Quick pitch: Sox pull the right Cards

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Quick pitch: Sox pull the right Cards
July 31, 2014, 1:30 pm
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A quick breakdown of the Red Sox-Cardinals deal:

WHY IT WORKS FOR BOSTON: Craig -- a career .291 hitter who once hit 22 home runs in a season -- has been a centerpiece of the Cardinal offense for the last three years, and his 2014 struggles (.237/.291/.346) enabled the Red Sox to buy relatively low. But he hit .307 or better in each of the last three seasons; at the top of his game, he gives the Sox another much-needed middle-of-the-order bat. He was injured for much of the postseason, but batted cleanup when he was in the lineup. He's been playing right field for St. Louis and may take over that spot in Boston, or he may play left and let the stronger-armed Yoenis Cespedes play right. 

Kelly, who started Game 3 for the Cardinals in last year's World Series -- remember, that was also the game that ended on the infamous interference play, and Craig was the runner -- is a 26-year-old right-hander who had a breakthrough 10-5, 2.69 season last year. He missed three months this season because of a strained hamstring, and is 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA in seven starts. He has a chance to be solid rotation piece.

THE DOWNSIDES: Both have been injured recently, and Craig's dropoff apparently has prompted the Cards to cast their right-field lot with prospect Oscar Taveras. St. Louis didn't trust Kelly as a rotation starter down the stretch, instead picking up veterans Lackey and Justin Masterson (another ex-Sox). Whether the Cardinals had questions about their long-term viability, or whether they took the opportunity to use the two to strengthen themselves in the short term, remains to be seen. 

FINANCIALLY . . . No worries here. Kelly isn't eligible for arbitration until 2016, and free agency until 2019. Craig is under contract through 2017, with a club option for 2018, and his salary peaks at only $11 million in '18.

WHAT THE SOX LOSE: No one would have thought we'd be saying this in 2010, '11 or '12, but Lackey's been a solid, consistent starter for the last year-and-a-half . . . and they don't grow on trees. Whether Kelly or any of their young arms can develop into a solid replacement is something we'll find out in the months -- and  years -- ahead.

BOTTOM LINE: This move, coupled with the Lester/Gomes-for-Cespedes trade, shows how the Red Sox are reassembling themselves on the fly. A Cespedes-Jackie Bradley Jr.-Craig outfield is better, offensively and defensively, than anything the Red Sox have put out there this year. Kelly (and Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and maybe even Anthony Ranaudo) begins a two-month audition to prove he deserves a rotation spot in 2015 and beyond, and gives the Sox an idea of how much pitching they'll have to pursue in the offseason. All for the cost of an older, albeit reliable, pitcher in Lackey, and a Class A left-hander Corey Littrell.