July 31, 2014: Cardinals trade Allen Craig, Joe Kelly to acquire John Lackey

Heading into the 2014 trade deadline, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak knew that he needed to shake up his ballclub.

As the defending National League champions prepared to play the final game of a three-game series against the Padres, they sat in third place in the Central Division, 2 ½ games behind the Brewers and half a game behind the second-place Pirates. A day earlier, Mozeliak took his first step toward bolstering a rotation that was missing both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia with shoulder injuries when he traded outfield prospect James Ramsey for righthander Justin Masterson.

That proved to be a precursor to an even bigger deadline deal that sent outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly to the Red Sox for starting pitcher John Lackey, pitching prospect Corey Littrell, and $1.75 million. [1]

“What was the genesis of this deal? Trying to address a top-flight starter and add to the rotation for next year,” Mozeliak said. “We were going to have to do something in the outfield because what was happening now was not sustainable.”[2]

The deal came as a shock to a Cardinals clubhouse that was fond of both Craig and Kelly. Craig had emerged as a key part of the Redbirds’ postseason run to the 2011 World Series championship and both players were part of the 2013 team that won the National League championship before falling to the Red Sox in the World Series. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted unnamed veterans who called the trade “shocking,” a “surprise,” and “a punch to the gut.”[3]

“It’s a tough morning for us, no question,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We ask these guys from day one to buy into the fact that we’re in this thing together. To buy into the culture and everything the organization stands for. To see a few guys who have bought into that packing their stuff up – yeah, there’s a business here, but we’re asking for more than just business. It caught everybody off guard.”[4]

The news was even more surprising to the team due to the manner in which it arrived. Craig was in a room just outside the Petco Park visitors’ clubhouse when a television report about the trade came on. Kelly learned about the deal on Twitter. Other players learned about the trade from reporters or online.

“I don’t think the Cardinals organization had any ill will with that,” Craig said. “Ideally as a player, you don’t want to find out that way but in today’s age, I don’t see how you can keep anything under wraps. That’s not even a big deal in my mind. Information travels.”[5]

With question marks in both the lineup and rotation, Mozeliak chose to pursue a top-of-the-rotation starter. That included talks with Boston about lefthander Jon Lester, but Mozeliak said Boston asked for too steep a price for the pending free agent.[6] The Red Sox traded Lester and Jonny Gomes to the Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick.

The Cardinals also spoke to the Rays about David Price. Again, while the Cardinals had the pieces Tampa Bay was seeking, the Cardinals were unwilling to meet their trade demands. Price went to the Tigers instead as part of a three-team trade that sent Willy Adames, Drew Smyly, and Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay.

“We clearly could have matched up, but we didn’t want to go down that path,” Mozeliak said.[7]

Once the Cardinals made the trade for Masterson, a veteran right-hander who won a career-high 14 games in 2013, Kelly suddenly became an expendable piece to deal for Lackey.

In three years with the Cardinals, Kelly had posted a 17-14 record with a 3.25 ERA. In seven starts in 2014, he was 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA.

“I didn’t know any team wanted me at this point,” Kelly joked.[8]

“In Kelly, we feel like we have a guy who is … a developing, advancing major-league starting pitcher,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. “Certainly not a finished product, but really talented and someone our scouts have liked for a long time. Highly athletic, really good stuff, and someone we feel can quickly develop into a core part of our rotation. He was an important addition as we go into the offseason. We wouldn’t have done the Lackey deal without getting someone like that back.”[9]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Strauss wrote that dealing Kelly made sense for a team that needed a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

“As a No. 5 or even a No. 4 starter, Kelly clicks,” he wrote. “As the No. 3 within a rotation that won’t know about Wacha’s return until mid-September, Kelly didn’t promise enough, especially four starts into his return from a serious hamstring injury. Rather than hope for the best, Mozeliak acted … clinically.”[10]

Less than 17 months earlier, Craig and the Cardinals had agreed to a five-year, $31 million contract extension after Craig hit .307 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs in 2012. The following season, he played in a career-high 134 games, batting .315 with 13 homers and 97 RBIs. That September, however, he suffered Lisfranc injury to his foot that caused him to miss the last 23 games of the regular season as well as the NLDS and NLCS. When he returned for the World Series, he went 6-for-16 (.375) with a double.

