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That’s a (Trade Deadline) wrap

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

It was an active stay here in San Diego for general manager John Mozeliak, who retooled his rotation with the additions of Justin Masterson and John Lackey. The latter move created sizeable ripples in the Cardinals’ clubhouse this morning, not because of who the Cardinals got but because of who (Allen Craig, Joe Kelly) they had to give up to get him. This isn’t a team used to seeing core pieces dealt from the Major League club during a push for a division title. But in the Cardinals’ attempts to keep their prospects and get better, it was necessary. This is a business first, and to those who may have forgotten that part of it, today was a sharp reminder.

First, let me pass along links to all the Trade Deadline coverage, which will give you reaction, commentary and answers. Then I’ll tack on some final thoughts below regarding the Cardinals’ activity.

  • The Cardinals landed a front-end starter in acquiring John Lackey from the Red Sox on Thursday. (story)
  • Players, staff hit hard by the departures of Craig and Kelly, both popular teammates and drafted-and-developed Cardinals. (story)
  • With Craig no longer in the picture, Oscar Taveras is in line to be the team’s everyday right fielder. (story)
  • Lackey and Masterson are expected in St. Louis on Friday, at which time the Cardinals will finalize a rotation order. (story)
  • And don’t forget about Masterson, whose acquisition a day earlier helped pave the way for Thursday’s deal. (story)

Some additional thoughts…

  • It was a crazy day across baseball, with 12 trades made involving 18 teams and 37 players. That does not mean, though, that everything being reported along the way was accurate. The Cardinals were not seriously in on David Price and never in on Jon Lester. Lester was not seen as the right fit, while the price wasn’t right for the Rays ace.
  • We won’t know for some time whether the Cardinals will “win” or “lose” this Lackey trade. In the immediate, Lackey represents a rotation upgrade over Kelly. Yes, Kelly would be under team control through 2018, but the Cardinals get Lackey for another year after this one and at the Minor League minimum (around $500,000). Lackey, though aging, has been a durable innings-eater for some time and is still performing as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Don’t discount his extensive postseason experience, too. If you take an isolated view, the rotation is clearly better with him in it for the next two seasons. And with a pipeline of young pitching, the Cardinals should be just fine once Lackey’s time in St. Louis is up.
  • What may go on to define this deal is Craig. The Cardinals thought Craig would be a core piece of this organization for years, which is why they locked him down with a multi-year extension in March 2013. This season, though, has been perplexing for all involved. Craig has been lost at the plate for most of four months and the mechanics of his swing are clearly off. Perhaps he finds it in Boston, where he’ll work with a new set of coaches and under a different set of circumstances. If he does, he could leave the Cardinals with some buyers remorse down the road. I’m guessing, though, that the Cardinals were concerned Craig would never find his way back, and this was an opportunity to flip him for a valuable piece and part with the rest of his guaranteed contract.
  • After 107 games, it has become clear that the Cardinals’ offense is going to present a day-to-day struggle. Mozeliak isn’t blind to that. What is he doing, though, is wagering the season on his starting pitchers. By deepening the rotation, the Cardinals hope to ride their pitching deep into October. And a Wainwright-Lackey-Lynn-Masterson-Miller sequence (with Michael Wacha potentially ready to push one of those five out in September) does look quite impressive on paper.
  • It was impossible not to be struck by the mood in the clubhouse this morning. Players (including the two traded) found out about the deal while watching TV. It certainly wasn’t the ideal form of communication, but word leaked before the deal was official and so it played out that way. It’s not unusual for this to happen, either. Actually, it’s pretty commonplace these days with social media and 24-7 newscasts. The shock in the clubhouse, though, wasn’t so much about how the news was delivered but that it was at all. Neither Craig, nor Kelly, were at all prepared to be moved because they hadn’t heard their names in the rumor mill. The disbelief was evident in both, and it was clearly hard for everyone to say goodbye. Several players couldn’t get them without tears.
  • Thursday wasn’t just about what the Cardinals did, but about what their NL Central competitors didn’t do. The Reds, waffling between buying and selling, did neither. The Pirates, reported to be pursuing several high-end starters, also didn’t make a deal. The Brewers acquired outfielder Gerardo Parra but no outfield help. The Cardinals should benefit from all that inactivity.

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July 30: Cardinals (56-49) @ Padres (47-59)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140730_153236770.jpgIt’s already been a busy day for the Cardinals, who closed a deal with the Indians earlier on Wednesday to acquire right-hander Justin Masterson. In exchange, the Cards send outfielder James Ramsey (first-round pick, 2012 Draft) to Cleveland. To read more on the trade, click here. Look for a more extensive recap piece later today, too, as both manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak are scheduled to meet with the media during the team’s batting practice.

Masterson will meet the Cardinals in St. Louis on Friday and make his organizational debut the next day against the Brewers.

As for tonight, Joe Kelly takes the mound for his first career start against the Padres. And because we’re not too far away from his longtime California home, he expects to pitch in front of dozens of family and friends. That will boost an already sizeable contingent of Cardinal fans again expected at Petco Park.

