October 9, 2015
How the NL Division Winners Got Here
Reportedly will acquire 1B-L Adrian Gonzalez, OF-L Carl Crawford, RHP Josh Beckett, and INF-S Nick Punto, and cash from the Red Sox for 1B-L James Loney, OF-R Jerry Sands, INF-R Ivan De Jesus, RHP Rubby De La Rosa, and RHP Allen Webster. [8/24/12]
Adrian Gonzalez Versus Other Big-Time First Basemen, 2009-12
Declines in power and walk rate are the differences between this season and Gonzalez’s past efforts. It’s possible that his numbers have been affected by a bum shoulder. It’s also possible that he’s back to being very good; nine of his 15 home runs have come in the second half, and five of those have been hit in August.
Besides being a massive upgrade at the plate over James Loney, Gonzalez brings a familiarity with the division, a very good glove, and a great hitting mind to the table. There are few batters with more smarts, and his wit is part of the reason why Gonzalez should continue to be a productive hitter, even as his physical tools fade. Surrounding Gonzalez with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and the aforementioned Ramirez gives the Dodgers one of the league’s better middle-of-the-orders.
Goldstein says that Beckett’s 70 fastball has turned into a 55/60. His once-biting curve has lost a similar amount of stuff: Goldstein reports that he would be “leery” of putting a 60 rating on it and might call it a 50-plus. His cutter, he explains, is at best a 40. Given how often he throws it, the cutter could be something of an Achilles’ heel for Beckett going forward.
Joe Blanton has pitched like a no. 8 or 9 starter with the Dodgers (28 hit and 18 runs over 21 innings), so the Dodgers would be upgrading if Beckett pitches as though he were a true back-end starter. The move away from Boston and Fenway Park should help, if only on a surface level. Beckett is due more than $30 million over the next two seasons.
There’s a scene, in one of Kevin Smith’s DVD specials, where an audience member asks a question about facial hair involving Jesus Christ, Chuck Norris, and Chewbacca. The absurdity of linking the three together causes Smith to laugh and recite the names again for effect. Punto’s inclusion causes the same effect here. Imagine the introductory press conference: here are three players with a combined 11 All-Star appearances between them, and here is a 34-year-old utility infielder with a career 75 OPS+.
Agreed to a contract with SP-R Zack Greinke for six years, $147 million, with a reported player opt-out clause after 2015 [12/10/12]
From 2011 through 2013, in exchange for Zack Greinke’s services, Greinke’s employers will have given up five years of Alcides Escobar, six years of Lorenzo Cain, six years of Jake Odorizzi, six years of Jeremy Jeffress, six years of Jean Segura, six years of Johnny Hellweg, six years of Ariel Pena and roughly $51 million (plus an impending luxury-tax penalty). It’s a staggering price to pay for one pitcher, and reflects a core belief of baseball men: there is nothing like an ace. Unfortunately, Zack Greinke has been nothing like an ace.
OK, two things to walk back in that paragraph. 1. One of the teams that gave up all that to get Greinke also got back a lot of all that to get Greinke; the Brewers didn’t know or expect or probably hope they’d be cashing Greinke out just before he hit free agency, but it might be more fair to say that Greinke’s teams paid all that for Greinke and the expectation of a compensatory draft pick or something like that. 2. Declaring Greinke nothing of an ace sells short how difficult Greinke is to define, even now after nine seasons. He’s a peripherals ace: the eighth-best FIP in baseball over the past three years, slotted between Felix Hernandez and Madison Bumgarner, ahead of Sabathia, Price, Weaver. Peripherals are significant; they might be the most significant thing, until they persistently diverge from the actual results. Greinke has the 41st-best ERA+ over the past three years, between Wandy Rodriguez and Derek Holland.
