Home Baseball Mozeliak’s moves take center stage this weekend

Mozeliak’s moves take center stage this weekend

by Tim Kaiser

John Mozeliak’s trade deadline acquisitions, Justin Masterson and John Lackey, will both take the mound this weekend against the division-leading Brewers.  The Cardinals will look to rebound from a poor outing from Wainwright in the first game of the series last night. The Cards are now three games back of Milwaukee and fell into third, a half game behind Pittsburgh.

This very situation motivated Mozeliak to go get starting pitching at the trade deadline. Wainwright and Lynn have been the only two pitchers to put up consistent innings for most of the year.  The Cards are 15th in the majors in quality starts and 10th in the NL in starters’ innings pitched. Post All-Star break, the Cardinal pitching staff has posted a 4.11 ERA.  A bad start from Wainwright or Lynn puts even more pressure on a bullpen already working overtime to cover the lack of innings from the stopgaps at the back end of the rotation.

Masterson will make his Cardinal debut tonight when he faces former Cardinal Kyle Lohse. This will be Masterson’s first start since July 7, when he surrendered 5 earned in just two innings and subsequently went on the DL with a sore knee.  For the season, the 29-year-old righty is 4-6 with a 5.51 ERA and an 8.5 K/9. Masterson has only gotten out of the sixth inning twice in the last 10 starts. The last time he completed the seventh inning was June 19.

While his numbers for this season are pretty abysmal, aside from the strikeout rate, the combination of the DL stint and a switch to the Cards should improve things. Much of Masterson’s struggles this season have been attributed to his knee. He only has posted a quality start in 37% of his outings. In 2013, he was at a 67% rate. His walk rate is 5.1 BB/9 this season up approximately 1.5 walks. The hope is that the rested knee will make his numbers move back towards his norms.

Masterson, who is a sinkerball pitcher, is having his best year of his career when it comes to ground ball rate at 61%. A higher ground ball rate generally means a lower BABIP, but Masterson holds a .350 BABIP (the average range is .290-.320 or approximately 30%).  BABIP is primarily determined by ground ball rate, defense, and luck.  He already has the GB%, but he is going to like the defense much more in St. Louis. The Indians rank dead last in the league in Defensive Runs Saved at -68. The Cardinals, meanwhile, lead the league with 57. Masterson’s FIP, 4.08 (Career ERA is 4.16), also indicates the improved defense will greatly help his numbers.

In exchange, the Indians received minor league outfielder James Ramsey. The Cards drafted Ramsey in the first round of the 2012 draft. Ramsey has shown the ability to hit for both average and power, as well as play a solid center field. Ramsey is now playing for AAA Columbus and is the fifth-ranked prospect in the Indians system according to MLB.com, but for St. Louis, he was stuck in AA because of the plethora of talented outfielders, such as Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, in the Cardinal organization.

Sunday afternoon, John Lackey will close out the series with a duel with fellow AL East vet, Matt Garza. Lackey is 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA on the year. Lackey is another potential innings-eater for the Cards as he has posted quality starts in 71% of his starts, but he also comes with a few unique traits. First, he is a primetime performer. He has a 3.03 ERA in 16 playoff games. More impressively, he has pitched and won two World Series clinching games, including Game 6 last year.  Although one might be wary of trading for a 35-year-old pitcher two years removed from Tommy John, Lackey’s contract greatly reduces the risk. Lackey is scheduled to make just $500,000 next year.  Fans were worried he would simply hold out or retire next year rather than play for far below the market value, but Lackey has said he plans to honor the contract.

The Cardinals sent fan favorites Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to the Red Sox in exchange. Neither is a huge loss as far as on-the-field is concerned. Craig has been a shell of himself this season. After hitting .300 the last three seasons, Craig is hitting just .237. When Craig was traded, he was in the middle of a 0-13 slump.  Many experts point to his foot injury last postseason that he rushed back from as the cause of his struggles this season. Mozeliak obviously felt Craig would not live up to the $26.5 million he is still guaranteed. However, a change of scenery might be just what Craig needs. He broke the slump with a double in his second at bat in Boston.

Joe Kelly has also struggled. After missing almost two months with a hamstring injury, he has struggled to find consistency. The Cardinal’s farm system loaded with talented outfielders and young pitching made both Kelly and Craig dispensable.

The byproduct of dealing Craig is the payoff to the #FreeTaveras movement.  Mozeliak said repeatedly that Taveras needed playing time, but Matheny seemed unwilling to fully commit to the rookie outfielder. Taveras didn’t exactly take the job away with his play, as he has hit just .214. However, with the pressure a rookie already feels, putting him in a situation where he feels he is playing for his job every night might have been too much for him. Since the ghost looking over his shoulder has left, Taveras hit a  home run Thursday, his first since his very first big league at bat back in May and his first extra-base hit since June 4, and Friday added a double to the box score.

The Cardinals’ most recent roster move saw Shane Robinson promoted from AAA while Carlos Martinez was sent back down. Robinson is the perfect outfielder to bring up because he won’t apply any pressure to Taveras. Martinez needs the work and this way he gets consistent work and time to figure things out before he comes back up as a reliever in September for the playoffs.

None of these moves is as franchise altering as getting someone like David Price*, but they do tell you a lot about the mindset of Mozeliak and the Cardinal front office.  First, it sends a clear message that they are confident in the lineup they have, specifically Oscar Taveras. This is a team ranked 29th in runs scored and yet did not trade for a bat, instead traded one of their best offensive players of the last five years.  Mozeliak will have a pretty clear idea of whether he was right to put this much trust in Taveras by the end of the season. Second, Mozeliak is REALLY good at this. He somehow simultaneously played for today while not mortgaging the future. I don’t think this rotation is good enough to beat the Dodgers, A’s, or Tigers in a seven-game series, but if the offense performs at all they should be able to make it into the playoffs yet again.

As for the story line of whether Matheny and Mozeliak were warring over Allen Craig, I take them at their word that they disagreed, but it has been blow out of proportion. People like the scene from “Moneyball” where Brad Pitt aka Billy Beane tells Phillip Seymour Hoffman aka Art Howe that he can’t start Pena because he traded him, but like in Oakland the reality is a lot less dramatic. Beane and Howe never were actually that combative with each other and Mozeliak and Matheny aren’t either.

 

*Side Note: To those saying “why didn’t the Cardinals get Price if that was it would take?”: Price was only available at that price because the Cardinals and others made moves on pitchers earlier in the day. The demand for Price went down, and the Rays panicked and wanted to move him. To be fair Smyly and Franklin are good players just not Taveras/ Martinez good.

(Photo Credit:Matt York/ AP)

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Follow me on Twitter, @TimJKaiser

 

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