There has been a lot of conversation among St. Louis Cardinals fans during the past week about whether the team should allow longtime ace Adam Wainwright to continue as a member of the team's starting rotation.
There is little doubt the former ace isn't exactly the same hurler he used to be. But my question is not if Wainwright should be allowed to continue to pitch. I would like to ask Redbirds fans, would you turn back the clock and undo the decision to sign Wainwright to the most lucrative deal for a pitcher the team has ever handed out, a deal that currently pays him $19.5 million a year?
Because I wouldn't.
The team, on the verge of Wainwright's free agent walk year, signed the lanky right-hander in 2013 to a five-year, $97.5-million pact that covers the 2014-18 seasons. On paper, the results don't look so hot. He's had a 4.82 ERA over the past two-plus seasons and his strikeout rate has plummeted while the average of walks and hits per inning pitched that he's surrendered have gone through the roof. Then there is the fact that Waino was injured in 2015 and only won two games. It doesn't look like much return for the investment from a 10,000-foot perspective.
But just below the surface, Wainwright is a winner and the Cardinals are a better team with him on the roster. Over the life of the deal, the numbers are actually pretty good, a remarkable fact because of how tough things have been lately.
He's 47-26 during the span of his current contract with a respectable 3.72 ERA. A lot of people discount wins as a relevant statistic these days. It may be an erratic way to quantify a pitcher's skill because it doesn't account for luck. But the most important statistic of all in baseball is wins — and Wainwright is going to give every bit of what he's got to find a way to win a game — something he's done 25 times in the last two years. And don't tell me he was just lucky. Carlos Martinez couldn't notch more wins than Wainwright with the same offense behind him. Waino just finds a way.
That's more important, in many ways, than his baseball card stats. I believe that Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, and others are better pitchers because of Wainwright being around. There is no disputing that Wainwright is the leader of the pitching staff. He's a great example for young players and I sincerely hope that, when his playing days are over, Wainwright continues to be a Cardinals coach or front office person. He's a special player and a special person who brings a lot to this organization.
Some might argue that Wainwright's contract is an albatross to the Redbirds. That if he didn't have all the money owed to him, he would have been dismissed by St. Louis two years ago. I don't think that's true. And I know that in no realistic way has the veteran pitcher's contract prevented the Cardinals from being able to afford to make other moves to improve the team. Team chairman Bill DeWitt and company aren't close to going broke. The fact that the team was willing to take on Giancarlo Stanton's $30 million a year contract is proof of that. So is giving Greg Holland $14 million on a whim.
Finally, and if I'm going to lose you and I haven't already, this is where I will: I think Wainwright deserves the big contract.
I know, I know. NO ONE deserves almost $100 million to play baseball. But that's the economic reality of baseball. Some of the guys that Wainwright was equal to in his prime — David Price, for one — got twice that much money. I don't mind seeing the marquee players who put butts in the seats make the big bucks. It's the bench warmers who make $3-$4 million a year I find to be absurd. Besides, it all has a way of evening out. Remember when Wainwright was a rookie closing out the 2006 National League Championship and World Series? He made $327,000 that year. In 2009, he led the National League with 19 wins and made $2.6 million. Chris Carpenter was second in the Senior Circuit in wins with 17. He made $13.7 million in 2009.