John Lackey Trade Revisited: Will Red Sox Regret Deal With Cardinals?

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October 14, 2014

John LackeyBaseball is all about calculated risk-taking. The Boston Red Sox sought to master the art at the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline.

The Red Sox made a bevy of moves in July geared toward positioning themselves for a more rewarding 2015. As John Lackey pitches into October with the St. Louis Cardinals, it?s reasonable to wonder if the Red Sox will at some point regret trading the veteran for pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig, mainly because it was the one move Boston didn?t need to make.

There was an obvious benefit to trading Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, Andrew Miller, Jake Peavy and Stephen Drew. All five guys are slated to become free agents. The Red Sox, who were stuck in last place in the American League East, decided — rightfully so — there was no sense in hanging onto such players when the option to acquire pieces who could help next season was there. After all, the club still can pursue new contracts with Lester, Miller or whoever on the open market this winter.

Trading Lackey, on the other hand, required an open mind and a little more creativity. Lackey is set to earn the major league minimum next season because of a contract clause triggered by him missing all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery. There was speculation Lackey might be unwilling to play for such money — he could retire, sit out a year, lobby for an extension, etc. — but he technically was under contract and pitching well. It?s why Lackey?s value was high at the deadline and why, in accordance with that high value, the Red Sox needed to determine if the potential benefit of a Kelly/Craig combo was enough to justify bowing out a year early on their own No. 2 starter.

To sit here and already declare a winner in the Lackey trade would be irrational. The Red Sox didn?t make the move with 2014 in mind. General manager Ben Cherington instead sought to strike while the iron was hot and land two players whose real impact could be felt in 2015 and beyond, presumably when the Red Sox are better-positioned to contend. The deal has the potential to be a huge boon for Boston, though. And it?s possible the Sox could emerge victorious even if Craig never returns to form.

Craig struggled down the stretch, hitting .128 with a .425 OPS and 36 strikeouts in 107 plate appearances with Boston. It was a disastrous season for the 30-year-old, but Kelly showed enough promise over his 10 starts with the Red Sox to defend trading another year of Lackey.

Kelly, who went 4-2 with a 4.11 ERA, isn?t arbitration eligible until 2016 and isn?t slated to hit free agency until 2019. Landing a 26-year-old hurler with a high-90s fastball, stuff conducive to generating ground balls at Fenway Park and a track record of some major league success who?s also under team control for the next four seasons is palatable, especially when the cost is a 35-year-old who already has undergone Tommy John surgery and whose mum outlook on the future at least gave reason for pause.

Could Lackey help the Cardinals win a World Series this year? Yes.

Could he have helped the Red Sox return to prominence next season if Boston stood pat? Sure.

But the upside and the contractual benefits to landing Kelly have the trade still looking sensible three months later, even as Lackey eyes another title and the Red Sox sit at home.

Photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images

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