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The Cardinals and Justin Masterson are a fascinating fit

Justin Masterson and his big sinker are going to a team that's traditionally in love with big sinkers.


The Cardinals entered the season with pitching depth, which is always enviable. Except pitching depth is just a bunch of fifth graders standing on each other's shoulders, wearing an XXL trench coat, trying to get into the NC-17 movie. Once you look closely, the whole thing falls apart, and everyone scrambles off in different directions, leaving you with nothing but a soiled trench coat and a thought of what in the hell just happened? Also, you think one of the little brats bit you.

Jaime Garcia is out for the year, and Michael Wacha is dealing with a shoulder ailment that just pushed him to the 60-day DL. Joe Kelly is back, but he's never been a full-time starter, and Shelby Miller might be the most enigmatic pitcher in baseball. The rotation is, to oversimplify, Wainwright and Lynn, pass the gin. They needed someone.

The someone they got is just about the most fascinating player for the Cardinals to get. They didn't trade for Justin Masterson to amuse us; they traded for him because they were likely being rebuffed on the bigger names, and they needed at least one starter after missing out on Jake Peavy. But the Masterson/Cardinals pairing does amuse us. At least it should.

Masterson has been terrible this year, terrible and hurt, and the sound you heard was a gaggle of Cardinals fans mumbling, "Masterson, eh? Let's just look up his ERA this year and OH NO NO NO." Except at the trade deadline, "buying low" is code for "buying high, just not that high," so for the Cardinals to find a decent risk/reward gamble at all is something of a coup. And there is reward in Masterson's arm. Somewhere in there, there's reward. His sinker duct is cloggered, and the Cardinals are hoping they can figure him out.

There are two relevant facts, here:

1. Justin Masterson is a unique, mesmerizing pitcher, both when he's on and off his game. He throws a sinker/slider combination, heavy on the nasty, darting sinker. It's almost a middle reliever profile, except the sinker is so unpredictable, it plays a second, third time through the lineup. When he's right. Which he hasn't been. This brings us to the second relevant fact ...

2. The Cardinals seem to evaluate and tweak pitching better than most teams. This is the reason they were supposed to have starting depth in the first place, with former B-list prospects like Lynn and Kelly buttressing the former A-listers like Wainwright, Miller, and Wacha. It's also the reason they always seem to have someone, in which someone is defined as the latest version of Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, or Jason Simontacchi, the random veteran of the hour who somehow comes through for the Cardinals, because that's what always seem to happen.

Masterson is different from most of those random veterans (Joel Piniero! Kent Bottenfield! Kyle Lohse! Jeff Suppan on non-consecutive occasions!), though, with the latent potential of his sinker-chucking arm giving the Cardinals more to work with. This puts him on the Kyle Lohse and Jeff Weaver tier, where the raw material is the perfect clay for the forever-Dave-Duncan-inspired Cardinals.

there is reward in Masterson's arm. Somewhere in there, there's reward.

He wasn't free. James Ramsey was the Cardinals' #6 prospect according to, and he was having a fantastic season in the Texas League, so the Indians did well for a pitcher making decent money in his walk year. The Cardinals have outfield depth piled upon outfield depth, so it was a deal they could make. But it has at least a chance of turning out like the A's moves to ship Andre Ethier and Carlos Gonzalez out. Sometimes those gaudy Texas League numbers turn into glorious major league wins.

For now, though, the Cardinals got an unconventional, typically productive arm to play with, and of all the pitchers on the market, Masterson is the most compelling match. If you're not scared of the Cardinals showing up in October with a suddenly resurgent Masterson flashing his All-Star form from last year, you haven't watched enough Cardinals.

(Unless he's just hurt. Good luck, Cardinals. You won't need it.)