Rarely do the differences between WAR, WAR, and WARP get in the way of most routine analysis; the numbers are usually fairly close, within the margin for error and doubt that we should allow for any of them. But Greinke is an example of a player who is one thing on one site and a very different thing on another. From 2010 to 2012 (which excludes his universally acclaimed 2009 season, which we’ll get to):
The difference, basically, is in how much blame each model puts on Greinke for underperforming peripherals, with FanGraphs putting no blame on Greinke. How did Greinke’s 3.16 FIP over the past three seasons become a 3.83 ERA?
1. Greinke was much less effective with runners in scoring position. From 2010 to 2012:
Pitchers aren’t generally able to control the sequence of the hits they allow. Greinke’s struggles with runners in scoring position have an added element of BABIP trauma:
The default way to look at this is that it's bad luck on top of bad luck, unless we have reason to think that it's part of Greinke's true tendency. Three years of a split won’t tell us much about a pitcher's true tendencies, and here we are working with just 350 batted balls. If each “extra” hit cost Greinke a run, this explains about 40 percent of his FIP/ERA discrepancy over the past three years.
2. Greinke played in front of lousy defenses, and his overall BABIP, at .313 from 2010 to 2012, was probably a bit higher than it should have been. Greinke has always run a bit of a high BABIP, and before 2010 his career rate was .310. But the league BABIP has been going down, while Greinke’s has gone up slightly. Until he was traded to the Angels in mid-2012, he has played in front of poor defenses: the Royals ranked 26th in defensive efficiency in 2010, the Brewers 13th in 2011, and the Brewers 29th in 2012. (The Angels were the best in 2012. Greinke’s BABIP post-trade was .284.)
Luck is a hard thing to draw conclusions about. Luck manifests itself in BABIP with runners in scoring position, and in the defenders a pitcher’s GM puts behind him. It also shows up in a billion other ways that we would never consider: whether a first-base umpire decides to call a balk on him; whether he slips in the shower and tweaks his knee; whether he finds true love. Also in whether his catcher does him extra favors. Greinke spent a year and a half pitching mostly to Jonathan Lucroy, one of the best framers in the game. But before that, and after that, he threw to Jason Kendall and Chris Iannetta, two the worst. Luck is so messy!
We still don't know whether Greinke is going to be an ace, though. There's also, for instance, the matter of Greinke's 2009 season, which points to Greinke's ability and upside. That season is a marvelous outlier right now; he's one of just nine pitchers since WWII to top 200 innings and a 200 ERA+, but his next-best ERA+ is just 125. There isn't really much precedent for a pitcher being that good while otherwise never being any better than that. If we lower the bar to 180 and 180, there are 27 pitchers who have had such a good season since WWII. Seven of them repeated the feat. Here are the 20 who didn't repeat, with their second-best ERA+ (minimum 150 innings):
Greinke's position on this list is arguably good news for the Dodgers. It suggests that when a pitcher shows an ability to be as good as Greinke was in 2009, he usually pitches like an ace more than once. Or it just mean the Dodgers just bought themselves an outlier. That happens, too.
I saw a tweet recently about Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame case. I can’t find it and don’t know who wrote it, but basically it said that the case against Morris is simply that he didn’t do a good job preventing runs from scoring; the case for him is the one that requires all sorts of mental gymnastics. There’s nothing wrong, in this case, with using a lot of gymnastics to try to really get to the heart of Greinke’s performance; there’s genuine cause to consider him better than his runs allowed suggest. But there’s also a very simple and not-necessarily inaccurate case to be made that he’s only okay at keeping runs from scoring. Last year, Sky Kalkman looked at ERA predictors and came up with this graph:
Adjusted ERA, after 500 innings, is as good as anything.
PECOTA, meanwhile, projects Greinke to be the ninth-most valuable pitcher in baseball this year, better than Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, and nearly four wins better than Aaron Harang, whose innings Greinke is likely to replace. PECOTA says a rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, Beckett, Billingsley, and Capuano would produce more WARP than any rotation currently constructed, though construction around baseball (and perhaps in Los Angeles, even) is ongoing.
