The St. Louis Cardinals traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to the Boston Red Sox at last year's trade deadline in exchange for veteran righthander John Lackey. The Cardinals traded for Lackey in order to add a veteran innings-eater with an October pedigree to a starting rotation that had been sapped by injury. It also didn't hurt that Lackey's contract with the Red Sox contained a unique club option: If Lackey suffered an injury to his throwing arm that cost him significant time, a club option for $500,000 would be triggered. Lackey required Tommy John surgery to replace his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in 2012, and so he is obligated to pitch for half-a-million bucks in 2015—a salary that will likely be cheaper than the league minimum. In fact, before completing the trade, the Cardinals received assurances from Lackey that he would honor the contract's $500,000 club option for 2015.
Given the seeming importance the club placed on Lackey pitching for St. Louis next year at a $500,000, it was interesting to read the report from Jenifer Langosch at MLB.com last week that the Cardinals are willing to talk with Lackey's agent at this week's Winter Meetings about reworking the righty's 2015 salary:
Asked the likelihood of making a modification, Mozeliak said, "I wouldn't rule anything out."
Why would the Cardinals be willing to increase Lackey's 2015 salary when the veteran is under contract to pitch for a mere $500,000 and has committed to honoring the deal?
The Cards aren't going to simply open up DeWallet and fork over millions more to Lackey for 2015 without getting something in return. Most likely, general manager John Mozeliak is using a 2015 raise in order to explore Lackey's receptiveness to an extension of some sort. Whether that takes the form of a club-friendly guaranteed deal or an option year remains to be seen. Given the Cardinals' position in such negotiations, it seems possible that a Cardinals-friendly club option for 2016 or a team-friendly vesting option would be an ideal pairing with a Lackey salary hike in 2015.
The Cardinals have pitching depth. The loser of the Carlos Martinez-Marco Gonzales spring competition for the fifth starter spot will move the bullpen. Behind him are Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney, both of whom will likely start the year in Triple-A with Memphis. But the Cards ostensibly had pitching depth entering last season as well and, in 2014, 12 different Cardinals started at least one game. In 2013, 10 pitchers made a start for the Cards. There's a reason the phrase "You can never have enough pitching" is a baseball truism. If Lackey is healthy and effective in 2015, having the ability to bring him back at a club-friendly price in 2016 adds another layer of depth to the rotation. Increasing Lackey's 2015 salary might very well serve as a down payment on 2016.
Lackey's seeming lack of enthusiasm at pitching in 2015 for just $500,000 in salary might also be weighing on the Cardinals' mind. St. Louis didn't negotiate the contract provision with Lackey; they merely exercised their right under its terms to exercise the club option for 2015 at a $500,000 salary. But Lackey is plainly less than thrilled about the notion of pitching for something less than the league minimum. Engaging in successful negotiations to give Lackey a raise will keep the salty bulldog less grumpy while also signaling to other players the Cardinals are an organization that deals in Respect Units. This almost assuredly isn't the club's primary concern, but keeping a vocal veteran happy doesn't hurt.
The Cardinals aren't going to give Lackey a raise out of the kindness of their hearts. Mozeliak and company are going to get something in return for agreeing to a 2015 raise. It will be interesting to see the specifics of any re-worked deal that might emerge from the Winter Meetings discussions.