Trade Scripts: Lackey, Craig & Average Joe Kelly

We saw one of the busiest trade deadlines in recent history yesterday. The most active team, by far, was the Boston Red Sox. Mike Napoli agreed, saying “I feel like I got traded and I stayed here.” With an almost complete overhaul of their starting rotation, Boston was able to shakeup their roster and acquire some much needed offensive thump. The biggest deal they made was sending soon-to-be free agent Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to Oakland for power-hitting Yoenis Cespedes. While that trade got much of the media coverage, the Red Sox and Cardinals quietly agreed upon a swap that sent underrated starter John Lackey to St. Louis in return for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. The trade has some major fantasy implications, let’s dig in.

John Lackey’s new situation: What made lackey so attractive to pitching-needy clubs was his 2015 half-million dollar club option that kicked in after had Tommy John reconstructive surgery in 2012. Earlier this season, there was some speculation that instead of pitching for the discount that Lackey would in fact retire prior to the 2015 season if the Red Sox didn’t restructure his contract. However, prior to the Cardinals and Red Sox setting the trade in stone, Lackey reportedly assured St. Louis management that he would honor his deal. Over the course of the past two seasons, Lackey has been the model of consistency and has really recovered from his poor 2010 and 2011 seasons. Since the beginning of 2013, he has a 3.57 ERA and 1.20 WHIP across 326 innings. The 277 punchouts aren’t anything to sneeze at, either.

Lackey now finds himself in the best situation of his career. Finally away from the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, the former Angel should enjoy the spacious venue that is Busch Stadium. Lackey, now 35, will slot in behind Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn in the Cardinal rotation and should make his debut Sunday against the Brewers. It was interesting to see the Cardinals brass go after Lackey after acquiring Justin Masterson a day prior, although it was not shocking considering that they are still awaiting another round of test results on injured pitcher Michael Wacha. Wacha, who last pitched on June 17, has been on the shelf because of a shoulder injury and isn’t expected back until early September at the earliest.

If Lackey wasn’t matchup-proof already, he is now. Gamers who use his services should feel confident in starting him in the vast majority of his outings. Fantasy owners will likely see a small but noticeable uptick in strikeouts along with a slightly improved ERA and WHIP in the weeks ahead. Lackey is a top 40 arm for me over the season’s final two months. Although he loves his fried chicken, beer and video games, Boston will miss him.

A fairwell tribute:

Did the Cardinals give up on Allen Craig too soon? It’s my opinion that they did. However, playing time became an issue for Craig with super-prospect Oscar Taveras eating into some of his outfield reps and the power hitting Matt Adams taking over full time first base duties. Remember, Craig is not far removed from a .315, 97 RBI season for the Cards in 2013. In 2012, he slugged 22 homers and drove in 92. He has been bothered all season by a lisfranc foot injury, which can be very painful and likely has a lot to do with his poor offensive showing to date.

Craig’s .237/.291/.346 slash line can be explained by a bad approach at the plate. Injury related or not, he’s hitting groundballs at an alarming rate while his line drive and fly ball rates have dipped considerably. Good luck hitting homers when you are grounding out to short, bro! It will be interesting to see whether or not Craig can take advantage of Fenway’s Green Monster like so many right-handed hitters have done before him. It is likely that Craig will see near everyday at bats for his new team, quelling worries within his own mind whether he will be in the lineup or riding the pine on any given day.

Since Craig is a mediocre defender and not fleet of foot, he will likely spend the majority of his time in left field for the Sox moving forward. Remember, that 39 foot wall in left made Manny Ramirez look like a Gold Glove winner, and he is not what we would describe as a defensive stalwart. Craig will also see some time at first base and in right field, although Yoenis Cespedes is expected to take on that role full time when he finally gets into the lineup. St. Louis didn’t have anywhere to hide Craig’s poor defense and given his struggles at the dish this season, the Cardinals felt he was expendable.

While Craig should be a fixture in the middle of an improving Boston lineup for the remainder of 2014, it will be important to gauge whether he can recapture the success he showed over the past two seasons. Without Matt Adams or Oscar Taveras breathing down his back, he has the chance to prove to fantasy owners that he can once again be an asset. I wouldn’t trample over your leaguemates to add Craig at this moment, but AL-only gamers need to open up their FAAB wallets and drop in a claim. It’s unlikely that Craig’s issues at the plate this season are ballpark related, so it remains to be seen how he adapts to his new digs.

Oscar Taveras has a path to full playing time! Yes, finally! This may be the most important consequence of the trade to fantasy owners. Entering the season, Taveras was ranked universally as a top-three MLB prospect. The Cardinals took their time in bringing up the young slugger partially due to an ankle injury. With the trade of Allen Craig, the future is now in St. Louis and Taveras is vastly under-owned (ESPN 12.9%, Y! 29%) in fantasy circles. Given his pedigree, that needs to change fast. He needs to be rostered in all 12-team mixers, NL-only leagues and multi-year formats. Oscar is expected to be granted the reigns to right field from here on out, and consistent reps should do wonders for his growth.

Before getting the call, Taveras hit a blistering .318 with 8 long balls and 49 RBI in 239 AB’s, in case, you know, you just got the internet or something. Coincidentally, he went yard the night of the trade for the first time since his debut on May 31. The Cardinals are near the bottom of the leagues in offense, so they will look to Taveras to give them a much needed spark in hopes of winning another division crown.

What will become of Joe Kelly? Kelly is the forgotten man in this swap. He will immediately enter Boston’s starting rotation, which now has a vastly different look. Outside of Kelly, the group consists of Clay Buchholz (ugh, couldn’t they trade him?), Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Brandon Workman. The Sox will be holding an open audition within their starting rotation over the final weeks of the season. Kelly, under team control until 2019, is far from a must-add in fantasy but he could be a matchups play moving forward.

We won’t mistake Kelly for an elite young arm, and long term he probably projects as a bullpen piece. He throws hard (can dial it up to 98) and gets a ton of grounders (he’s posted groundball rates north of 50% in his three big league seasons) but he doesn’t strike many guys out, thus limiting his upside. Think Nathan Eovaldi with less control. His already minimal fantasy value takes a hit with the move to Fenway as well. The Red Sox will probably be thrilled if he turns into a reliable #4 or 5 starter for them in the coming years.

Statistical credits: ESPN.com, Fangraphs.com, Baseballamerica.com

Timothy is a co-owner, head editor and sometimes writer at The Sports script. Follow him on Twitter @TKing978!

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