SAN DIEGO -- Focused on improving their rotation before Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Cardinals completed their work by dealing for Red Sox righty John Lackey less than 24 hours after adding starter Justin Masterson.
A two-time World Series champion, Lackey is 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.231 WHIP in 21 starts this season. He is the durable innings-eater the Cardinals have sought, averaging 6.5 innings per start this year. Along with Masterson, Lackey gives an otherwise young Cardinals rotation much-desired experience.
The Cardinals did not make another deal in advance of the 3 p.m. CT Deadline on Thursday.
"When you talk about adding a top-of-the-rotation starter with Lackey, getting somebody like Masterson who has a history of eating innings [because] when you look at our rotation prior to this deal, sometimes our third, fourth and fifth starters were having trouble going deep into games, putting a lot of pressure on our bullpen," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I think this will help alleviate some of that. Obviously, I feel like we set up well from a pitching standpoint moving forward."
The cost for Lackey was heavy, as the Cardinals parted with starter Joe Kelly and right fielder Allen Craig in order to land a pitcher whom they'll have for a postseason push this season and retain for another year. The Cardinals will get a bargain in 2015, too, as a unique club option built into Lackey's current five-year deal will have him making the Major League minimum ($500,000) because he missed '12 due to Tommy John surgery.
The Red Sox structured the contract as such in order to protect themselves from what was a pre-existing elbow injury. Before making this deal, Mozeliak reached out to Lackey's agent to ensure Lackey, 35, intended to pitch next season. The Cardinals received an "in good faith" affirmation, Mozeliak said.
Along with Lackey, the Red Sox sent the Cardinals $1.75 million to help cover the remaining $5 million he's owed this season. The Cardinals also received Minor League left-hander Corey Littrell, a fifth-round pick in the 2013 First Year Player Draft. Litrell was 5-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) at Class A Advanced this season. Littrell will report to Class A Palm Beach (Fla.).
Lackey is expected to join the Cardinals in St. Louis on Friday, at which time the Cardinals will announce when he'll make his debut. He last pitched on Saturday, allowing two earned runs in a seven-inning loss. He's an easy fit into the rotation for the Cardinals, who had an automatic rotation vacancy with Kelly's departure.
"He brings a presence, first of all," said Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Lackey's teammate earlier this season. "Second of all, he brings competitiveness. He is a guy who wants the ball. He wants to pitch deep into games. He's done it in the biggest stage, and obviously the Cardinals got to see it last year in the World Series. He's a competitor, and he wants to win. That's the bottom line."
A rotation that had been entirely homegrown has become much more experienced: Masterson has been in the Majors since 2008; Lackey has made 344 career starts.
"Historically, pitching will take you far," Mozeliak said. "You look at sort of changing the rotation from a younger group of guys to a more seasoned group that has seen things, obviously it's a different view. You look at the second half of the season, and it's a nice to thing to rely on when you need it."
In Lackey, the Cardinals also land a pitcher with extensive postseason experience. He has been on teams that have advanced to the playoffs six times, including two clubs (Angels in 2002, Red Sox in '13) that won it all. Lackey has six postseason wins in 19 games. One of those was a victory in Boston's championship-clinching win over the Cardinals last fall.
Lackey limited St. Louis to one run in 6 2/3 innings in that one, outdueling Michael Wacha at Fenway Park.
"You look at his career, he's won games everywhere he's been," Pierzynski said. "And he's won big games everywhere he's been. He has two rings, and I know, talking to him today, he's looking for a third."
The deal for Lackey came together over the last day, Mozeliak said. The Cardinals' ability to land Masterson without giving up a pitcher allowed the organization flexibility to part with a Major League starter in order to get Lackey. At that point, the Red Sox and Cardinals found common ground.
The Cardinals did not purse the other starter (Jon Lester) the Red Sox traded on Thursday and did not make a late run at Rays lefty David Price. Lackey, like Price, won't be a free agent until after 2016, and Lackey was had at a more palatable price.
"The last few years we have been extremely competitive and doing more additions than subtractions [from the Major League roster]," Mozeliak said. "But to address what we felt we needed, we had to go down this path. You look at the state of this game, currency is prospects. You have to be careful of what you're giving up."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.