Zach Duke (Mike DiNovo / USA TODAY Sports Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals added left-handed reliever Zach Duke in return for a former second-round outfielder, Charlie Tilson.

As the non-waiver trade deadline approached, the St. Louis Cardinals added a left-handed reliever in return for a former second-round outfielder, Charlie Tilson.

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals have acquired veteran left-handed pitcher Zach Duke from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for minor league outfielder Charlie Tilson.

Duke, 33, is 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in an American League-leading 53 appearances this season.  The southpaw has 42 strikeouts in 37.1 innings pitched.  He has appeared in 413 career Major League games with 169 starts (all made between 2005-13), posting a 60-83 record and a 4.35 ERA covering 1243.0 innings pitched.

Since 2014, Duke has appeared in 198 games, ranking fourth in the Majors over that period and second only to the Pirates Tony Watson (200) among left-handed pitchers.

The Cardinals become Duke’s seventh Major League team along with the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Reds, Brewers and White Sox.

Tilson, 23, was the Cardinals second round draft pick (79th overall) in the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.  The left-handed swinging outfielder is batting .282 with four home runs and 34 RBI in 100 games at Memphis (AAA) this season.  He hit eight triples, ranking tied for third in the Pacific Coast League and tied the Redbirds single-season mark with Stubby Clapp and Kolten Wong.

Tilson has career marks of 471 minor league games with a .293 batting average, 19 home runs and 154 RBI along with 89 stolen bases.  He resides in Chicago in the off-season and attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, just 25 miles north of the White Sox U.S. Cellular Field.

Brian Walton’s take

Some Cardinals fans remember Duke as a failed starter with the Pirates, against whom the Cardinals often had their way (career 5-8 record with a 3.96 ERA vs. St. Louis), but the 33-year-old has since carved out a nice niche as a left-handed specialist.  

Duke will likely be used alongside fellow lefty Kevin Siegrist in the Cardinals bullpen. Interestingly, his numbers suggest the potential for a greater role than as a one-out reliever like he was deployed by the Sox. This season, Duke has better splits against right-handed batters (.182) than lefties (.264), though his career numbers are more as expected (.266 vs. LHB, .304 vs. RHB).

Under his current three-year contract, signed with the Sox as a free agent following the 2014 season, Duke is receiving $5 million this season and $5.5 million in 2017.

Manager Mike Matheny told the press Sunday morning that a 25-man roster move to accommodate Duke will not occur until he reports on Tuesday. My guess is Jerome Williams will be the one to go. The 40-man roster will not be affected, as Duke should simply take Tilson’s spot.

Tilson, who struggled with injury earlier in his career, had a breakout 2015 at Double-A Springfield. The Cardinal Nation’s seventh-ranked prospect in the organization had a Texas League-best 46 stolen bases last season - though so were his 19 caught stealings. Now in his sixth year in the system, Tilson was added to St. Louis’ 40-man roster last November, but has yet to make his MLB debut.

However, for a player whose standout tools are speed and defense, Tilson’s activity on the base paths really fell off with Memphis this season. Though his success rate improved to 83 percent, his stolen base attempts plummeted to just 18.

Despite the arrival of a younger, but similar player in Harrison Bader at Memphis on July 6, Tilson continued to be the Redbirds’ primary center fielder with Bader making two-thirds of his starts in one of the corners. Tilson made five errors this season, four fielding.

Tilson’s OPS of .753 primarily as the leadoff man this season at Triple-A is up slightly compared to his .739 mark last season in Double-A. The left-handed hitter has come on with the bat lately, hitting .351 (46-for-131) with 27 runs scored in his last 38 games, reaching base at least once in 33 of those contests.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Tilson was held out of Memphis’ lineup in his final game with the club on Saturday evening. The Redbirds have not yet announced Tilson’s roster replacement.

In reality, the Cardinals already have a number of fourth-outfielder types who can play centerfield, including Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk and Jeremy Hazelbaker, though the latter two are more offense-first kinds of players. More importantly, the rapid ascension of Bader, who was playing three levels lower in Class-A at this time last year but had become Tilson’s teammate, made it much easier for the Cardinals to give up Tilson in trade.

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