Steady starting pitching has been the hallmark of the St. Louis Cardinals in recent years. Even without Adam Wainwright in 2011 (because of Tommy John surgery) and Chris Carpenter this year (due to nerve damage), the club’s rotation has been a strength. One of those durable arms, veteran right-hander Jake Westbrook, was signed to an extension on Tuesday.
Westbrook’s previous contract included an $8.5 million mutual option for 2013. According to MLB.com, the extension covers next year and features a mutual option for 2014. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The 34-year-old Westbrook, who was a first round pick out of high school by Colorado in 1996, has not been a Cy Young Award winner like Carpenter or a Cy Young contender like Wainwright, but he has provided the Cardinals with consistency.
This season, he has logged at least six innings in 13 consecutive starts and owns a 2.95 ERA in that span. Overall, he is 12-9 with a 3.50 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 24 starts, leading the National League with a 73.3 ground-ball percentage and 22 double plays. He was 12-9 with a 4.66 ERA in 33 starts and 183.1 innings last year, earning a win out of the bullpen against Texas in the World Series.
Westbrook is 97-93 with a 4.26 ERA over 12 Major League seasons. He is not flashy, but he gives St. Louis a reliable starter. Rotation mate Kyle Lohse – who is a National League Cy Young contender with a 12-2 record and a 2.61 ERA in 25 starts – can become a free agent at season’s end if the team does not sign him to an extension.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old Wainwright (11-10, 3.87 ERA in 24 starts this season) has a $13 million option that will likely be exercised. Carpenter is under contract for $12.5 million in 2013 and will be eligible for free agency if he is not offered an extension.
Jaime Garcia, a 26-year-old left-hander (who is 3-4 with a 4.00 ERA in 12 starts) signed a four-year, $27 million extension last year that runs through 2015 (with options for 2016 and 2017) and 25-year-old right-hander Lance Lynn (13-5, 3.73 ERA in 24 starts) is under affordable team control for several seasons.
Now that Westbrook is secured through at least 2013, the Cardinals must decide on Lohse and Wainwright, and determine if Carpenter will be healthy enough to pitch next season.
St. Louis would love to have a full season with Carpenter and Wainwright in the rotation. The last time that happened was 2010, when Carpenter was 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA and Wainwright was 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA.
Wainwright missed all of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. After starting for the Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series last October, Carpenter was lost for the 2012 season in spring training when he had a procedure to relieve nerve compression that left his arm and much of the right side of his body numb. During the surgery, Carpenter’s top rib was removed along two of the connecting muscles to free nerves, and scar tissue was also taken out.
There is no guarantee that the 37-year-old Carpenter will pitch next season, when his current contract expires. The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner whose career has been derailed by a myriad of injuries will receive $12.5 million from the Cardinals in 2013.
The Cardinals do have highly regarded starting pitching prospects Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez poised to help the rotation, perhaps by next season. They give the team insurance in case Carpenter does not recover from his current injury and/or Lohse is not brought back. With Westbrook’s extension, he now joins Wainwright as Cardinals pitchers who could become free agents after 2013.
Eight games behind Cincinnati in the National League Central, the Cardinals are 65-56 and likely the only way they will reach the playoffs is via the wild card. St. Louis is 1.5 games behind Pittsburgh for the second wild card spot.