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John Lackey

Cardinals starter John Lackey delivers a pitch during the Giants' four-run first inning in Game 3 of the NLCS. (AP Photo)

The Cardinals exercised the team-friendly option on pitcher John Lackey’s contract before the gates to free agency swung open Thursday, meaning the veteran starter will make the league minimum for 2015.

The Cardinals acquired Lackey at the July trade deadline in exchange for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig, and one of the draws of the deals for the Cardinals was an unusual option attached to Lackey’s contract with the Boston Red Sox. When Lackey had elbow surgery midway through his deal with the Red Sox it triggered a clause in the contract that added a team option at the end of the five-year, $82.5-million contract originally signed. Lackey, 36, will make slightly more than $500,000 for the coming year.

In 10 starts for the Cardinals, Lackey provided seven quality appearances, and he had a 4.30 ERA in 61 innings for the team. The Cardinals expect him to be a member of the rotation for 2015, and Lackey has repeatedly said publicly and privately to the team that he intended to honor the clause in his contract and not retire. He did not rule out approaching the Cardinals about an extension that might give him a larger financial security instead of risking injury for the minimum salary.

CARDINALS LEAD GOLDEN ERA NOMINEES

Five of the 10 people who will comprise the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era ballot announced Thursday have connections to the Cardinals, including longtime third baseman Ken Boyer, the Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1964 when the club won the World Series. The candidates will be voted on Dec. 8 at the winter meetings in San Diego.

Besides Boyer, others on the ballot with Cardinals backgrounds are first baseman Dick Allen and outfielder Minnie Minoso, both of whom spent one season with the Cardinals; lefthander Jim Kaat, a member of the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals; and former general manager Bob Howsam, who spent two-plus seasons in St. Louis, including trading Boyer to the New York Mets before the 1966 season.

The five remaining candidates are Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills. Boyer, Howsam and Hodges are the only non-living candidates.

Any candidate to receive votes on 75 percent of the ballots cast by the 16-member Golden Era Committee will earn election to the Hall of Fame and will be inducted in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 26 of next year.

FIVE CARDS FILE FOR FREE AGENCY

Five players officially filed for free agency. They are pitchers Pat Neshek, Jason Motte and Justin Masterson, second baseman Mark Ellis and catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Rick Hummel is a Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.