The St. Louis Cardinals officially kicked off their hot stove season with their first major move of the off-season, inking mid-season acquisition Jake Westbrook to a two-year deal worth $16.5 million. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and a mutual option for 2013.

The deal takes care of one of the items on this offseason’s agenda: finding a fourth starter. If Westbrook can replicate his second half numbers from 2010, the deal could pay off big for the Cardinals in the future.

After coming over in a three-team deal that sent All-Star right fielder Ryan Ludwick to the San Diego Padres, Westbrook dominated the National League. His 4-4 record was not indicative of how well he pitched. He posted an ERA of 3.48 and far outpaced his career strikeout rates. What he really excelled at was getting groundballs. Had he mustered enough innings to qualify, his stellar groundball rate would have only been equaled by Braves ace Tim Hudson.

With the free agent market for pitchers very thin beyond  Cliff Lee, who the Cardinals had virtually no chance of signing. With that in perspective, this deal looks like a bit of a steal for St. Louis. Perhaps, because of his much-improved performance after moving into the National League and under the tutelage of masterful pitching coach Dave Duncan, Westbrook felt he needed the Cardinals as much as, if not more than, they need him.

“I didn’t want it to get to the point where I had the [possibility] of the Cardinals maybe finding somebody else and thinking that I didn’t really want to be there,” Westbrook said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of this team, and I was glad to get something done now. Now I can just not worry about it. I’m looking forward to a full season with the Cardinals.”

Now that Westbrook has been inserted into an already strong rotation that consists of former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, this year’s runner-up Adam Wainwright, dazzling prospect Jaime Garcia, and former 16-game winner Kyle Lohse, the Cardinals seem to be ready to sit pat on the starting rotation.

“We’re all thrilled,” General Manager John Mozeliak said. “We really think it sets up our rotation to be very strong in 2011.”

However, Mozeliak hints that the Redbirds may be in the market for a sixth starter, to provide extra depth for a rotation that has experienced some injury issues in the past, although not enough to make adding another starter a necessity.

The Cardinals’ first order of business, however, remains signing an extension with star first baseman and three-time Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols.

Read more MLB news on