So have we decided whether Greinke is an ace yet? Not at all, though the market has decided he is. Funny thing about the market, though, is that it doesn’t seem to distinguish between the very best starters and the very good starters. Over the past five years, the following pitchers have hit the free agent market or signed an extension within a year of impending free agency:
Remove Halladay’s gift to the Philies and Darvish’s post-and-sign free agency, and there’s very little daylight between the contracts; the gap from the lowest annual value (Cain, at $21.25 million) to the highest (Sabathia, $24.5 million) is about the equivalent of a half-win on the free-agent market; everybody got six years except for Sabathia and Lee, and only one got seven. The difference in performance between these pitchers is more substantial. Each pitcher’s ERA+ in the three years prior to signing the contract:
There’s a reason that, when an agent talks about his player’s salary demands, the figures are so often stated relative to another player’s previous contract. It’s about framing the player within a certain narrative. Agents don’t want a team to think about a player as a producer of a specific amount of WARP; they want a team to think about him as a type: An Ace, or a No. 2 starter, or A Closer, or A Run Producer. After A.J. Burnett signed his contract with the Yankees, John Lackey positioned himself as an A.J. Burnett and got Burnett’s money. C.J. Wilson tried to position himself as An Ace; the market didn’t buy it, and he ended up getting framed as an A.J. Burnett, and got Burnett’s money. Greinke this offseason positioned himself as An Ace. The market bought it. Somebody's always buying Zack Greinke.—Sam Miller
Hired Andrew Friedman to be president of baseball operations. [10/14/14]
On the one hand, Andrew Friedman is one of the only executives with a book written about him—or, at least, a book read by more than the author’s closest friends and relatives. On that hand, he runs a team that, when it succeeds, is largely credited to his genius (and the genius of his front office). On that hand, his Rays have been experimental and at the vanguard of various “trends”—at various times shifting, locking up pre-arb players ever earlier, building around defense, resisting multi-year contracts to relievers, or giving what figuratively seem like literally millions of at-bats to Jose Molina—that have become routine, even over-fished, around the league years later. We tend to see his Rays as the first clinical trial for the strategies that will soon be ubiquitous, so we pay a ton of attention to him. Because of all this, we know a lot about Andrew Friedman, who the Dodgers just poached to be president of baseball operations.
On the other, he has run perhaps the most opaque organization in the game. I once heard about a former Rays intern who was applying for another job. Standard industry practice in this situation is to pump the applicant for information about what his old team was doing, the research, the secrets. Heck, some of the time this fact-finding might be the only reason the interview is even taking place. But this intern wouldn’t budge. Again and again, he told the team that he was interviewing with, the team he was trying to impress, that, well, shoot, he’d love to, but he just couldn’t, not with his non-disclosure agreement, not when we’re talking about the Rays. The Rays were a black box. Their local media, for the most part, never got the Rays, and the Rays never gave them much to get. We know, in some ways, very little about Andrew Friedman.
The result: Something like a legend. When I wrote about the quest (inside and outside of the sport) to quantify or engineer clubhouse chemistry, insiders would sometimes tell me that teams were working on it, they didn’t know which, “but probably the Rays.” When I wrote about building a new type of player development system using analytical approaches, I’d hear that if any team was trying something new, it was the Rays—though nobody quite knew what they were doing, or how. The story of the Rays was thus established: They had secret weapons; nobody knew them; and so we agreed that one of them was certainly Andrew Friedman.
So what does this mean? We know Friedman has won a lot of games without money, that he probably always wished he had more money, that if he had more money he probably thought he could have won more games, and that the Dodgers have a lot of money, That’s simple enough, but winning is extremely unsimple. The Red Sox just finished in last place. Again.
The impact will probably be subtler. It’ll be a bit about some stylistic choices. It’ll be a bit about embracing big-market tactics while shaving off the 10 percent of gristle that sometimes sabotages those tactics. Friedman will likely find (okay, we’ll find; Friedman surely knows) that it’s easier to be a tyrant in a small country than a large one. He’ll also find (again, us) that the Dodgers as an organization don’t need to be rebuilt the way that the Rays needed to be. That's a big factor in thinking about this hiring.
