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Departures of Craig, Kelly hit Cardinals hard

Drafted, developed by club, pair headed to Red Sox popular in clubhouse @LangoschMLB

SAN DIEGO -- Before the Cardinals began to digest the addition of a second starting pitcher in as many days, they had to first swallow some difficult goodbyes.

In acquiring veteran right-hander John Lackey from the Red Sox on Thursday, the Cardinals parted with Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, two players drafted and developed by the organization and both quite popular among their now-former teammates. It left those in the clubhouse who were preparing for a day game against the Padres subdued and shocked.

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"It's a tough morning for us, no question," manager Mike Matheny said. "We ask these guys from day one to buy into the fact that we're in this thing together and we're going to be together more than we are probably with the majority of our family, to buy into the fact that we are all here for each other, to buy into the culture and everything that this organization stands for. To see guys who have bought into that and then you're seeing them pack up their stuff to go, yeah, there is a business here, but we're asking for more than just business. That makes it difficult.

"There are a bunch of guys in there who just watched their friends and respected teammates go somewhere else. I wouldn't want them or any of us to say, 'Well, that's the business. We'll move forward.' It takes a little time to let that sink in. … Guys came in ready to go to work. There was all kind of [trade] speculation, but I don't think this was the speculation that was out there. I think it caught everyone off guard, especially the two guys most closely involved."

Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak met with both Craig and Kelly once the trade was official, though by then both players had already learned of the deal while watching the clubhouse television. Neither was prepared for the possibility of leaving, and it was evident in their immediate reactions.

Kelly, long the team's jokester, sat alone in a room outside the clubhouse for several minutes as he let the news sink in. Craig paced outside and declined interview requests before leaving the ballpark. He looked on the verge of tears. Kelly couldn't hold his back when he did answer a few questions.

"It definitely took me by surprise," said Kelly, who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2009. "It's kind of a blur to me. Our team is like family. It's going to be sad leaving all these guys. … My name wasn't tossed around at all. Coming off an injury and making four starts, three of them were absolutely horrible. I didn't know if any other team wanted me at this point. It definitely was a shock. I had no idea. I was blindsided by it."

Though the organization has been active at the Trade Deadline in recent years, players have not been accustomed to seeing core players on the Major League team leave.

"A day like this, even though I'm extremely excited about the trades we've made and I think the team is in a good spot, no doubt I feel sorry for those two gentlemen because they were a part of this and took a lot of pride in being a part of this," Mozeliak said. "When you think about having those kind of players, those are the kind we try to build around."

Both Kelly and Craig have endured their share of adversity this season. Kelly recently returned to the rotation after missing nearly three months recovering from a hamstring strain. He earned a starting job out of Spring Training after playing a critical role in helping stabilize the Cardinals' rotation the second half of last season.

In parts of three seasons pitching in various roles for the Cardinals, Kelly posted a 3.25 ERA and 1.380 WHIP in 68 games (38 starts). With the Red Sox coming to St. Louis next week, he may find himself pitching against his former team in his Boston debut.

Craig's season has been especially tumultuous. Expected to anchor the Cardinals' lineup as the cleanup hitter, Craig has spent four months trying to rediscover his swing mechanics. A year after hitting .454 with runners in scoring position and emerging as an MVP candidate until a late-season foot injury, Craig had fallen into a timeshare in right field.

Though third on the team with 44 RBIs, Craig hit .237/.291/.346 this season. A member of the organization since 2006, he went hitless in his final 13 at-bats with the Cardinals.

"Not frustrated at him, but frustrated with him," Matheny said. "We were frustrated that we were working consistently to try and make it work and trying consistently to help him find that [swing]."

With the departures of Craig and Kelly, the Cardinals lose two players that they had contractual control over for another four seasons. Craig was still early in a multi-year deal he signed in March 2013 that guarantees him $26.5 million over the next three years and includes a club option at the end. Kelly won't be arbitration eligible until after next season.

However, the Cardinals were content with the cost as it did help them address a future outfield logjam. The organization's stockpile of young outfielders had made Craig expendable.

"It really came down to what we had coming," Mozeliak said. "Obviously, Matt Holliday is our left fielder. And you look at where else we could play, whether it's Oscar [Taveras] or Stephen Piscotty, at some point we were going to have to move somebody. This deal allows us to redeploy resources."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.

St. Louis Cardinals, Allen Craig, Joe Kelly