I was on vacation, and therefore heard the news instead of seeing it crawl across ESPN's bottom line or pop up in my Twitter feed, but a theatrical spit-take might have been called for anyway: I wasn't at all surprised to learn that the Cardinals had traded for Jake I wasn't at all surprised to learn that the Cardinals had traded for Jake Westbrook, the top of the middle tier of at-least-they're-not-Suppan starting pitchers on the trading block, but I was stunned to learn they'd traded Ryan Ludwick to get him. Westbrook, the top of the middle tier of at-least-they're-not-Suppan starting pitchers on the trading block, but I was stunned to learn they'd traded Ryan Ludwick to get him.
One thing is certain: The Cardinals are trading away more raw value than they're getting back. Ludwick's a better outfielder than Westbrook is a pitcher, and Nicholas Greenwood, the prospect the Padres kicked over, can't strike anybody out in the Midwest League.
Here's what this trade signals. Or at least what I think it signals; I haven't yet perfected my Sportswriting Clairvoyance:
The Cardinals are more confident in their backup outfielders than their starting pitchers.
And they should be! Their starting pitchers aren't very good. Blake Hawksworth is interesting and young but shouldn't be the fourth starter in a playoff-bound rotation; Jeff Suppan is not interesting or young and shouldn't be the fifth starter in a playoff-bound rotation.
Allen Craig and Jon Jay are flawed prospects—Craig doesn't have a position and Jay doesn't have the power to be a conventional corner outfielder—but in a platoon they could come closer to approximating Ludwick's output than Jeff Suppan will Jake Westbrook's.
The Cardinals weren't keen on paying Ryan Ludwick next year.
Ludwick's due a nice little raise in 2011, and the Cardinals are due to begin adding zeroes to an enormous Albert Pujols novelty check. With Jay and Craig possibilities in right field for baseball-free and most of the Cardinals' steadily increasing payroll tied up in huge multi-year contracts, Ludwick's $7-8 million is the lowest-hanging fruit on a tree with a lot of high branches.
Trading Westbrook for Ludwick in 2010 and 2011 is asinine; trading Westbrook for Ludwick in 2010 is just kind of dumb.
The Cardinals aren't confident Ryan Ludwick will stay healthy.
Ludwick was a great prospect when he was younger and has been a great outfielder as a Cardinal. The Cardinals got him for free. The "2. ????" in this internet meme set-up is that Ludwick spent most of his minor league career on the disabled list with maladies both unpredictable and worrisome. In 2009 and 2010 the injuries that have kept him off the field haven't been as worrisome as the injuries that have made him intermittently effective on it; the set-back he suffered on the treadmill last month gave me 2009 flashbacks to the version of Ludwick who moved tentatively around the outfield and made me wonder if he wasn't giving too much credence to the old saw about rubbing dirt on it—it is usually not a hamstring—and getting back out there
John Mozeliak is not perfect.
Since I first heard about the trade my opinion of it has crawled over the line demarcating horrific from pretty bad; value over a replacement player might underrate it, seeing as we know the players each guy is replacing, and as a fan of "Brass Monkey", Thudwick's longstanding at-bat music, I have a personal stake in this issue.
But if Jake Westbrook, who's basically Kyle Lohse with different arm problems, is the best one can do in a trade for Ryan Ludwick, it might not be necessary or beneficial to trade Ryan Ludwick at all. John Mozeliak has been an effective GM; he's a moderating presence on a team with a very active manager and very demanding fans. But without peeking at the results, I'd have to call this move a mistake, if not a Lohsian one.