Craig’s 2014 season never got off the ground. After batting .220 with March and April, he appeared to recover in May, batting .291 for the month with 19 RBIs. In June, however, he hit .255 with a .311 slugging percentage, and his offense cratered in July, batting just .122 in 54 plate appearances.

“At some point what was happening in the outfield was going to have to be dealt with,” Mozeliak said. “When you look at the depth we’ve been building at the outfield position, trying to create opportunity in the short term is important.”[11]

That depth included highly touted prospect Oscar Taveras. Craig’s move to Boston essentially opened right field for Taveras.

“He’s going to get an opportunity,” Matheny said.[12]

Most importantly, the trade gave the Cardinals a dependable starting pitcher who had collected double-digit wins in every season since his rookie year, when he won nine as a 23-year-old. In eight years with the Angels, Lackey was 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA, including an all-star-season in 2007 in which he went 19-9 and led the American League with a 3.01 ERA.

In four seasons with the Red Sox, Lackey had gone 47-43 with a 4.46 ERA, and he was 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA at the time of the trade.

“He brings a presence, first of all,” said Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who played alongside Lackey in Boston. “Second off, he brings competitiveness. He wants the ball. He doesn’t want to ever give up the ball. He’s won big games wherever he’s been. He’s got two rings and I know … that he’s looking for a third.”[13]

In 2012, Lackey suffered an elbow injury that kept him out the entire season, triggering a team option in his contract for 2015 that would pay him just over $500,000. Before finalizing the trade, the Cardinals confirmed with Lackey’s agent that the pitcher intended to play the 2015 campaign.[14]

“That’s a guy who’s been around a lot and helped two teams with a World Series and was the deciding game-winner in both of those World Series, and something like that doesn’t come around that often,” Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz said.[15]

Lackey made 10 starts down the stretch for the Cardinals, going 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA. In Game 3 of the NLDS, he held the Dodgers to one run over seven innings, striking out eight batters en route to a 3-1 win. He took the loss in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Giants, allowing four runs in six innings.

In 2015, Lackey enjoyed arguably his best season since 2007, going 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA. He placed ninth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, then won Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cubs, holding Chicago scoreless over 7 1/3 innings.

In Game 4, however, he allowed four earned runs over three innings and took the loss as the Cubs clinched the series. It proved to be Lackey’s final start with the Cardinals, as he signed a free-agent deal with the Cubs after the season.

Meanwhile, Craig never regained his swing in Boston. He hit just .128 the rest of the 2014 season and was batting.135 in 2015 before he was demoted to Triple-A. After making a brief return to the majors as a September call-up, Craig spent the rest of his career in the minors.

The Red Sox released him on June 30, 2017, and the following winter he signed with the Padres on a minor-league deal. Craig showed a glimpse of his previous form with Triple-A El Paso in 2018, batting .293 with 13 homers and 59 RBIs in 363 plate appearances, but the Padres released him the following March. That April, he accepted a job with the Padres as an advisor to baseball operations.

In six major-league seasons, Craig hit .291/.343/.460 with 57 homers and 291 RBIs.

In 2014 and 2015, Kelly started 35 games for the Red Sox, going 14-8. In 2016, Boston moved Kelly to the bullpen, where he found his niche and posted a 2.79 ERA in 2017. In five seasons with the Red Sox, he went 26-11 with a 4.33 ERA and won the 2018 World Series title.

He signed with the Dodgers ahead of the 2019 season and was part of their 2020 World Series championship team, compiling a 3.59 ERA over three seasons. He signed with the White Sox for the 2022 season.

In 58 1/3 career postseason innings, Kelly is 4-3 with a 3.55 ERA, including a 2.03 ERA in the World Series.


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[1] Anthony Gulizia, “Buchholz, others understand deals are part of the game,” Boston Globe, August 1, 2014.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Mozeliak moves to fix two problems,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[3] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[4] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[5] Anthony Gulizia, “Craig familiar with new home,” Boston Globe, August 2, 2014.

[6] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[9] Peter Abraham, “Bogaerts back at short; Middlebrooks returns,” Boston Globe, August 1, 2014.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Mozeliak moves to fix two problems,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Mozeliak moves to fix two problems,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[12] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[13] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[14] Derrick Goold, “Major Shakeup,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2014.

[15] Anthony Gulizia, “Buchholz, others understand deals are part of the game,” Boston Globe, August 1, 2014.