Lackey could be a shrewd pickup for Cubs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The focus has been on outfielder Jason Heyward, but the Cubs had another shrewd pickup from the Cardinals: free-agent pitcher John Lackey.

    The focus has been on outfielder Jason Heyward, but the Cubs had another shrewd pickup from the Cardinals: free-agent pitcher John Lackey. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/19/2016 8:24 PM

Most of the talk about the Cubs' off-season centered on the signing of right fielder Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract, and rightly so.

But one of the shrewdest moves engineered by Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer might have been picking off free-agent pitcher John Lackey from their Gateway Arch rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

The 37-year-old Lackey came to the Cubs on a two-year, $32 million deal in December.

It's no secret the Cubs suffered a drop-off in quality in their rotation last year after Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Lackey will slide nicely into the No. 3 spot this year.

Not only does Lackey give the Cubs some much-needed starting depth, but he also has world-championship experience, with the Angels in 2002 and the Red Sox in 2013.

The native of Austin, Texas, also is known as a tough, all-business competitor on the mound.

"Four out of five days I'm pretty laid-back and having a good time," Lackey said as spring training opened in Mesa, Arizona. "When it's my day, we only get 30-some times to help the team. I take it pretty dang serious. I'm going to go get after it.

"I think (the approach) has helped me, for sure. It's not going anywhere. It's just there. It's kind of what it is."

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Something has worked for Lackey in his big-league career, which began in 2002 with the Angels. His lifetime record is 165-127 with a 3.92 ERA.

He earned the win in Game 7 of the '02 World Series against the Giants, becoming the first rookie to do so since Babe Adams of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates.

For the Cardinals last year, he was 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA. His WHIP was a solid 1.21. He beat his friend and teammate Lester in Game 1 of the National League division series in St. Louis.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has known Lackey for a long time, from their days together with the Angels.

"He's getting better," Maddon told reporters recently. "It starts with his delivery, and the next component is that he knows what he's doing out there. He'll never give in to a hitter. That has not changed."

Lester and Lackey are good friends on and off the field. Along with Cy Young winner Arrieta, all three are seen as leaders for a Cubs team that still features a lot of young players.

"The ways you win championships haven't changed," Lackey said. "We (he and Lester) both won a couple. Ultimately, we can bring some of those things here and if we can put it all together with some of this young great talent we have on this team, and get it done."

• Follow Bruce's Cubs and baseball reports on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.

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