In Extending Wainwright, Cardinals Cement Their Foundation

The St. Louis Cardinals brought an end to the biggest question that surrounded any part of the club this spring by finishing an agreement to keep pitcher Adam Wainwright in a Cardinal uniform for the for another half decade. After two months of ebbing and flowing through negotiations, and with less than a week before Opening Day, the team closed on keeping one of its most irreplaceable players in the fold.

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While there’s no such thing has a perfect deal, this very well may be the best one the Cardinals have authored in some time. The extension, which starts with the 2014 season, runs for five years and will land the club’s ace $97.5 million over the run through 2018. The battleground between club and player was on finding a suitable length and annual value, in light of the multiple large scale deals being signed by other pitchers on the tier of Wainwright.

While not touching the value of the recent mega deals signed by Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke, it will set several club records. It is the largest contract in club history for a pitcher, surpassing Chris Carpenter’s five year, $63 million pact from 2006. Also, Wainwright will become the highest paid Cardinal ever on an annual value basis, bring in $19.5 million per season, his deal surpasses Matt Holliday’s $17 million total.

Wainwright has stated his desire to remain with the club for the duration of his career, and while this most likely will not be his last deal with the club; it was the career-defining deal that he went on the record as saying was important to him personally. For the Cardinals, it gives two arms potentially signed through 2017, along with Jaime Garcia.

For the team, it is the second time in two years that it has used the spring to strike an aggressive deal to lock its core up long-term, after extending Yadier Molina just before Spring Training a year ago. In the wake of signing Allen Craig this spring, the organization is in the best long-term shape of any team in baseball in regards to having its core intact in a three year window. With a mixture of arbitration year players, as well as minor leaguers ready to emerge, a St. Louis team that’s averaged 88-wins the last four years is in position now after inking Wainwright to only have to add final pieces its foundation, as opposed to being faced with rebuilding any part of it.

Yet the value of the agreement cannot be seen only in financial expressions.  With Carpenter’s days on the mound over and Jake Westbrook’s contract set to expire after the year, Wainwright will enter next season as the only Cardinal starter that has seen his 30th birthday. Despite the gut of potential that is beginning to manifest itself through the organization, Wainwright represents a pillar in the organization. After returning from Tommy John surgery to post a 14 win, 33 start effort in 2012, he erased any doubts about his ability to continue to anchor the rotation. With the organization focusing on building from within and capitalizing on its stockpile of pitching talent, having a presence like Wainwright that can lead by example both on and off the mound, the value of keeping Wainwright in the fold is beyond just the comfort of having him throw himself every five days.

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