Westbrook signs new deal

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have signed Jake Westbrook to a new deal. The deal is essentially a 1 year deal that gives Westbrook $250,000 more than he would have made on his 2013 option and gives both parties a mutual option worth $9.5 million for 2014.

Westbrook, 34, said earlier this month that he intended to exercise his half of his $8.5 million option for 2013 but admitted he wasn’t sure what the team was going to do. He got his answer.

He is certainly pitching worth it right now too. With a 12-9 record and a 3.50 ERA in 24 starts, he is enjoying the second best season of his career by ERA+. His best was 2004 where he got his only career All Star nod and finished at 14-9 with a 3.38 ERA.

The move puts some guarantees into next season’s rotation which currently has durability questions on Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. Carpenter recently said that he hopes to be into his throwing program before the end of the season so that the team has an idea of how much they can depend on him going into 2013. Garcia returned to the mound Sunday night and pitched 8 innings and allowed just 2 unearned runs against the Pirates to begin a thrilling 19 inning loss. However, with the injuries both have sustained, there are understandably questions.

Going into next season the rotation seems like it will look like Adam Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia, Lance Lynn, and Westbrook. The team will have Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and #1 prospect Shelby Miller on deck should any of the five be unable to go.

Unfortunately for Kyle Lohse, this likely means that he will not be returning next season, instead getting his first (and likely last) real chance to test the free agent market. I expect Lohse to get 3-4 years at about $15-17 million per year, something that was likely outside the Cardinals’ price range.

Many fans would have preferred to re-sign Kyle Lohse, even if it meant spending twice as much. However, the Westbrook signing gives the team a good deal of flexibility moving forward while Lohse would have wanted multiple years. It’s important to remember, as well, that many have perceptions that skewed by last year’s abysmal season by Westbrook.

He finished the year with a 12-9 record and a 4.66 ERA. His 80 ERA+ makes it the worst season of his career since he broke into the major league rotation in Cleveland in 2003. But Westbrook is the definition of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. He relies on having a strong defense and you need to look no further than to note the 5.42 ERA he had when Ryan Theriot played shortstop for the first four months of the 2011 season. In contrast, Westbrook posted a 3.31 ERA with Brendan Ryan in 2010 down the stretch after he was traded to the Cardinals. He has since put up a 3.15 ERA in 6 starts with Daniel Descalso at short and a 3.57 ERA with Rafael Furcal manning the position.

All of those speak towards continued success for Westbrook in St. Louis. With Furcal, Descalso, and Ryan Jackson being the three guys who will man shortstop next year he should once again put up a very good season.

What this means for 2013.

Looking towards the offseason, the Cardinals now have $92.3 million committed towards 9 players. They have six arbitration cases for Kyle McClellan (3rd year), Edward Mujica (3rd), Jason Motte (2nd), Mitchell Boggs (1st), Marc Rzepczynski (1st), and most notably David Freese (1st) and will likely spend $12-14 million in arbitration if they keep all six players.

That puts payroll currently projected at $104-106 million for 15 players. Thankfully, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Matt Carpenter, Ryan Jackson, Lance Lynn, and Fernando Salas are all going to make minimum wage next season, a paltry $500,000.  That puts 23 players at $108-$110 million with 2 positions remaining to fill. Keep in mind that the Cardinals’ spent $111.9 million on their 2012 Opening Day roster.

Those positions are the second left handed reliever, which could potentially be filled internally with Samuel Freeman or Barrett Browning. Or with other young pitchers Nick Greenwood or John Gast. Or the team could bring back Brian Fuentes.

The final position and this is one I think the Cardinals need to look externally to fill, is a right handed hitting outfielder who can play all three outfield spots. As much as Matt Adams may deserve an opportunity, he’s a lefty hitter and we’ve got plenty of those. He’s the 14th position player on this team in my opinion and should rack up the miles going back and forth from Memphis.

Either way, I don’t see them coming up with the money to make a huge acquisition in the offseason.