If the Cardinals plan to keep Wainwright, they need to get it done now

Posted by Scott Wuerz on November 5, 2012 

Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright went on the public record Monday with remarks about how he would like to sign a contract with the Cardinals this off-season -- before he hits free agency at the end of the 2013 season.

And the good news is that the Redbirds, at least outwardly, seem interested in trying to get something worked out.

I sure hope the club -- and Wainwright, for that matter -- are being serious about their intentions and that they can get something done.

Some disagree on the theory and others disagree about the result. But I still say that the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols in 2009 when they expressed interest in working out a deal just as soon as they finished handing Matt Holliday the richest contract in club history... And then changed their minds.

When Ryan Howard was handed a $25-million a year extension by Philadelphia, the game changed and the Cardinals knew they wouldn't be able to give Pujols the amount of money he needed to feel like he was treated "fairly." Pujols decided dollars equal "respect" and ultimately, for better or worse, paved the road to Anaheim.

If the Cardinals were willing to go $210 for Pujols in 2009, he's probably still be wearing a Cardinals uniform today. Once he hit the More Money Than Brains Club Auction, he was as good as gone.

The Cardinals already have to deal with Matt Cain's $127.5-million contract when they try to sign Wainwright. It would probably behoove the club to make s deal with their co-ace before someone gives stupid money to Kyle Lohse and makes Wainwright think "well, gee, if Lohse is worth $75 million then I am worth TWICE that amount.

The Redbirds have good feeling on their side -- at the moment. The club was more than fair with Wainwright when it gave him a lifetime of security in his current contract. He's played on a pair of World Series winners with St. Louis and in three National League Championship Series. His buddy Carpenter is on the team and he's developed a comfortable situation here in St. Louis. Let's hope things aren't allowed to become all about the "business" side of baseball.

If the Cardinals come to the table in good faith, Wainwright needs to give a little, too. The Cardinals are likely going to have to go way outside of their comfort zone to get a deal done. To match Cain they're going to have to go $25.5 million a year for five years. And that's a lot of scratch for a guy who plays once every five days on a team with a $120-million payroll.

So Wainwright is going to have to leave room for the Cardinals to get creative either through deferred money or possibly by taking less per year over a longer term. Like with Pujols, the Cardinals might be able to spend big cash on an annual basis IF Wainwright would take less years. But it probably wouldn't be as appealing to Wainwright to take a huge payday for three years and then hit the market again as a 32-year-old pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery.

I want Wainwright to be around for a long while longer But I haven't yet figured out a way to make the number less than $20 million a year Cain's contract pays $15 million in 2012 and then $20 million for five years after that. But Cain is 28 and Wainwright is 31. By the time Wainwright finished a six-year deal he'd be 37. And there aren't many top pitchers in baseball who have maintained their success into their late thirties.

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