The Cardinals had made it clear they were seeking a starter with injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia. Manager Mike Matheny in fact said Saturday’s starter would come from outside the organization. The Cards filled that void on Wednesday by sending Double-A outfielder James Ramsey to the Indians for righthander Justin Masterson.
The 29-year-old Masterson is on the disabled list and has seen his performance plummet from a year ago, with free agency looming. He’s 4-6, 5.51 and is walking 5.1 per nine innings, after going 14-10, 3.45 in 2013.
According to FanGraphs, Masterson’s fastball velocity has dipped to an average of 89.1 mph, down from 91.6 a year ago. The Cardinals of Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan vintage were renowned for rebuilding the value of pitchers such as Masterson, Jake Westbrook or Kyle Lohse. That is, pitchers who threw a sinker or were receptive to changing their pitching style.
James Ramsey, cf
A first-round pick out of Florida State in 2012, Ramsey moved quickly through the system before running into a logjam this year. After hitting 15 home runs at Double-A Springfield last year and making it briefly to Triple-A Memphis, Ramsey returned to Double-A this year because the Cardinals had four legitimate prospects sharing time in the Memphis outfield.
“They instilled a lot of confidence in me. They told me, ‘You’re going to Double-A, but we’re going to treat you just like you’re going to Triple-A,’ ” Ramsey told Baseball America at the Futures Game. “I set goals for myself to have a relentless attitude every day, to come to the park ready to refine my game.”
To his credit, Ramsey hasn’t sulked at the assignment and instead responded by showing significant improvement. He’s hitting for higher average this year, has cut his strikeout rate and increased his power. The Cardinals’ No. 7 prospect in our midseason update, he is a tick above-average center fielder defensively with enough arm to play right field if needed. He has more power than the average center fielder and a chance to be an average hitter. For the Indians, he has more impact potential than fellow center fielder Tyler Naquin, is just as good a runner and is similar defensively. While a surplus piece for a Cardinals club with plenty of outfield options, he immediately becomes one of the best position prospects in the Indians farm system.
Justin Masterson, rhp
Masterson is a low-risk gamble for the Cardinals. He’ll pitch in the less-stressful National League and in a park decidedly less homer-friendly than Progressive Field. The sinkballer is a free agent after the season, meaning the Cardinals are not inheriting an onerous long-term deal. Just three pitchers—Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson and Jake Westbrook—have a higher groundball percentage than Masterson (57.2 percent) the past five seasons.