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LOUIS -- Though six weeks remain in the regular season, the Cardinals took a step toward solidifying their 2013 rotation by agreeing to a contract extension with right-handed starter Jake Westbrook.
The extension negates the 2013 mutual option that had been a part of Westbrook's current contract. That option, which both parties could have exercised this offseason, was to be worth $8.5 million. Now Westbrook will earn $8.75 million next season and will carry a $9.5 million mutual option (with a $1 million buyout) for 2014.
"I'm super excited to get this done," Westbrook said on Tuesday. "It gives me a peace of mind knowing I'm going to be back here. My family and I have really settled in here and are excited to be back."
Westbrook's emergence as one of the Cardinals' most reliable starters this season comes one year after he posted a 4.66 ERA and found himself left out of most of the team's run through October. He was left off the National League Championship Series roster and pitched only two postseason innings.
But Westbrook arrived at Spring Training significantly slimmed down, believing that his improved physical conditioning would go a long way toward getting back on track. It has.
Westbrook is 12-9 with a 3.50 ERA through 24 starts. His 16 quality starts rank second on the staff behind only Kyle Lohse. Westbrook, 34, leads the NL in ground-ball percentage (73.3) and double plays (22).
"I think that's one of the reasons that I worked so hard in the offseason [was] to give myself every opportunity to prolong my career," Westbrook said. "I've felt like I've done that and performed pretty well, considering my age and the things I've gone through physically."
Extension conversations between Westbrook and the Cardinals began about 10 days ago, when general manager John Mozeliak approached Westbrook after reading media reports in which Westbrook was quoted as saying that he anticipated picking up his part of the 2013 mutual option. Knowing the right-hander was interested in staying, Mozeliak then went to work with Westbrook's agent, Ron Shapiro, to fill in the details.
The deal was finalized over the weekend.
"When you think about anytime you're developing a plan or strategy in terms of rotation, you're always looking to have guys you know you can count on, consistent performers who can give you those innings," Mozeliak said. "And two things he's shown -- one he can eat those innings, and two, he's shown durability and the ability to take the ball.
"When you combine that with positive performance, it just made a lot of sense for us to get this done."
The assurance of Westbrook's return gives the Cardinals considerable clarity when it comes to projecting their rotation for 2013. Starters Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn will be under contract next season. Chris Carpenter is signed for 2013, too, even though there is some uncertainty as to how he'll recover from neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery.
Those five players, alone, would constitute a full rotation.
And there are the up-and-comers. Joe Kelly, who started in place of an injured Garcia for two months this summer, has proven he can successfully start at this level. Top pitching prospect Shelby Miller is on the horizon, too, and he has been dominant lately in Triple-A. Fellow Memphis starter Trevor Rosenthal could also be ready to break through as a starter next year.
The surplus of starters provides the Cardinals sufficient insurance in case Carpenter incurs any sort of regression.
"Obviously, when you have the talent we have below, at some point, you have to create spots for them to get up here," Mozeliak said. "That's why you have that Minor League system, and that's why we're lucky our pipeline is very deep.
"It's been a long time [since the organization had] this kind of depth, especially when you're considering these guys are middle-to-front-end starters."
The domino effect of Westbrook's deal also hits Lohse, the only member of the rotation set to be a free agent at year's end. With Lohse in the midst of a career year, he is set up to be one of the most coveted starters available in free agency over the winter.
The volume of expected suitors, coupled with the Cardinals' depth of starters, suggests that the organization will not make an active attempt to re-sign Lohse.
Mozeliak said on Tuesday that he has, to this point, not engaged in any contract talks with Lohse or his agent.
"I don't want to guess on what conversations may look like or may happen, but the key thing for me today is knowing that the Jake Westbrook deal is done," Mozeliak said. "In terms of future negotiations or talks [with Lohse], we'll obviously be open to that. But right now, we're just happy we got this one done."