Cheap Seats

Signing Adam Wainwright for too much money will hurt the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020

I’m a huge fan of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright.

I think he brings a lot more than just his on the field talents to the picture as a member of the Cardinals roster in 2020. But I am starting to wonder, because of the team’s tight payroll situation, if keeping the veteran starting pitcher is more of an emotional decision than a logical one.

The team is reportedly negotiating a one-year deal with it’s longtime ace after a bounce back season in 2019. But if it’s true Wainwright wants more guaranteed money than he got last year, it’s going to put the team in a bad spot when it comes to filling out the rest of the roster. Last year, the oft-injured righty accepted a guarantee of $2 million with another eight million bucks in incentives. That made sense because, if he couldn’t perform, the team had limited liability. If he did, he’d make a nice salary. I would have zero problem with it if Wainwright agreed to the same terms for next season. In fact, I wouldn’t complain if he asked for $3 million guaranteed salary and nine million bucks in incentives.

But to give a pitcher who has averaged 112 innings pitched and 20 starts a year over the past five seasons $10-$12 million in guaranteed money seems to be a bit risky — especially when the team has questions in other areas of the roster that it won’t be able to address if it commits so much to Waino.

Don’t get me wrong — I want Adam Wainwright to pitch for the Cardinals next year. But the team has paid the pitcher more than $137 million over the course of his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Does he really need another big payday? If Wainwright wants another crack at playing in the World Series with St. Louis, it would be smarter to tell them team he’d pay for less so it could build a stronger roster around him. Team Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said during the end-of-the-season press conference that the payroll isn’t going up much — if anything — over what it was last year. With built in raises for Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and Miles Mikolas, the team will basically break even despite parting with Michael Wacha and others, there is no way to hold the line on the budget, pay Wainwright and improve the team’s weaknesses.

All that being said, is it right that the Cardinals insist on holding the line on payroll in the low $160 million range, some $40 million short of the competitive balance tax threshold? St. Louis was second in all of Major League Baseball in attendance last year, the team has a lucrative local television deal and the team realized steep raises in its national television revenue — as did other teams across MLB — in recent years. DeWitt says that bad contracts are still financial obligations the team has to meet. That’s certainly true. But that doesn’t explain how the Birds are supposed to compete against the National League Central Division rival Chicago Cubs and their $207 million payroll cuffing their own hands with an artificial ceiling $45 million less. Before you reply that St. Louis finished better in the standings than the Cubs in 2019, look at the three previous seasons.

If the payroll is written in stone, wouldn’t it be a better idea to invest in a player with a longer shelf life than a 38-year-old pitcher who has logged 2,103 innings, an Achilles injury, Tommy John surgery and countless other health problems from all the wear and tear he’s put his right arm through? Marcell Ozuna doesn’t have the Cardinals track record Waino does. But he’s almost a decade younger and still is firmly in his prime. Meanwhile, the Cardinals get an obvious benefit from signing Ozuna because he’s a productive cleanup hitter. Wainwright doesn’t exactly solve the team’s health issues for its starting rotation. Not only is he a durability question mark, but fellow starters Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez aren’t exactly pillars of consistency, either.

As much as I want Wainwright back in the fold, I’d hate to see the great season he had last year forgotten with the bitter feelings that would come from an injury-plagued third place finish in his last tour of the National League.

Be smart about this Cardinals. Waino wants to finish his career in St. Louis with battery mate Yadier Molina. I find it to be very unlikely he’s going to play anywhere else. So don’t overdo it with the guaranteed contract. Put together another incentive-heavy contract that lets him play while not limiting the team from fixing its other holes.

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Scott Wuerz is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. The Cheap Seats blog is written from his perspective as a fan and is designed to spark discussion among fans of the Cardinals and other MLB teams. Sources supporting his views and opinions are linked. If you’re looking for Cardinals news and features, check out the BND’s Cardinals section.

Scott Wuerz has written “Cheap Seats,” a St. Louis Cardinals fan blog for the Belleville News-Democrat, since 2007. He is a former BND reporter who covered breaking news and education.
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