Oscar Taveras returns to the lineup tonight in place of Allen Craig (0-for-3 on Monday). Peter Bourjos and Tony Cruz are also starting.

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Cards acquire Masterson; deal Ramsey

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Seeking to add to their starting pitching depth, the Cardinals finalized a trade with the Indians on Tuesday that is sending right-hander Justin Masterson to St. Louis in exchange for outfielder James Ramsey.

Masterson is not one of the elite starting pitchers the Cardinals were eyeing as Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. But he does help fill a rotation spot while the Cardinals await Michael Wacha’s return from a shoulder stress reaction. Wacha is not expected back until September.

Masterson has also been on the disabled list but is ready to return after making two Minor League rehab starts with the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate. He is slated to make his Cardinals debut on Saturday.

He pitched most recently last Friday, walking six and allowing five runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. Masterson was recovering from right knee inflammation and has dealt with discomfort in the knee since the start of the season.

Perhaps as a result, Masterson has not had near the success this season that he did while going 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.202 WHIP in an All-Star year in 2013. In 19 starts before landing on the DL, Masterson had a 5.51 ERA and 1.653 WHIP. He had 93 strikeouts and 56 walks in 98 innings.

***

UPDATE: To read the full cardinals.com story outlining the Masterson-Ramsey trade, click here.

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July 29: Cardinals (56-48) @ Padres (46-59)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140729_155543432.jpgThe Cardinals and Padres meet tonight for the first of seven games between the two clubs over the final two months of the season. Before the game, San Diego activated shortstop Everth Cabrera from the disabled list; Cabrera missed 20 games with a hamstring injury.

The Trade Deadline (now less than 48 hours away) will loom over the Cardinals’ time here in San Diego. The team continues to search for starting pitching help but has yet to pull the trigger on a trade. In fact, none of the four contending teams in the National League Central has improved their club by making a deadline deal. Certainly there are a few coming…

The Padres, on the other hand, may be some of their contributing players before the series is over. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is here in San Diego with several of his baseball operations folks and have bunkered up in a nearby hotel to continue their work leading up to Thursday’s 3 pm CT deadline.

Here at Petco Park, A.J. Pierzynski is making his third straight start since joining the team. Allen Craig is back in the lineup for the first time since Friday, which means Oscar Taveras is back on the bench. Lance Lynn make his fifth start of the month and looks to cap a terrific July. Through four outings, Lynn in 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA and .219 batting average against. He has finished at least six innings each time out.

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July 23: Rays (48-53) @ Cardinals (54-46)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140723_144529823.jpgThe Cardinals close out their five-game homestand tonight and need a win in order to ensure it is a winning one. The club has fallen two games behind the Brewers, who finished off a sweep of the Reds today.

Oscar Taveras is starting for just the third time since July 10 as manager Mike Matheny continues to piecework his lineup based on matchups. He is trying to get both Taveras and Allen Craig enough opportunities to potentially find some traction on the offensive side. Taveras has hit .209/.244/.256 since returning for this second big-league stint.

Lance Lynn gets his second start of the second half tonight, this time facing a Rays team that is 12-4 in July and 15-3 over their last three road trips. Lynn allowed two runs in six-plus innings on Friday.

Matheny did announce this afternoon that Shelby Miller will return to the starting rotation on Saturday. Joe Kelly (Friday) and Adam Wainwright (Sunday) will also face the Cubs over the weekend. With Miller moving back to the rotation, Carlos Martinez is shifting into the bullpen. He will be available on Wednesday. The Cardinals won’t need a fifth starter until August, and at that time, the organization will reevaluate whether Martinez will slide back into a starting role or remain in the ‘pen.

Also in the bullpen tonight is lefty Kevin Siegrist, who was activated from the disabled list today. Nick Greenwood was optioned to Triple-A Memphis in a corresponding move.

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July 20: Dodgers (54-45) @ Cardinals (54-44)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140720_154609029.jpgNow would be a good time to take a snapshot of the National League standings, which feature the Cardinals (alone) in first place in the Central and show them tied with the Giants for the league’s best winning percentage. To keep both distinctions, the Cardinals will have to complete a sweep over the Dodgers tonight — no easy task given that they’ll be opposed by Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw had his scoreless innings streak snapped at 41 in his final start of the first half. Tonight, he’s seeking win No. 12, which would also be his ninth straight.

With the lefty Kershaw on the mound, manager Mike Matheny added right-handed hitters Peter Bourjos and Mark Ellis to the lineup. Tough assignment for both to be asked to produce against the best when neither has head much playing time as of late.

Carlos Martinez gets the start for the Cardinals in a setting that will test how he handles his emotions. He’s facing a big-time pitcher on a big-time stage (ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball). Martinez was too antsy his last time out, when he had a chance to pitch the Cardinals into sole possession of first place in the NL Central. The Cardinals need him to better handle the moment tonight.

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July 19: Dodgers (54-44) @ Cardinals (53-44)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140719_111906448.jpgJoe Kelly returns to the mound today for his second start since returning from the disabled list. His first outing had its bumps, as Kelly allowed six runs on seven hits and two walks while lasting only three innings. Kelly has had eight days to rest since that start, and the Cardinals are hopeful that he’ll now be able to push toward 100 pitches.

