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John Lackey with no shortage of suitors in free agency

John Lackey had a solid year with the Cardinals last season, and as a free agent, he is drawing a lot of interest.

Salty Bulldog
Salty Bulldog
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

John Lackey had a very good season with the Cardinals, leading the team in innings pitched, and even received a fifth place vote for the Cy Young award the season. Lackey was playing on a $500,000 contract, but made closer to $2 million after the Cardinals offered him incentives based on innings pitched. After the season, the Cardinals put to bed any rumors that there was a "handshake deal" not to make a qualifying offer to Lackey. The Cardinals made the $15.8 million qualifying offer to Lackey which he rejected. Despite the draft pick attached to the qualifying offer, there has been no shortage of interest in Lackey.

If Lackey signs with another team before next year's draft, the Cardinals will receive a compensatory pick next season. The team that signs Lackey, if it is not the Cardinals, will forfeit a first round draft pick next season with a couple exceptions. The bottom ten teams have their first round pick protected, meaning they would lose their second round pick by signing Lackey. None of the teams Ken Rosenthal mentioned above are in that protected group. The other exception occurs if the team signs multiple players given the qualifying offer. In that case, they forfeit their next available pick, whether a compensatory pick for losing their own free agent, or perhaps a second round pick.

John Lackey, likely seeking a shorter term contract between two and three years, is not typically the type of player that teams would be willing to give up an unprotected first round pick. Signing Lackey might signal a team's intentions to sign another, bigger free agent, although it could also mean they are simply willing to give up a pick because they have a compensatory pick to make up for the loss of the first rounder.

At this point, we cannot rule out a return to the Cardinals for Lackey. The team valued his innings and would have been happy to have him back on a one-year deal for around $16 million. If the Cardinals could get him to agree to a 2-year deal, perhaps under $30 million total, the Cardinals might strike. John Mozeliak recently told Jim Hayes of Fox Sports Midwest they would be looking for a pitcher in the next couple of weeks. Lackey profiles as the type of player they could target given the short term of the contract, and the likelihood that he will try to sign soon before the market dries up for a 37-year old pitcher with a forfeited draft pick attached to him.

At FanGraphs, Steamer projects Lackey for 190 innings, a 3.88 ERA, 3.89 FIP and 2.6 WAR. That would be a bit of a step down from this past season's numbers, but those are numbers any team would be glad to put in their rotation for a minimal commitment in terms of years. Lackey's market will probably pick up leading to next month's winter meetings and it would not be a surprise if he was one of the first free agents to sign as a team might try to preempt the free agent market.