ST. LOUIS – As the Cardinals continue to fight towards another October run, they’ve already begun putting their starting rotation together for 2013.
The Cardinals announced Tuesday a one-year extension with veteran starter Jake Westbrook for the 2013 season that includes a mutual option for 2014. And while nobody was willing to say it, the deal probably means the end of Kyle Lohse’s tenure in St. Louis.
With Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter already under contract for next year, the Cardinals currently project one open spot in the rotation. But with youngsters Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal in the mix, it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals bringing back the high-priced Lohse instead.
“I think it brings some clarity to what we look like next year,” Mozeliak said. “I think most of you thought the likelihood of Jake coming back was there because we did have the mutual option but to get this done today, it’s important to the organization because it does give us that veteran presence next year no matter what.”
Westbrook will reportedly make $8.75 million next season, up slightly from the $8.5 million mutual option that was already on the table. Mozeliak said talks started about ten days ago after he saw the right-hander say publicly that he planned to exercise his side of the option.
Mozeliak and the Cardinals also planned to pick up their side of Westbrook’s option so after a conversation between the two solidified both side’s eagerness for him to return, the final contract details were worked out with agent Ron Shapiro.
Westbrook is having one of the best years of his career, taking a 12-9 record and a 3.50 ERA with him into Thursday afternoon’s start against the Houston Astros.
“The main concern for me was not wanting to lose the opportunity to be here,” Westbrook said. “This is a place I’m very happy, my family is very happy and comfortable here and I didn’t want to lose that opportunity and test that if it went to the end of the year. I’m super excited about getting it done now.
“It’s great. It gives me a piece of mind, not knowing the situation at the end of the season and just to know that I’m going to be part of this team for next year and hopefully two more years, it’s a weight off my shoulders to just go out there and pitch.”
Most figured either Westbrook or Lohse would return next year but not both. And with Westbrook officially in the fold for next season, the Cardinals seem destined to let Lohse earn the pay day he deserves elsewhere in free agency.
Lohse, who is currently in the final year of a 4-year, $41 million deal with the Cardinals, is 12-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 25 starts this year. He could command a three or four year contract exceeding $14-15 million per season. And it’s hard to see the Cardinals committing that kind of money to him given the plethora of cheaper, internal options they already have.
Carpenter has begun throwing and the club hopes to know whether or not they can count on him for next year by the end of this season. Assuming Carpenter is a go, the re-signing of Westbrook means Lynn, Kelly, Miller and Rosenthal will now battle for just one open spot in the starting rotation – and that’s if Lohse doesn’t return.
“Obviously when you have the talent we have below, at some point you have to create spots for them to get up here,” Mozeliak said. “That’s why you have that minor league system and that’s why we’re lucky our pipeline is very deep.”
Asked about the possibility of still finding a way to keep Lohse, Mozeliak said, “I don’t want to guess on what conversations may look like or may happen but the key thing for me today is knowing that the Jake Westbrook deal is done and in terms of future negotiations or talks, we’ll obviously be open to that but right now we’re just happy we got this one done.
“Obviously (Lohse) has had a very successful year and I think when he looks at the free agent market, it’s going to be a little different than maybe most, so when the time comes, we’ll sit down and talk.”
The Cardinals were already on the field for batting practice when Westbrook’s deal was announced and Lohse was not immediately available for comment.
Mozeliak was also asked about Wainwright, who is set to become a free agent following the 2013 season. The Cardinals could look to engage him in talks for a long-term extension as early as this winter. The ace will likely command a five or six year deal exceeding $100 million dollars.
“It’s something you’re always thinking about,” Mozeliak said. “In due time, we’ll get there. There’s no doubt when you look at his future here, it’s important.”
Tuesday’s announcement assures the Cardinals of having Westbrook in their rotation next season. How they decide to fill the final vacant spot remains to be seen. But they did gain a better picture of what it might look like.