Kelly will be throwing to new Cardinals catcher George Kottaras, who is making his first start since joining the club a week ago. While the Cards still intend to give Tony Cruz the bulk of the starts in Yadier Molina’s absence, the club does need to keep Kottaras involved and get him familiar with a new pitching staff.

Also making his first start of the second half is Oscar Taveras, who takes Allen Craig’s place in right field. Craig is 1-for-6 against Dodgers starter Zack Greinke.

The Cardinals enter the day still trailing the Brewers by one game in the National League Central. Their 53 wins are only one off the NL high, shared by Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

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Molina out 8-to-12 weeks with thumb injury

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Yadier Molina will miss the next 8-to-12 weeks after suffering a ligament tear in his right thumb, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak announced on Thursday.

An MRI taken after Molina exited Wednesday’s game in the third inning revealed the seriousness of the injury, which comes just as the Cardinals are making a push toward the top of the National League Central. The timing of it will also keep Molina out of the All-Star Game, which he was slated to start after winning the fan vote.

Molina is scheduled to undergo surgery on Friday.

“It’s unfortunate,” Mozeliak said. “Obviously, when you lose a player of his skill set and leadership, it’s tough. But the game doesn’t stop and we’ll keep going.”

Molina injured his thumb in the second inning of Wednesday’s 5-2 win while grabbing third base as he popped up following a feet-first slide. He remained in the game to catch the next half inning before being replaced by Tony Cruz.

Cruz will become the Cardinals’ primary catcher in Molina’s absence, with Audry Perez ready to back him up. Perez, already on the 40-man roster, was recalled from Triple-A Memphis on Thursday. He hit .288/.288/.383 with 10 doubles, two homers and 21 RBIs in 44 games.

Perez was a September call-up by the Cardinals last season and briefly appeared in two games.

Mozeliak acknowledged that he will scour the market for available catchers, too, to see if an addition makes sense between now and the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

“I think from a standpoint of trying to replace him, that’s not even a logical question,” Mozeliak said. “What you’re doing is we need to find a stopgap. We have a lot of confidence in Cruz, that’s why he is our backup. Now he’s going to get an opportunity to play every day. But in the meantime, we’re also going to look out and see if there is something in that can help balance it out in the short term.”

(more…)

July 9: Pirates (47-43) @ Cardinals (49-42)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140709_153657007.jpgWith walk-off wins in the first two games of the series, the Cardinals have pulled to within three games of first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. It’s the closest the Cardinals have been to the Brewers in May. The club can further shrink (possibly erase?) that division lead in the five days leading up to the All-Star break. Two more games remain against the Pirates before a big weekend series in Milwaukee.

If you want to dream big…. imagine the Cardinals heading into the All-Star break atop the division. It’s still a possibility.

Lance Lynn goes tonight and is looking for his 10th win of the season. If he gets it, he would be the first Cardinals pitcher since Bob Gibson (1968-70) to win 10 games before the All-Star break in three consecutive seasons.

Allen Craig returns to the lineup but drops down to the seventh spot, the lowest he’s batted all season. Oscar Taveras, following his two-hit game on Tuesday, is manager Mike Matheny’s No. 2 hitter du jour.

Matheny doesn’t announce any unavailable relievers pregame, but it seems highly likely that Pat Neshek is hands off tonight after pitching in four of the last five games. How far the Cardinals can push Trevor Rosenthal is also a question, as he needed 27 pitches to cover the ninth on Tuesday.

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July 7: Pirates (47-41) @ Cardinals (47-42)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140707_153316374.jpgOne more week remains before the All-Star break, and the week sets up to be an important one for a Cardinals team that continues to tread water. First up are four games against the Pirates, who arrived in St. Louis as the NL Central’s second place team. The Cardinals have dropped to third for the first time since the second week of the season.

A three-game series on the road against first-place Milwaukee looms this weekend. How the Cardinals fare over these next seven games will determine their division positioning heading into the season’s second half.

Adam Wainwright gets the start today seeking to become the NL’s first 12-game winner and looking to hold his spot as the league’s starting pitching ERA leader (1.89 through 17 starts).

The bullpen gets a boost with today’s addition of Tyler Lyons, who takes Marco Gonzales’ roster spot. Gonzales returns to Triple-A, where he will start. Lyons, who was starting for Memphis, is here in St. Louis to pitch in relief. The Cardinals are then leaning toward bringing Joe Kelly back on Friday to make the start against the Brewers. Kelly has been on the DL since suffering an injury to his left hamstring in Milwaukee on April 16.

In other rotation news, Michael Wacha (right shoulder stress reaction) had his shoulder reevaluated with an MRI, which did show improvement. It was not enough, though, to clear Wacha to throw again. He’ll rest for another two weeks, general manager John Mozeliak said, after which the team will do another scan. The Cardinals still do expect to have Wacha back on the mound this year.

Kevin Siegrist (left forearm/shoulder strain) threw 25 pitches in a bullpen session today and said afterward that he felt great. He plans to throw another bullpen session on Wednesday (that one at 100 percent intensity) and then head out on a Minor League rehab assignment.

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