The St. Louis Cardinals on Friday made qualifying contract offers to outfielder Jason Heyward and right-handed starting pitcher John Lackey.
The move would put both players under contract to the team for 2016, or provide the organization with draft picks as compensation if the players sign elsewhere.
The qualifying offers mark the first step in the team’s exploration of longer-term deals for both players.
Analysts of the impending free-agent market have suggested Heyward, 26, could command an annual salary of $20 million or more for multiple years, possibly seven or even more.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Lackey, 37, is expected to pursue a multiyear deal that could approach $15 million a year. That might be too rich for the Cardinals, depending on what happens with the Heyward talks, but Lackey’s re-signing with the Cardinals would deepen their rotation.
Heyward, a left-handed hitter, had a club-best .293 batting average, with 13 homers and 60 RBIs. He reached career highs in hits (160), doubles (33) and stolen bases (23), leading the team in that category.
He is also a finalist to win his third career Gold Glove.
Lackey was 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA in 33 starts, tying his career high. He was seventh in the National League in ERA, tied for 12th in th eleague in wins, and sixth in innings pitched, with 218.
He emerged as the Cardinals’ No. 1 starter in the wake of the Achilles tendon injury to Adam Wainwright in April, and started Games 1 and 4 of the National League Division Series with the Chicago Cubs.