not a small sample, he was just deadly.
Skipping to 2014, Craig had kept up his star-level batting with three consecutive years of at least a 134 wRC+.
Kelly always had an 80-grade personality, but he was no slouch on the field either. Spending most of his time as a reliever, his best season was 2013 where the righty had a 2.69 ERA over 124.0 innings of starting and relieving.
He was a big part of the bullpen and a big part of the heart and soul of the team.
At the All-Star break in 2014, the Cardinals were hovering near first place with a 52-44 record. However, John Mozeliak seemed to think everyone was getting a little too comfortable. He pulled the trigger on a four-player deal with Boston.
Lackey was the big name coming back, but it took a lot to get the Red Sox number two starter.
In Lackey, the Cardinals were getting a very seasoned veteran who had a lot of bite and edge on the mound. This was apparently something that Mo thought the Cards were missing.
It was a shocking deal, but in hindsight, it worked out okay for both sides.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch broke the deal down well in 2017 with this article, but both teams got good value from the players they recieved.
From Lackey, the Cardinals got 10 starts down the stretch of 2014 and with his help, they made it to the NLCS in 2014 before they were dispatched by Travis Ishikawa and the Giants. From there, the team got a great year from Lackey in 2015. Over 33 starts, Lackey had a 2.77 ERA and ate 218.0 innings at the age of 36. Lackey then jumped ship and joined the Chicago Cubs were he pitched the final two years of his career.
Littrell pitched in the Cards minor leagues until 2018 when he was released by the team. He never made it higher than AAA.
On the Red Sox side, Joe Kelly ended up being the better catch than Allen Craig. After struggling to find consistent success after two years of starting for the Sox, Kelly transitioned to the bullpen full time where he flourished.
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Between 2017 and 2018, Kelly pitched in a combined 127 games with a 3.64 ERA. his 124 ERA+ over that time was great to see and he played a huge part in the team’s deep postseason runs both of those years.
Now, Kelly is a reliever for the Dodgers, still just 31 years old.
Back to Craig, he was never the same after leaving the Cardinals. In the second half of the 2014 season, he hit just .128 with a .425 OPS with Boston. From there, he had just a 22 wRC+ in 2015 over 36 games with the Red Sox before he played his final game in the MLB on October 4th, 2015.
Whether it was due to injury or lack of performance, Craig never cracked the MLB again. After playing at AAA for Boston until 2017, Craig moved to the Padres minor leagues for 2018 before finally retiring.
Craig was born in Temecula, California which is just about an hour away from San Diego. After finally retiring after the 2018 season, Craig joined the Padres front office staff. Craig finished his career with a .341 batting average and a .953 OPS with runners in scoring position, but he could never find his skill again that he had when he was on the Cardinals.
It’s great to see him find a spot somewhere that he can be utilized, but overall it’s tough to see Craig’s career as anything more than what it could’ve been.
In all, this trade from 2014 shook up the landscape of the mid-2000s Cardinals teams and really brought in a new culture to the clubhouse. Lackey left his mark on the team with his bulldog mentality, but it’s always fun to look back and retrace the trade trees of the past. In all, it was a fairly even trade given what each team got from it.