As expected, outfielder Jason Heyward and right-hander John Lackey declined qualifying offers from the Cardinals on Friday.
Heyward and Lackey each turned down the one-year, $15.8 million contract offer, a value determined by averaging the top 125 player salaries from the previous season. The Cardinals can still negotiate with both players, but they guaranteed themselves a compensation Draft pick should either player sign elsewhere this offseason.
Heyward and Lackey were two of 20 free agents to receive a qualifying offer last week. Former Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus on Friday became the first player to ever accept the qualifying offer, staying with the Astros. Two other players, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and Dodgers left-hander Brett Anderson, also accepted the qualifying offer on Friday, and the Blue Jays agreed to a contract extension with Marco Estrada.
The last three years, all 34 players to receive a qualifying offer rejected the one-year deal.
This was an anticipated outcome, especially for Heyward, one of the top free agents available this offseason. Re-signing the 26-year-old outfielder is a priority for the Cardinals, and the club has opened dialogue with his agent about a long-term contract.
After joining the Cardinals last November in a trade for Shelby Miller, Heyward batted .293/.359/.439 with 13 home runs, 60 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He also swept the major defensive awards, taking home a Fielding Bible Award, a Rawlings Gold Glove Award and a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award for his work in the outfield.
Lackey's decision was somewhat less certain than Heyward's, but hardly a surprise. The Cardinals owed Lackey the Major League minimum salary last season due to a clause in a contract he initially signed with the Red Sox, so he could have immediately cashed in with a $15.8 million deal in 2016.
Instead, Lackey is likely to pursue a longer contract as well. The Cardinals, in need of pitching following the news that Lance Lynn will sit out next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, haven't ruled out the possibility of extending Lackey a multi-year offer.
"These are things I don't discuss publicly, but obviously he did a great job and we really enjoyed our time together," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said earlier this week at the General Managers Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. "With the injury that happened to Lance, obviously we have to be open to things."
Lackey earned the right to seek a bigger deal with his performance last season. The veteran righty went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA, the lowest mark of his 13-year career, and pitched a team-high 218 innings over 33 starts.
Lackey's value on the open market could suffer slightly as a result of the Cards' qualifying offer, however, as any other team would have to forfeit a Draft pick to sign him.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.