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Lackey's departure leaves the Cardinals with one fewer option as they seek to address a vacancy in their rotation. The club extended a qualifying offer to Lackey in November, but Lackey declined the one-year, $15.8 million overture to seek what may be the final multiyear deal of his career. The Cardinals were willing to discuss a two-year deal with Lackey, 37, but they were ultimately leapfrogged by the Cubs.
With his decision to head to Chicago, Lackey is reunited with former teammates Jon Lester and David Ross, as well as Cubs president Theo Epstein, who as Red Sox GM lured Lackey to Boston as a free agent in December 2009. Lackey's new manager, Joe Maddon, was also a member of the Angels' coaching staff when Lackey brokoe into the big leagues with Anaheim in 2002.
The Cardinals acquired Lackey in a 2014 Trade Deadline deal that sent Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston. Lackey posted a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts with the Cardinals to finish that season and then became the team's most consistent starter in 2015. He led the Cardinals' rotation in games started (33), innings pitched (218), ERA (2.77) and quality starts (26) in 2015. He was especially dominant at home, going at least six innings and allowing no more than three earned runs in any of his 17 starts at Busch Stadium.
His final performance of the season came on three days' rest as he tried to pitch the Cardinals out of a National League Division Series elimination game against the Cubs. He lasted just three innings and shouldered the loss.
The Cardinals enjoyed Lackey's contributions at a bargain price, too, as his contract included a clause that triggered a 2015 club option at the Major League minimum if Lackey missed significant time due to an arm injury earlier in the deal. The Cardinals chose to supplement that base salary with performance incentives.
Because they made Lackey a qualifying offer, the Cardinals will receive a compensation-round pick in the 2016 First-Year Player Draft. That will make it more palatable for the Cardinals to lose their own first-round pick should they want to sign a free agent also attached to Draft-pick compensation.
In the meantime, the Cardinals continue to eye an upgrade for their rotation. They have seen Jordan Zimmermann and David Price sign this week, and Lackey, Jeff Samardzija and Zack Greinke have reportedly picked their new teams, so options are coming off the board fast. The Cardinals' need for starting pitching was augmented with the November news that Lance Lynn will miss the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.