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Cardinals should make effort to re-sign Wainwright now

I hope, as we settle into the off season, that the Cardinals are warming up the effort to sign starting pitcher Adam Wainwright to a contract extension.

Wainwright, who missed all of the 2011 campaign with a torn elbow ligament, had a two-year option pitched up before the 2012 season -- and then he soothed concerns about his future with a strong rebound season.

So now is the time to ink Wainwright, 31, to a new deal. Otherwise, the Cardinals could face the real prospect of having both of its co-aces become free agents at the end of 2013. Chris Carpenter's contract, which was reworked and extended after the 2011 season, runs out after next year.

Wainwright is simply one of the best pitchers in baseball with a 80-48 record and a 3.14 ERA in his career. He's got better than a 3:1 strikeouts to walks ratio throughout his career, 908 whiffs compared to 301 bases on balls.

I'm not sure what will happen with Carpenter, who has shown a willingness in the past to take less money to remain in St. Louis. He was out almost all of 2012 because of nerve problems in his pitching shoulder. But, after a relatively radical surgery, he made a quick comeback and said that his arm is in good shape. Still, he seemed to have creaky mechanics and lower velocity on his return. So his future remains in doubt.

That makes the case to sign Wainwright even greater. Wainwright is the heir apparent as leader of the Cardinals pitching staff, taking place in a line of great hurlers and mentors that includes Woody Williams, Darryl Kile and Matt Morris.

Hopefully, if the Cardinals approach Wainwright now, he'll be open to negotiating a reasonable deal. He has to be appreciative of the fact that the club have treated him well financially in the past. And he's seen how the Redbirds have supported his buddy Carpenter through injuries in the past.

If the Birds let Wainwright hit the market, the results are likely to be ugly. I could see Atlanta making a pitch for the Georgia native the Braves reluctantly traded for J.D. Drew a few years back.

In addition to saving Chipper Jones' salary in the future, Atlanta will see pitcher Tim Hudson's contract expire at the end of the 2013 season, creating a vacancy in the front of its rotation.