While whiffing on the No. 1 starters they were chasing, the St. Louis Cardinals landed another middle-of-the-rotation veteran Thursday, acquiring John Lackey from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for starting pitcher Joe Kelly and Allen Craig, who can play first base and the corner outfield positions.
Lackey is under contract through 2015 and comes to St. Louis one day after the Cardinals acquired another former ace, Justin Masterson, from the Cleveland Indians.
The Red Sox also dealt left-hander Andrew Miller, their top setup man, to the Baltimore Orioles for lefty pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez.
Boston then put an exclamation point to Thursday’s white flag trade deadline when shortstop Stephen Drew was traded from the defending world champions to its archrivals, the New York Yankees.
Lackey was a Cy Young candidate earlier in his career with the Los Angeles Angels, but after signing a five-year, $75 million free agent contract with the Red Sox, he missed the 2012 season to have Tommy John elbow surgery.
The operation triggered a contract clause that creates a team option for next season at a salary of just $500,000.
“Lackey is a top-of-the-rotation starter,” said Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak.
Lackey is 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA this season, and he was the third Red Sox starter to be moved. Jake Peavy was dealt to the San Francisco Giants last week and early Thursday, Boston sent staff ace Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Miller was pursued by several clubs, most notably the Detroit Tigers, before the Orioles swooped in and made the deal. Miller gives Baltimore manager Buck Showalter a fourth left-hander in the bullpen so he can create better matchups against both right- and left-handed hitters.
Miller, 29, has a 2.34 ERA (11 earned runs over 42 ⅓ innings) with 13 walks and 69 strikeouts in 50 appearances for the Red Sox this season. He has held left-handed hitters to a .150 average in 65 plate appearances and has been almost equally successful against righties, holding them to a .180 average 105 plate appearances.
“He’s just another good piece, and goes with some other good pieces down there,” Showalter said. “He gives us more depth down there to keep passing the load down there. I think he’s a little more than just a left-handed arm. You look at left-handers relievers and the ideal ones are the guys who when you got a left, right, left, (hitters) and you can leave him in there for a right.”
Showalter said Miller’s experience with pitching in the American League East will also be beneficial to the Orioles. Showalter was confident Miller will have an easy transition to his new environment.
Miller ranks fourth among major league relievers this season, striking out 14.67 per 9.0 innings. His 5.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks 17th. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2012, Miller has pitched to a 2.78 ERA (113.1IP, 35ER) in 140 games, striking out 13.3 per 9.0 innings.
“I know our guys are excited about it,” Showalter said.
Rodriguez, 21, was out for about a month this season with a knee injury. He has a 3-7 record and 4.79 with Bowie in Double-A and was listed by Baseball America as the Orioles third-best prospect at the start of the season.
Drew was traded for second baseman Kelly Johnson and cash considerations.
Drew, 31, signed a one-year contract with Boston on May 29 extending through the 2014 season. He is batting .176 in 39 games in 2014.
Johnson, 32, signed a one-year deal with the Yankees Dec. 6. He batted .219 in 77 games with the Yankees, including six home runs and nine doubles.
Drew is likely to slot in at second base with Derek Jeter entrenched at shortstop and Chase Headly, acquired from the San Diego Padres, at third.
Craig’s spot is likely to be filled by the Cardinals’ top prospect, Oscar Taveras. Craig, 30, is batting .237 in 97 games this season with just seven home runs. He was projected as a cleanup-type hitter and run producer, but injuries have limited him to 469 games in his career. He is a career .291 hitter.
Kelly turned 26 in June and made just seven starts in 2014 with a 2-2 record. Kelly was 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA a season ago.