Every year, on August 1st, Cardinals fans learn to appreciate John Mozeliak a little more. He makes trades that have meaning and carry long term reward. Sometimes they are quiet, like Edward Mujica in 2012. Sometimes, they are loud, like Matt Holliday in 2009. Every year, Mozeliak takes off the bowtie, grows some scruff, and buries his feet in the ground and makes his smart phone get very very hot. Where would general managers be without power sources these days to plug their tablets into when the battery reached zero. This time of year brings out the best in our GM. I have met him twice, seen him work and can appreciate his work more so today.
On the surface level, two fan favorites left Thursday. Allen Craig was a reliable RBI machine who gutted out 6 hits in the World Series last year, scoring on that memorable interference call that seemed to spin the World Series temporarily in the Cardinals favor. After a rough April, Craig tore up the baseball in May. Suddenly, Craig lost his swing. He swung late. He couldn’t hammer fastballs right over the plate. Slowly and painfully, from May 28th to July 29th, Allen Craig came undone. He got inside his own head. He made mistakes. He was relegated to the bench. The media came running for him(yours truly included) and fans were divided on his use. Allen Craig will serve as a lesson to all baseball players and fans. While your past exploits are great, it’s your future that counts. Craig was productive but then lost nearly everything. His 25 million dollar contract is headed to Boston. Craig is 30 years old and there’s no guarantee his once prominent bat returns in full form.
Joe Kelly also heads to Boston and here is why. If Boston was going to give up a pitcher in John Lackey(with a ridiculously low $500,000 option for 2015), they wanted something other than an ailing hitter. If Boston was going to eat Craig’s contract, they wanted another piece. Kelly is the other piece and takes his talents to Fenway. He is a 26 year old developing pitcher who has put together two excellent second half surges for the Cardinals. Will he continue that in Boston? It’s yet to be seen. He will be a starter. Since the Red Sox traded away three starters this week, Kelly instantly becomes a fixture in the rotation there for years to come. He is under control until 2019. I can’t tell you if he will do well but he will get the opportunity.
This was a wake up move by Mo. As Bernie Miklasz wrote last night, this was the final push in a series of moves to change the identity of a seemingly complacent buddy go happy clubhouse. A.J. Pierzynski was the first entry in the bad boy recall. Lackey is a hard nosed give the ball and get off my mound style starter who isn’t here to make friends or put on face masks. He is all business and together with A.J. and Justin Masterson, the clubhouse will take on a new form of urgency. As Shelby Miller told the media after his 6 inning performance yesterday, this move is an alarm to him. In my mind, Miller was right there on the trade block with Kelly. This time next year, Miller may find himself there if he doesn’t take progressive steps in his career.
This is also a way for Oscar Taveras to get a decent amount of playing time in right field. Mike Matheny wasn’t going to sit Allen Craig down for long if he was on the 25 man roster. Something had to be done. Mozeliak made a move that frees up the young guns to get considerable playing time and that includes Stephen Piscotty. Taveras wasn’t getting 3 starts in a row. He was getting 1 or 2. Now, he can get hopefully 6-8 straight starts and tell the club where his ability is at. His two run home run on Thursday was a good start.
The biggest hangup from local fans was the fact that Mozeliak didn’t acquire any offense in the trade and I will tell you it wasn’t going to be that easy. Where would you put an incoming bat? Something had to be moved. Bourjos, Jay, Holliday, Taveras and Craig patrolled the outfield. The infield was set and playing very well defensively. There is an open spot on the roster right now so Mo can make another waiver deal(Marlon Byrd?) but I firmly believe he wants players like Taveras, Holliday, Peralta and Adams to lead that power surge. He is trusting the men on his roster. Pitching wins championships and the Cards have five durable and strong starters with a chance of acquiring another in Wacha in a month.
Right off the jump, each team will get a taste of the worth of the deal. Kelly and Lackey will duel on Tuesday at Busch Stadium. Allen Craig will be in the lineup as will Taveras. Selected tickets were 9 dollars before the move yesterday and you can count on a packed crowd.
Every year, on July 31st, fans find out how hard the game can be. When players perform well for your team, there is an attachment built between the two of you. Its hard to break, even when the player struggles. You try to defend and protect a person you don’t know personally but one that has touched your life. Kelly and Craig are firm reminders that baseball is a cynical business at the core of its value. Things happen. Players move on. New ones come in. The jersey stitching specialist stays busy in the process.
Know this. Mozeliak is making the moves that not only set up the team for a strong playoff push but for a strong future. He’s been doing it for years and his latest moves prove that he isn’t afraid to rock the boat to help it reach the right destination.
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