Return for Lackey Remains Unclear

After trading Jon Lester yesterday, for which I shared my thoughts here the Red Sox also traded John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.  I am happy that the Red Sox traded Lackey, although he was not traded to any of the 6 teams to which I most expected.  Lackey is going to make just $500,000 next year because of the clause in his contract that vests because he missed 2012 with Tommy John surgery, and his value to a small market team is therefore greater than it would be to the big market Red Sox.

It’s easy to see how the trade could work out great for the Red Sox.  Allen Craig could return to the guy who had 2.3 WAR in just 75 games in 2011, and then 2.3 and 2.6 WAR in 2012 and 2013, respectively.  And I think every Red Sox fan will remember how scared we were of Allen Craig If He Is Healthy, which was his entire name throughout the 2013 World Series.  If Craig becomes that guy, then the Sox just got an above average player signed for $25 million over the next 3 years with a $13 million club option in 2018, which is the kind of average yearly value that subpar players are getting paid in today’s MLB.

On top of that, 26 year old Joe Kelly could easily take another step and be a dependable back of the rotation guy, or at least a very good bullpen option.  The old adage says that you can never have enough pitching, and that might be especially true now that the Sox have traded 4 starters, 1 reliever, and a Fenway Frank vendor in the stands all within the past week in the garage sale of 2014.

But this trade could easily blow up in Ben Cherington’s face.  Allen Craig might just be what he is now, especially that he’s 30 years old.  It’s nice that he’s cheap and doesn’t hit free agency until after 2017, but, as Bill James says, the most important stat is age, and it’s hard to believe that Craig will be anything better than his 2012 or 2013 form, let alone 2011.  The past 2 years are probably his ceiling, and his basement is pretty damn low.

Joe Kelly is yet another promising reliever who might be a back end starter.  I think the Red Sox have had more of those guys in the past few years than the Patriots drafted tight ends in the 2000s decade.  To me, Kelly seems like another Brandon Workman (after all, they were born fewer than 3 months apart), but he could have less potential.  Even if he has slightly more, is that really anything to get excited over?

While I was the driver of the “Trade John Lackey” Bandwagon, I was expecting them to get a little more for the World Series Game 6 winner.  Wouldn’t there be a small market team who would fall in love with Lackey’s pittance of a salary next year and overpay for him?  I still think that Cherington could have done better by getting prospects from one of the teams that I mentioned in that column a few days back.  At this point, I’m wondering if the Sox should have kept Lackey and his low salary, allowing them to overpay for a free agent, either one of their own free agents or one on the open market (Jon Lester anyone???), because they know that they’d have about a $15 million bargain on their hands as the 2nd or 3rd man in their rotation.

While it sounds like I’m trying to pan the trade, I’m not.  I do trust Ben Cherington and his intelligence, so I do think that this was the best he could get in return.  After all, if I wanted Lackey to be traded, I have to accept what Cherington believes is the best deal.  That being said, I’d rather have had Cherington go for prospects in at least one of the trades rather than good-but-not-great MLB players.  The Sox are trying to compete next year, so I understand the thought process, but not when it leaves the Sox with Craig, Cespedes JBJ, Victorino, Nava (maybe), Napoli, Holt, and Middlebrooks all for corner infield and outfield in 2015.  That worries me, and I wonder if the Sox didn’t reach the heights that they could have for the Lackey trade.


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