In Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals sent salty bulldog John Lackey to the mound. He pitched a gem, striking out five batters, walking just one and allowing only two hits in 7 1/3 innings as the Cardinals won their first, and what turned out to be only, game of the division series. Lackey came back on short rest in Game 4, but was not at his best as the Cubs clinched the series. The impression Lackey made in Game 1, as well as the solid season he had with the Cardinals was enough for the Cubs to sign Lackey to a two-year deal worth $32 million to $34 milllion, per Ken Rosenthal.
The Cardinals had Lackey's services for a year and a half, acquiring him at the trading deadline in 2014 for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig. That trade will go down as one of John Mozeliak's best as Allen Craig has yet to regain his hitting stroke with millions left to go on his long-term deal while Lackey pitched a year and a half for just a few million dollars. After this season, the Cardinals made Lackey a qualifying offer of $15.8 million. Lackey rejected that offer believing he could do better on the free agent market. Those beliefs came to fruition as the Cubs have guaranteed him two years at roughly the same cost.
As a result of the qualifying offer and Lackey signing elsewhere, the Cardinals have secured a draft pick in the supplemental round of next season's draft. The Cubs will part with their first round pick for signing Lackey, although they are likely to receive a supplemental pick of their own if Dexter Fowler departs. Discussing the Lackey rumors last week, I thought that he might sign quickly given his age and the qualifying offer attached. I also noted Lackey is not the type of player a team usually gives up a first round pick to sign.
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.
This could also be a signal that the Cubs are planning on signing another, bigger free agent (please not Jason Heyward) as Lackey is not typically the type of player teams give up first round picks to sign. Whether the Cubs could pull of the double and sign the St. Louis Cardinals biggest free agent remains questionable as the Cubs apparently were not financially able to go after David Price at the levels his contract reached.
While I would not have advocated signing Lackey to a multi-year deal given his age and the fact that the Cardinals defense and ballpark might have hidden some of his potential decline, the Cubs definitely needed to bolster their rotation and John Lackey does just that for next season. The Cubs just made themselves better for next season without spending too much money to do it. For the Cardinals, presumably they return their focus to signing the best free agent on the market in Jason Heyward.