TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #7: Lackey the Interim Ace

Last spring, had any baseball observer been presented with the supposition that St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright would make just four starts in 2015, not a one would have predicted a 100-win season for the club was ahead.

Enter John Lackey. From start to finish, the 36-year-old stepped up, becoming the staff leader in what would be his only full season with St. Louis.

In 2015, the right-hander led Cardinals pitchers in fWAR (3.6), innings pitched (218), starts (33), quality starts (26), quality start percentage (79), strikeout to walk ratio (3.3-to-1) and was second in ERA among the starters (2.77).

Lackey was the only healthy and effective member of the rotation still standing as the Cardinals entered the Division Series against the Cubs. Starting Game 1, Lackey held Chicago hitless through the first five innings and finished with 7 1/3 scoreless frames as St. Louis won, 4-0.

Asked to take the ball again for the potential elimination Game 4 on short rest, Lackey stumbled in what would be his final outing as a Cardinal. He was pulled following the third inning after giving up four runs – an RBI single by the opposing pitcher and a three-run blast by Javier Baez.

Under his contract to pitch in 2015 for MLB minimum salary signed when he was with Boston, Lackey was quietly given several million dollars in additional appearance incentives by the Cardinals this spring, but was still a tremendous bargain. Not to mention the fact that his arrival in July 2014 enabled St. Louis to get out from under Allen Craig’s bad contract, which runs through 2017.

The Cardinals appeared to have little interest in keeping Lackey beyond 2015, likely due to a combination of his age and his desire for a multi-year deal.

Even on his departure as a free agent, the Cardinals received benefit, though. After making Lackey a one-year qualifying offer, the club was guaranteed a supplemental first-round 2016 draft pick when he signed elsewhere.

That was firmed up when Lackey agreed to a two-year, $32 million contract with the rival Chicago Cubs on December 8.

All things considered, the brief, one-and-one-half year business relationship between Lackey and the Cardinals worked out extremely well for both sides.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

Follow me on Twitter.