In 2012, just after Stan Kasten took over as team president, the Dodgers went out and signed a bunch of high-profile international scouts, one of their first throwing-money-around moves (and leading directly to some later throwing-money-around moves). Here’s what Kasten told me a few months later:
You could argue that those 10 international scouts were a bigger deal than Friedman could be to this organization. Which isn’t to say that Friedman isn’t a big, big deal. It’s just that it’s easy to overstate what the Dodgers need, and to overstate what Friedman (or anybody) could conceivably change.
We might as well conclude with an in-conclusion. In conclusion: The Dodgers were going to win, whether or not they signed Friedman. When Ben Lindbergh and I talked on Effectively Wild recently about which hypothetical team’s outlook we would pick, knowing nothing about them except that one team is the richest, one team has the best farm system, and one team won the most games in baseball the previous season, we picked the richest. That’s the Dodgers, and they’re not all that far off on the other two. They had committed to getting smarter and thinking long term before they added Friedman. They were going to win.
Friedman, as much as anything, is the symptom of that state-of-the-franchise. A team that is committed to getting smarter gets Friedman. A team that’s committed to thinking long term gets Friedman. Does Friedman help? Sure. Brandon League’s probably not on this team if Friedman had been around. But if you want to shoot up fireworks over this move, it’s really celebrating the fact that the Dodgers are run by the type of people who invest in this type of person. A’s hire A’s. B’s hire C’s. The Dodgers just made it clear which they are. —Sam Miller
Revisiting our staff's reactions to the key acquisitions on the road to the playoffs for the Dodgers, Mets and Cardinals.
True to form, the Mets mucked up the PR aspects of trading their most popular pitcher, making much of their contract negotiation process public, lowballing the ace with below-market extension offers, and complaining about Dickey’s comments at a team function last week. That’s a shame, since the team was wise to trade Dickey when it did. If the Red Sox-style verbal backstabbing on the way out was intended to make fans sympathize with the team, it likely had the opposite effect. It was also entirely unnecessary: the perception that Dickey’s departure had anything to do with his penchant for running his mouth to the media, writing best-selling books, and climbing Kilimanjaro obscures how much sense it made on a talent level alone. It was a win both for the franchise and for Mets fans who were willing to look beyond 2013, which they should have been doing even before the deal.
Earlier this month, Tom Verducci reported that the Blue Jays “weren’t enamored with the basic math” of a Dickey-for-Arencibia-and-Anthony Gose deal, but the Mets ended up with an even better return, importing two impact players instead of settling for stopgaps. They weren’t going to win any more with Dickey next season than they had in 2012, they’d already appeased the fans by extending David Wright, and they filled holes for the future. D’Arnaud is ready to compete for a starting job right now, with Buck (an average framer and declining hitter) serving as his veteran caddy. And Syndergaard gives forward-looking Mets fans license to dream of a Wheeler-Harvey-Syndergaard front of a future rotation that could still include Jon Niese.
Sandy Alderson has perhaps been guilty of letting opportunities to improve his team pass by: How much better would the Mets’ system look with another top prospect or two from a much-rumored but never-materialized Jose Reyes deal? But when he has pulled the trigger on a trade for an in-demand veteran—first with Carlos Beltran, who brought back Wheeler, and now with Dickey—he's made the Mets much better. —Ben Lindbergh
Barring a deep postseason run, this deadline is going to be remembered around Citi Field for the botched Carlos Gomez trade. Whomever you blame, or whatever you believe happened during that ordeal, don't let it obscure the fact that the Mets made multiple upgrades without giving up Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Michael Conforto, or Kevin Plawecki, a collection of young players who many considered New York's top trade chits entering July.
Instead the Mets used the lesser pieces of their pitching surplus to improve their lineup and bullpen. The biggest of those upgrades came last.
