Baseball / Sports

Cardinals trade Craig, Kelly to Red Sox for Lackey

SAN DIEGO -- Allen Craig was in a room close to the main clubhouse at Petco Park when he heard a report on TV that the team he had signed a long-term deal with, the only team he had known in his pro career, and the team he had won a championship with, was trading him.

Joe Kelly was checking Twitter when he saw his name in the same deal.

Teammates described the sudden, sinking mood in the clubhouse as "a punch to the gut."

The Cardinals continued their last-minute renovation of the pitching rotation early Thursday morning by acquiring starter John Lackey from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for two key pieces from last year's National League championship roster.

The Cardinals combined Craig and Kelly for a package from Boston that included Lackey, minor-league lefty Corey Littrell, and a little more than $1.7 million.

Craig and Kelly both found out about the deal from the media before an official with the team told them.

The players, coaches and support staff were visibly shaken.

"It's a tough morning for us, no question," manager Mike Matheny said. "We ask these guys from Day 1 to buy into the fact that we're in this thing together and we're going to be together more than we are with the majority of our families. To buy into the fact that we're all here for each other. To buy into the culture and everything this 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."

The move for Lackey is the Cardinals' second is as many days for a starting pitcher, and Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak remained engaged in discussions with teams as the 3 p.m. St. Louis deadline for non-waiver trades approached.

In Lackey, the Cardinals acquire a solid, top-of-the-rotation starter, and they likely began talking with the Red Sox about him only after pursuing lefty Jon Lester. Lackey is signed through next season for an absurdly low $500,000 salary. His injury a couple seasons ago triggered the odd option on his contract. The Cardinals have been led to believe that he will honor the extension and pitch for the team.

Lackey, 35, is 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA this season in 21 starts for Boston. He has two World Series rings, including one he earned against the Cardinals last fall.

Lackey would be available to pitch this weekend.

The Cardinals previously announced that Justin Masterson, who was acquired Wednesday for Class AA outfielder James Ramsey, will start Saturday against Milwaukee. Matheny acknowledged that Lackey could be moved into the weekend series as the righty has not pitched since Saturday.

If the Cardinals opt not to start Lackey this weekend then his first start for the Cardinals would come against Boston. The Red Sox start a series at Busch Stadium on Tuesday -- Kelly's next scheduled day to pitch.

"Right now we're still dealing with the reality of the parts that are missing instead of the ones who are coming," Matheny said.

Mozeliak met with both players to officially tell them of the trade.

Matheny met individually with each before they left the ballpark.

Craig declined to talk to the media about the trade. He barely said "No" when asked by a reporter for a comment. He accepted a hug from ace Adam Wainwright in the hallway outside the clubhouse and then walked away, pulling a small piece of luggage behind him.

Kelly, tears welling in his eyes, did talk before leaving to catch a plane back to St. Louis. He has some suits at Busch Stadium that he intended to pick up before the team returned there late Thursday tonight.

"Our team is like family," Kelly said. "It's going to be sad leaving all these guys. I'm excited (about going to Boston). It's a new opportunity. I'm going to go out there and play my best for those guys, like I did here."

Moving Craig clears room for rookie Oscar Taveras to play every day.

Craig signed an extension during spring training 2013, and he has more than $25 million remaining on the deal. Boston absorbs that contract, which is guaranteed through 2017 and has a team option for 2018.

The only hitter in the majors to hit better than .400 with runners in scoring position the past two seasons, Craig has plummeted into a profound funk this season. He has hit .237 with a .346 slugging percentage. The slugging percentage is 120 points off his career average. Just a week ago, Cardinals coaches spoke about how they intended to continue playing Craig because of his past success and how they could count on his past more than Taveras' potential when neither was hitting.

The trade takes that possibility out of their hands.

Mozeliak has wanted to see Taveras play every day.

Asked if this trade simplified the right-field situation, Matheny said: "I don't like that angle."

He did add that for Thursday it does.

Taveras is starting in right field vs. San Diego, batting seventh.

"He's got to go play," Matheny said. "He's got to play the game. He's got to play it right. That's going to be part of his responsibility. There are things that he's going to have to continue to work on to get better. He's going to get an opportunity to do that."

Littrell, 22, was a fifth-round pick out of Kentucky in the 2013 draft. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound starter is 5-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 19 games for the Red Sox Class A affiliate.

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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