Despite an injury that will keep him out for all of the 2011 season and maybe half of the 2012 campaign, Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright doesn't seem to be willing to renegotiate the option on his current contract that would pay him $21 million from 2012-13.
Wainwright has said on a couple of occasions now that if the Cardinals don't want to pick up that option "someone" would be willing to pay him handsomely. Although he didn't come out and say it directly, the implication seems to be that the Birds guarantee the $9 million in 2012 and the $12 million in 2013 or else he'll shop himself next season as a free agent.
Two years at $21 million is a bargain (relative to baseball terms) for one of the best pitchers in the majors. But what if it's $21 million for a year and a half? It doesn't sound nearly so good.
It would help the Cardinals a lot if Wainwright was willing to renegotiate a deal that paid him less in 2012 when he'll only be available for part of the season. They could offer a contract that was a longer term that escalated after 2012 when Kyle Lohse's current deal is up and $11.75 million a season comes off the payroll. That would help to free up money for Albert Pujols and for Chris Carpenter's eventual replacement.
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It would be a gamble because if Wainwright never pitches again, the Cardinals would be on the hook for even more money than if they would have just picked up the option. But it would help the club keep the financial shell game going on for at least two more years. And the odds are strong that Wainwright will come back from Tommy John surgery as strong as ever. It's about the most routine major surgery there is in the sports world.
My guess is that the Redbirds will have no choice but to pick up Wainwright's options. There's no way they could get a pitcher anywhere near Wainwright's status for the pricetag. In 2012 he'd only be the fourth-highest-paid starter in the rotation next year at $9 million.
The Cardinals should attempt to get Chris Carpenter to renegotiate his option instead. As I have mentioned before, the Birds have been very good to Carpenter for entire seasons that he couldn't play due to injury. He's made his money, so it would make a lot of sense for both sides to tear up Carp's $15 million option for next year and replace it with a two-year, $20-million contract. That's $5 million in 2012 for the Pujols pot. And, when you consider the fact that Albert is already making $16 million in 2011, that's $21 million without raising the commitment to those two core players by a penny. Let go of Berkman and replace him with Jon Jay and Allen Craig and that's another $8 million in the Pujols pot.