Cespedes offers the Mets that in-his-prime, middle-of-the-order bat they've long desired in the form of a right-handed hitter, an attribute some desired due to the Mets' abundance of lefty bats in the absence of David Wright and Michael Cuddyer. Cespedes doesn't have the patient, disciplined approach associated with a Sandy Alderson-led team—his 4.5 percent walk rate would be a career-worst mark—but he atones for it by hitting the ectoplasm out of the ball, as evidenced by his .213 ISO. He isn't an all-or-nothing hitter either, since he's shown the ability to post respectable averages and use the entire field.
The main negatives in acquiring Cespedes rather than Gomez involve defense and team control. Though both Curtis Granderson and Cespedes have center field experience, neither has played there on a consistent basis in years. Odds are, the Mets will bench Juan Lagares—who, alternatively, might need to undergo elbow surgery—which will leave them with a worse defensive outfield than Mets fans are accustomed to seeing in Citi Field.
Those opposed to such a trade-off should take solace in knowing that Cespedes will become a free agent this winter. Conversely, those who like a little thwack with their Shake Shack may want Cespedes to stick around beyond October. The Mets will need to work quickly if they want the same thing, due to the way Cespedes will earn his free-agency rights. As Ken Rosenthal recently noted, Cespedes has to be released five days after the World Series ends; by rule, that means he can't re-sign with his old team until the following May, and there's no chance he remains on the market until then.
But the future will take care of itself. For now, Mets fans should be happy that their team is in a much better position to make the postseason than it was at this time a week ago. –R.J. Anderson
Signed OF-L Curtis Granderson to a four-year deal worth $60 million. [12/6/13]
Sandy Alderson entered his fourth offseason as Mets general manager with the organization's oft-questioned financial capabilities looming overhead. From the outside looking in, the Alderson-led Mets have progressed toward surrounding David Wright with quality young talent. It hasn't been easy or quick, and you wonder how a Jose Reyes trade would have changed things, but the Mets have two stars to their name in Wright and Matt Harvey, two MLB-ready youngsters in Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud, and more talented prospects coming. It was, in other words, about time to buttress the core with choice external additions.
Granderson is where those additions start. It's not that Alderson hasn't added veterans along the way, but that he's done so in ... well, the cheapest way possible. He deserves credit for finagling tremendous bang for his buck from veteran outfielders like Marlon Byrd and Scott Hairston, and for getting some contribution from waiver-wire pickups like Mike Baxter. For the most part, however, Alderson's Mets teams have been homegrown; even today, with Granderson included, the Mets have drafted or signed as amateurs 26 of the 35 players on their 40-man roster. But this offseason has been different. Alderson has, for the first time, signed free-agent hitters to deals worth more than $2 million guaranteed. Granderson's deal, as it turns out, is the first time he'd given a free-agent hitter multiple years.
It seems the Mets, who have won between 74 and 77 games in each of Alderson's first three seasons, are finally making a push to improve by spending money. And why not? Their next few budget years include guarantees to Wright ($20 million through 2018 before costs start to decline) and Jon Niese ($21 million over the next three seasons) and that's it. Sure, the Mets will have some increasing arbitration costs to deal with, but the slate is about as clean as it gets outside of Houston.
So, head-high in breathing room, Alderson is taking a slight risk with Granderson. The potential unpleasantness has less to do with his injury-ravaged 2013—he missed significant time due to a fractured forearm and finger, suffered on separate hit-by-pitches—and more to do with him turning 33 before the season starts.
For all the positives in Granderson's game—well-above-average power production, on-base skills, speed—he still represents a rare breed of player; one who combines old-player skills with young-player wheels. In addition to Granderson, five others spent the majority of their time since 2011 in center field while striking out at least a quarter of the time: B.J. Upton, Drew Stubbs, Michael Saunders, Jordan Schafer, and Rick Ankiel. Granderson is the best of the bunch, but there have to be concerns, on some level, about his ballooning strikeout rate in recent years.
