ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals made two qualifying offers before Friday's 4 p.m. CT deadline, extending the one-year deals worth $15.8 million to free agents Jason Heyward and John Lackey. Both players have until Nov. 13 to decide whether to accept or reject the offers, which have a value determined by averaging the top 125 player salaries from the previous season.
In making these offers, the Cardinals guarantee themselves compensation Draft picks should either player sign elsewhere this offseason. The risk, of course, is that a player can accept the qualifying offer, which then becomes binding. No player has yet done so since the system was established three years ago, and it seems unlikely Heyward or Lackey would become the first.
Heyward, 26, is seeking a lucrative multiyear deal as a first-time free agent. Lackey, 37, is hopeful of parlaying a career season into a multiyear contract that could potentially take him toward the end of his career. If Lackey were to decide to take the one-year offer, the Cards are comfortable with him returning under those financial parameters.
Lackey was the Cardinals' most consistent starter from start to finish in 2015, and he was a bargain for the club, which owed Lackey the Major League minimum this year due to a clause in a contract he initially signed with the Red Sox. Even after building in some performance incentives, the Cards paid well below market value for Lackey's contributions.
Lackey led the rotation with 218 innings, posted the lowest ERA (2.77) of his 13-year career and ranked fourth in the National League with 26 quality starts. He threw at least six innings and allowed no more than three earned runs in all 17 of his home starts. St. Louis also benefited from Lackey's leadership, particularly after ace Adam Wainwright went down with an Achilles injury in April.
Lackey's value on the open market could be hurt by being attached to the qualifying offer, as teams that sign such players must forfeit a Draft pick.
Heyward's inclusion as a qualifying-offer recipient should not affect his market value since he enters the offseason as one of the most attractive free-agent outfielders available. His age boosts his appeal to clubs, and Heyward has established himself as an elite defender and an above-average baserunner with a dynamic offensive profile.
The Cardinals would like to bring Heyward back, and they have already had preliminary discussions with his agent regarding a potential return.