After making do with fill-ins at the back end of their rotation for the better part of two months, the St. Louis Cardinals finally landed a much-needed starter Saturday by acquiring right-hander Jake Westbrook. At the same time, the San Diego Padres picked up outfield help in Ryan Ludwick in the three-team deal between the Cardinals, Padres and Cleveland Indians, reports ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
Having been without Brad Penny since May 22 and Kyle Lohse since June 5, the Cardinals, who boast a dominant top three in their rotation, now run four deep, dropping Jeff Suppan to the fifth-starter role -- at least until Lohse returns in the next couple of weeks -- and sending Blake Hawksworth back to the bullpen. Westbrook should reside comfortably as the No. 4 starter; it'll be Suppan who suffers once Lohse is healthy, and Penny might have to fight his way back into the mix eventually, if he even heals before the season ends.
While National League-only owners have been itching for a significant name to migrate over from the American League, Westbrook will have to suffice (for now), though there's more fantasy appeal in him than you might think. He's united with noted pitching guru Dave Duncan, and don't think it's a mere coincidence that Westbrook, a pitcher who relies on command, the strength of his sinker and his ability to induce a high rate of ground balls, landed where he did. This is Duncan's kind of pitcher, and if you're playing the over/under game, Westbrook's chances at finishing with numbers better than his 4.65 ERA and 1.39 WHIP to date are greater they were before.
Not to suggest Westbrook isn't a project: PitchFx reveals that when using his slider he's surrendering hits on 33.9 percent of batted balls, which is a high number. Inside Edge backs that up: Opponents' offensive rates (AVG/OBP/SLG) against the pitch when they put it into play are .324/.415/.488. That's going to need some improvement, and not entirely in the luck department. That said, having quality defenders at both shortstop (Brendan Ryan) and first base (Albert Pujols) will help with the latter, especially since Westbrook's former team, the Indians, ranked dead last in baseball in terms of Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-37.3).
Another reason not to pour a heap of FAAB dollars into Westbrook: While 2009 sensation and Duncan reclamation project Joel Pineiro represented the best-case scenario for pitchers entering this situation, the important difference between the two is that Pineiro, at the time, had all of 2009 -- including spring training -- to work with his pitching coach, not to mention all of 2008 and half of 2007. Pineiro did bounce back from an otherwise disappointing start in 2007 to post six wins, a 3.96 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 11 late-season starts united with Duncan; it's numbers like that which should outline the best-case scenario for the newest Cardinal.
In other words, take a look at Westbrook if you're hurting for alternatives to spend your FAAB on, but don't bust your budget if you've got more pressing needs.
As for Ludwick, the obvious reaction is that his fantasy value decreases significantly with the move to Petco Park, but don't be so hasty. In St. Louis, he was no longer guaranteed everyday at-bats, what with Jon Jay off to a red-hot start to his big league career, but in San Diego he should take over as the everyday right fielder. A greater chance of regular playing time means a greater chance that Ludwick can get back to the 20- to 30-homer level that he displayed the past two years.
Speaking to the ballpark factors, it's worth pointing out that Busch Stadium wasn't much more favorable for power than Petco; my midseason ballpark analysis ranked the venues 28th (Busch) and 29th (Petco) in terms of home runs, and don't overlook the fact Petco (0.861, 24th) actually had a higher home run factor for right-handed hitters than Busch (0.785, 28th). Why is that significant? Simple: Of Ludwick's 70 home runs since the 2008 season, 61 (87.1 percent) have been to the left of dead-center field, and 35 (exactly half) have been pulled to left field, per Hittrackeronline.com. His power, therefore, is to the one part of Petco where it won't be entirely lost.
In other words, don't expect much of a change in fantasy value for Ludwick, and in fact he might be about as useful as he has been since the beginning of last season -- meaning more valuable than he'd have been had he stayed put in St. Louis.
The two prospects involved in the deal, minor league left-hander Nick Greenwood, who goes from the Padres to the Cardinals, and minor league right-hander Corey Kluber, who goes from the Padres to the Indians, aren't of immediate fantasy significance. Neither one, in fact, might amount to much more than a back-of-the-rotation starter in future years, the most notable point with either being that Kluber boasts a high strikeout rate (9.47 per nine innings for his career, 9.98 in Double-A ball this season). He's an "old" 24 in Double-A ball, however, so don't invest much stock in that. The Indians could take a look at him this or next season, but a strong showing in Triple-A ball would be preferred before he'd be considered fantasy-relevant.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.