Of course, there is value with Granderson beyond his bat. Assuming he slots into a corner, the Mets will have an impressive defensive unit that features three one-time center fielders. Last season, the Mets had the seventh-highest batting average against on fly balls. It's not fair to place all the blame at the feet of the outfielders, but the current group should help erase memories of Lucas Duda in left.
How Granderson ages will determine whether Alderson's first big deal in New York is a success for the long haul. But how Alderson proceeds in the next few months will tell us more about how the deal should be viewed in the short run. The Mets sacrificed their second-round pick to add Granderson, so you can understand if they're tentative about giving up their third-rounder to pluck Stephen Drew. Shy of upgrading at shortstop, Alderson figures to look for a few more arms—perhaps a Jason Hammel type for the rotation, and some help in the bullpen. Collectively, this isn't a roster that should compete in 2014. It should threaten the .500 mark, however, with the 2015 season looking like the year when Alderson's vision comes together. —R.J. Anderson
Signed RHP Bartolo Colon to a two-year deal worth $20 million. [12/11/13]
Another veteran signing for the Mets, Colon joins Chris Young and Curtis Granderson as sensible winter additions. By now, the big man's game is pretty straightforward: He's going to throw a lot of fastballs for strikes, average around six innings per start, and surprise with his athleticism. Risk is the one thing worth wondering about. The length and modest money keeps it to this side of a franchise-altering plunge, but the Mets are banking on Colon avoiding injury and suspension. That Oakland chose to sign Scott Kazmir for a couple million more is sure to raise eyebrows. In the end, Colon is far from a sure thing to make 30 starts, but plopping him in Citi Field with a strong outfield defense and letting him do his thing seems like it should yield good results. —R.J. Anderson
We tend to give teams a little extra deference when they trade away an asset, understanding as we do that they have an information advantage not just on us but on their trade partners. The Cardinals know more about Miller’s coachability than the Braves, for instance, and they know more about Tyrell Jenkins’ shoulder than the Braves. But it works on contract issues, too. The Braves—particularly after pushing hard on every extension candidate on their roster last winter—were exceptionally attuned to the likelihood that Jason Heyward will pursue free agency. They were probably especially aware of the binary situation they were in: If Heyward is amazing this year, they wouldn’t be able to re-sign him. If he’s not—if his defense drops to +5 runs or something, and he keeps hitting like John Jaso—then they just might get more value (especially given their depth chart) out of Shelby Miller this year, and be thrilled with the exchange.
So the Cardinals probably know that this is a one-year acquisition, and it’s a sexy one. Part of the subtext of the Giancarlo Stanton Transaction Analysis today was the appreciation that players like Stanton are practically impossible to acquire; “the best player this front office will ever employ again.” By some total-value metrics, by some analysis, the Cardinals just got one, and, while it seems like the Braves got a solid return, it simultaneously doesn’t feel like the Cardinals had to give up much at all.
The contours of their WARPs are different, so here’s a question: Which type of WARP would you rather acquire? No knock intended to Heyward, and there’s something to be said for the presumably more slump-proof nature of defense, but I’ll take the hitter going forward. The 25-year-old hitter is entering his physical peak; the 25-year-old defender is leaving his, for one thing. But the +30 defensive ratings of Heyward also seem to lack a certain internal logic—how can a guy be so good at a position and not be an obvious candidate to shift immediately to a more difficult position? Is it realistic to think Heyward would be a +20 center fielder, as positional adjustments would suggest? Or even a +10?
For what it’s worth, FRAA has historically been much more moderate on Heyward’s defense—+1.7, +3.0, +15.4, +6.9 in his first four seasons—and even it bought into the bubble this year, assigning him a +27. So it’s definitely possible that Heyward really is just that good on defense, was that valuable last year, saved that many runs. Definitely. But we all appreciate how much easier it is to put faith in the story that a .271/.351/.384 slash line tells.
