Late Tuesday afternoon, news broke that the St. Louis Cardinals and pitcher Jake Westbrook had come to terms on a 1-year contract extension for the 2013 season with a mutual option for the following campaign. On Westbrook’s previous deal, a 2-year contract signed in the offseason between 2010-2011, he would have had a mutual option with the team for 2013, ultimately leaving the door the open for him to opt for free agency this offseason. Instead, Westbrook’s new deal will pay him $8.75 million in 2013, with the option year in 2014 paying him $9.5 million. The deal includes a provision whereby the Cardinals could buy out Westbrook’s 2014 season for $1 million.
This deal makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals, who should be ecstatic that they were able to lock up Westbrook on such short money and years. Posting a 12-9 record with a 3.50 ERA this season, Westbrook has been just as consistent as Kyle Lohse (2.61 ERA), albeit a notch below in performance. As a back-end starter for the Cards, Westbrook has been a quality start machine, producing 16 quality starts in his 24 starts, including 10 in his last 13. With those numbers, despite being 34 years old, Westbrook would have undoubtedly garnered heavy interest on the free agent market and potentially more years and dollars than the Cardinals offered in an era when good starting pitching is so desperately coveted but lacking in supply. Nevertheless, Westbrook has indicated that he is very happy living in St. Louis and does not want to switch clubs again. Sounds like a mutually beneficial deal for Westbrook and the Cardinals. Who stands to gain the most? Cardinals fans, who get a consummate, proven professional starting pitcher for at least another year who has an established playoff pedigree and years of pitching experience and savvy. This is the prototypical classic case of low-risk, high-reward.
There are 2 other massive implications stemming from this deal:
1. The Health of Chris Carpenter: Looking ahead to next year, the health of Carpenter still seems to be up in the air. It’s anyone’s best guess how Carpenter, coming off surgery to relieve nerve compression in his shoulder, will respond to his operation and subsequent rehab. The case can certainly be made that this preemptive Westbrook signing is a hedge for the Cardinals in the event that Carpenter takes longer than expected to fully recover to his elite form. Carpenter has been on the DL 11 times since his career started in 1999 so health always has to be part of the conversation when discussing Carpenter. Think nerve damage is a non-story? See Peyton Manning and the issues he has had since his nerve regeneration neck surgery.
2. Kyle Lohse and Free Agency: Lohse has been as good as any pitcher in the National League this season and will be duly compensated thusly in the offseason. Completing the final season of a 4-year, $41 million deal, Lohse has dominated, putting up a 12-2 record with a 2.61 ERA and a microscopic 1.11 WHIP. Couple that with a 14-8 record and 3.39 ERA last season, Lohse is going to be one of the marquee free agent starting pitchers this offseason. John Mozeliak noted on Tuesday that the team and Lohse have not had any contract talks to date. Not surprising, to be honest. With the Westbrook signing, the Cardinals now have 8 legitimate starters under contract for next season (Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, Jake Westbrook, Chris Carpenter, Shelby Miller, and Trevor Rosenthal), and Lohse appears to expendable at the price he is going to demand on the open market. This move only further confirms what many Cardinals fans are surmising: Kyle Lohse will not be with the Cardinals in 2013.