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Rosenthal: Westbrook might be slipping away... But what about Cliff Lee?

The Cardinals seem to be at an impasse with Jake Westbrook, according to Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal.

St. Louis has offered a two-year deal to their right-handed pitcher. But he seems to be holding out for a three-year pact.

Rosenthal thinks Westbrook could get the third year elsewhere because pitching is so thin this winter. I have always been skeptical about a Westbrook deal if he hit the open market because I don't think the Redbirds are willing to overpay for him. Westbrook did a fine job last summer. But he has a pretty shaky injury history. And, while he is steady, he's not really a front of the rotation, big money sort of pitcher. He's a fourth starter -- third at best. To pay him over $7.5 million a season -- be it for one year or three -- would seem to be too much of an investment.

Rosenthal thinks the Cardinals could be a surprise player in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, however.

He reasons that Lee wants to remain close to his Arkansas home, which is why he liked pitching in Texas so much, and that Lee would probably have better results in the National League than the hitter friendly American League.

The catch is that Rosenthal thinks the Cardinals would have to trade Pujols to fit Lee in the budget -- or at least let him walk at the end of the 2011 season.

First, let me say that I don't think there is any way the Redbirds are going to get involved in the Cliff Lee feeding frenzy. The only way he is going to play here is if he calls GM John Mozeliak and says "I don't care about the money, I just want to play in St. Louis more than anything else in the world." And that didn't even work for Roy Oswalt... The Cardinals simply have too much of their payroll tied up in the starting rotation already with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lose already pulling down big checks. They don't want to sign another ace. They're shopping for a fourth starter.

But, if the Cardinals did decide to go that route, they COULD make it happen without trading Pujols or raising the budget to $150 million.

How? Well, Bluntly put, Carpenter makes $15 million in 2011 and has an option for $15 million in 2012. If the Cardinals signed Lee to a contract that was backloaded to make him earn an affordable amount in 2011, they could sign him and let a 37-year-old Carpenter walk after the season, keeping everything else intact, replacing him with a 32 year old Lee.

2011 rotation: Carpenter, Wainwright, Lee, Garcia, Lohse

2012 rotation: Wainwright, Lee, Garcia, Lohse, Lynn/Miller/McClellan

This isn't going to happen, however. The Cardinals have too much on their plate right now to even contemplate it... Pujols needs to be signed before they can get crazy with anything else. And, much remains to be seen about Carpenter's situation.

I would prefer, if he can stay healthy, that the Cardinals offer Carpenter a contract extension in place of his option. Maybe they could get him for two years at $20-$22 million instead of one year for $15 million. That would help pay the Pujols freight. The other consideration is that Lee is probably going to want a six or seven-year contract. While he would be younger than Carpenter at the start, that's a scary investment over the life of the contract.