Jordan Walden used to sit at 99 and now he sits at 96, but the drop in velocity hasn’t done much to either his strikeout rates (still good!) or his control (still bad). Both equilibriums are held in place by increased usage of his slider and changeup, which have grown into competent, unexciting pitchers. He hits the DL once a year but never for anything serious. His leverage graph last year is a dead ringer for a jump hill in some sort of web-based Flash game involving skiing, boulder-shoving, or a scooter.
The Cardinals, like the Angels, deal from a position of strength to shore up another spot. But unlike the Angels, who figure to move Mike Trout to center and be done with it, the Cardinals are setting a merry-go-round in motion. Matt Carpenter figures to slide to third base, opening second base for Kolten Wong, while Jon Jay sidles to right field or the bench, depending on other moves.
Bourjos' glove is worth the hassle—there's no denying that he's one of the best defenders in baseball. It’s not as easy to evaluate his offensive game, which serves as a baseball Rorschach test. Based on production alone, Bourjos has been about a league-average hitter. But it's hard to see that continuing when you consider his poor walk-to-strikeout rate, limited power production, and inefficient swing that leaves him vulnerable to breaking balls.
Should Bourjos land somewhere in the middle—as a below-average but above-replacement-level hitter—then he can pass as a bottom-of-the-order hitter until his defensive skills fade. That day might come sooner than later, since he turns 27 in March and has a history of hamstring problems. But until then, Bourjos will upgrade a St. Louis defense that was easily the worst aspect of an otherwise good, well-rounded team. He has three years of team control remaining.
Grichuk is an example of how reducing a player to his place on an organizational prospect list can be misleading. Though he ranked sixth on the Angels list, his upside befits a player outside of the top 10. But because the Angels lack young talent, the former first-round pick gets a low number next to his name. Grichuk is an athletic gamer type who undercuts his raw power with plate discipline and platoon issues. He's not a capable center fielder, meaning he's likely heading for a future as an extra outfielder. —R.J. Anderson
The Cardinals have traded quantity for quality. Given how cheap John Lackey will be next year, you could also say that the Cardinals have traded quantity for value. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly are useful baseball players, but for the Cardinals they are no more than a collection of redundant talent (depth if you are want call it so) and four first names. Had Kelly not been a part of this deal, he would be the starter pushed out of the rotation by Lackey’s arrival. A sixth starter is valuable, but a sixth starter that is not definitively better than your seventh, eighth, and ninth starters (Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, and Marco Gonzalez presumably) is not as valuable. Combine this with the fact that Michael Wacha is due back in September, and you understand that Joe Kelly the Cardinal was very expendable.
Craig has in the relatively recent past been more notable than Joe Kelly ever was (posting WARPs of 2.3, 1.7, and 2.3 in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively), but he has been terrible this year. Moreover, Craig’s playing time will be replaced by much heralded prospect Oscar Taveras. Taveras has also been terrible in a sporadic, 101 plate appearances this year, but that might be due more to the "sporadic" than any inherent "terrible." The Cardinals certainly think so—if Taveras doesn't turn things around, St. Louis knows it will have either the non-corner bat of Jon Jay or the non-corner bat of Peter Bourjos in a corner. That said, the Cardinals were not getting average production from their Craig-Taveras time share either. Instead of trading assets for a more productive bat, they removed one obstacle that might have been blocking a Taveras flourish.
Finally, on to what the Cardinals’ depth yielded: Lackey. In short, Lackey has been good since the start of 2013; striking out 272, walking only 72, and compiling 4.1 WARP in 327 innings, plus a sterling 2013 postseason. Along with Justin Masterson, Lackey eases the Cardinals' reliance on Shelby Miller (curiously bad) and Michael Wacha (scarily infirm). With the unusual $500,000 injury-triggered option for 2015, he's more than a rental—assuming, of course, Lackey consents to honor that contract without much fuss. In the event of fuss, the Cardinals will either have the luxury of trading him to a large market (any team can afford him), having substantial negotiating leverage with him, or telling him, “tough luck, kid. You signed up for this.” All three of those outcomes should play out as net gains for St. Louis. —Jeff Quinton