Not satisfied with adding Justin Masterson to the rotation yesterday, the Cardinals have added another veteran starter by acquiring John Lackey from the Red Sox. And, much like Boston’s deal to get Yoenis Cespedes from Oakland for Jon Lester, the Red Sox have prioritized the present by getting veterans Allen Craig and Joe Kelly in exchange.
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Not only has Lackey bounced back from a lost 2012 season with two consecutive solid years as a mid-rotation starter in Boston–posting a 3.55 ERA in 50 total starts since last season–he’s under contract for 2015 at the bargain price of $500,000 thanks to an odd wrinkle in his original deal with the Red Sox.
In return the Red Sox get a rotation replacement for Lackey in the 26-year-old Kelly, who has a 3.25 ERA in 38 career starts. However, his modest 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in the National League are reason for skepticism that he’ll thrive long term, especially in the American League.
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Craig had three straight excellent seasons for the Cardinals, hitting a combined .312 with an .863 OPS in 328 games from 2011-2013, but he’s collapsed this year at age 29 with a .638 OPS and has three years and $25 million left on his contract. St. Louis has stud prospect Oscar Taveras ready to replace Craig in the outfield and in the lineup.
Boston is betting on a big bounceback from Craig and Kelly’s ability to step into Lackey’s rotation spot with similar results. St. Louis is betting on Taveras developing into a star, Lackey being better than Kelly for the next one-and-a-half seasons, and Craig staying on the decline heading into his thirties. It’s a helluva interesting deal.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.