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July 31, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Cardinals Vouch for Masterson

by R.J. Anderson and Bret Sayre

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-L James Ramsey from the Cardinals in exchange for RHP Justin Masterson. [7/30]

Just after he was selected to the Futures Game, we ran this summary of his attributes and limitations:

Ramsey has moved quickly since entering pro ball, even getting the slightest taste of Triple-A action before the end of 2013. But the profile is more solid-average than flashy, meaning the 24-year-old is well behind Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty on the organizational depth chart. However, he could be contributing to the big-league club in the near future.

That sentiment, that a player is useful but blocked in St. Louis, is common when talking Cardinals prospects. Even though there wasn't an available avenue to major-league playing time for Ramsey, the Cardinals moved him quickly through the system after drafting him out of Florida State in 2012. He reported making mechanical adjustments that simplified his swing since last year, and a strong showing in Double-A this year (only Joey Gallo has a better OPS in the Texas League) has validated Jason Parks' pre-season prediction that Ramsey will "be knocking at the major-league door" this season. He has a strong and advanced hit tool and has received raves for his makeup, but otherwise lacks standout athleticism or premium power and is likely limited to a corner. Which is to say, he'll make the Indians depth chart. He won't make it especially exciting, but he'll make it.

Here's his Futures Game batting practice:

James Ramsey

It's one thing to be a little blocked at the major-league level, but it's another to have a full major-league outfield and two high-end prospects with Triple-A experience ahead of you. Let's face it, Ramsey was going to linger in the minors for a while with the Cardinals, but this way he'll get an opportunity for the team that is currently playing both Chris Dickerson and David Murphy in the outfield corners.

TJ House

Yes, there are more interesting sixth starters in baseball than House, who appears as though he'll be the beneficiary of Masterson moving on. However, in AL-only leagues, beggars can't be choosers. If he was dropped recently in your league, he's at least worth a look. And yes, that reads as tepid as you think it does. —Bret Sayre

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Justin Masterson from the Indians in exchange for OF-L James Ramsey. [7/30]

Not often is an injured pitcher traded at the deadline, but Masterson heads to St. Louis having missed most of July due to an inflamed knee—a relatively minor condition compared to the unholy trinity of pitching ills involving the elbow, shoulder, and back. Even before Masterson hit the DL, many suspected he was nursing an injury. His velocity and slider usage had declined from 2013, a season in which he earned an all-star nod, and his ERA and walk rates were among the worst in the majors. He was, in short, displaying the commonly perceived adjacencies of a major injury.

Yet following the deal, there is an inclination to forget it all. "Private information ... has always been a valuable commodity to [traders]," John Brooks wrote in Business Adventures, "... so valuable that some commentators have suggested that [exchanges] are markets for such information just as much as for stocks." If Masterson's health is the private information in this trade, then what should we make of John Mozeliak's decision to trade for him instead of David Price or Jon Lester?

Obviously transaction cost matters. Masterson entered the season as a qualifying-offer candidate, but his struggles diminished the likelihood of him declining the tender. The Indians knew they needed to trade Masterson, or otherwise risk losing him this winter without compensation. The cases of Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy (among others) have proved that impending free agents who were not in line for the QO don't bring back big returns. As such, Ramsey's inclusion makes sense to both teams, with the Cardinals—already drowning in outfield talent—being able to move him without harming their depth.

But if cost was the lone force driving deadline trades, then relievers and bench types would be the only players moved. Since that isn't true, we know impact is important, too. And since Mozeliak traded for Masterson, we know he believes that Masterson can provide some impact. Still, while an optimistic view is understandable, it doesn't necessarily mean Masterson will adhere to his projections. There is enough space between how he pitched earlier in the season and how PECOTA (and the like) expect him to pitch heading forward (a 4.09 ERA) to think he could settle somewhere in between.

Of course that isn't the ideal scenario for a Cardinals team already without Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia. Factor in Shelby Miller's struggles and St. Louis, should it reach the Divisional Series, could pick between less-than-desirable options to start a potential elimination game. That's why, even with the increased cost, the idea of St. Louis trading for Price or Lester made sense. Because Mozeliak chose this route, it would seem he felt the difference in cost was too much weighed against the likely value.

The Cardinals don't necessarily need the good, old Masterson over the remainder of the season to justify Mozeliak's position. What they do need is for Masterson to pitch better than he did in a Cleveland uniform. Mozeliak is in a better position than any outsider to know how likely that outcome is, and his past success has earned him the benefit of the doubt. It's just important to acknowledge there's legitimate reason for Masterson-related skepticism that goes beyond Cardinals fatigue. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

Justin Masterson

Finally, the big crossover we've been waiting for in NL-only leagues, amirite? Anyone? Regardless, Masterson in St. Louis is a very good thing for fantasy owners, as he will face weaker competition in the NL Central and play in front of a slightly better infield defense—which is magnified when you have a 58.5 percent groundball rate. Yes, the walk rate is far too high, but he's always been a little too wild for his own good. The BABIP and strand rate suggest that he's better than he's pitched, but in a short stretch anything can happen with those numbers. If I'm short on pitching, I'd take a flier on Masterson in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers, just to see if the new shade of red suits him well.

Marco Gonzales/Tyler Lyons/Carlos Martinez

If you were hanging on to any of these guys in deep leagues in hopes that one would be the Cardinals' fifth starter down the stretch, you can probably let it go around now. Martinez should still carry some value out of the bullpen, but not enough to own outside of holds and NL-only formats. —Bret Sayre

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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