After all this time, after the weeks of radio silence, after reports of offers from attractive places like San Diego, we can start the parade.
Adam Wainwright is staying home.
The 39-year-old hurler agreed to another one-year contract with the Cards on Thursday, reportedly for $8 million. I’ve not seen any reports that there were any incentives like the last two deals Wainwright had, where he had a low base salary but wound up doubling it or more with starts made. I could imagine Wainwright feeling like he’d done enough of that and, for this last ride, he wanted to have a little more security.
Not that it’s the money for money’s sake that brings him back. Wainwright’s said before he hope to “bounce his last check” because he’s wanting to give so much of his wealth away in charitable contributions and working for the betterment of other people. There’s no doubt Wainwright walks the walk that backs up his talk, which is one of the reasons he’s so beloved in St. Louis. Having that caliber of a person on your team is always a great thing for a fan.
Can we expect greatness from Wainwright? That’s probably pushing it. We saw a good year out of him last year, but that was at least somewhat a function of the smaller season. Having just ten starts means that the good ones stand out more and the overall numbers can be skewed by a shutout. (To be fair, they can also be skewed the other way by a bomb of an outing, something the legend avoided in 2020.) He also had a surprisingly good 2019, though a little more up and down than what we saw last year.
Assuming a full season, there are going to be nights where Wainwright goes four innings and gives up six runs. There are going to be nights where he goes six and gives up a run or less. More likely, we’re going to see a lot of quality starts (six innings, three runs) or near-quality starts. It may not be the storybook ending, but I don’t think it’ll be embarrassing. It hopefully won’t look like it did when he left the mound in San Diego in May of 2018.
Of course, there is always the question, will this be the end?
It’s possible that, with a good season, Wainwright will try to do the one-year deal thing again. After all, Tim Wakefield did that until he was 46, though knuckleballers have always been a different breed. Wainwright turns 40 this August, though, and I imagine that, unless the Cardinals look on the cusp of a real run at the Series in 2022, this will be the time he decides to hang it up.
It’s interesting timing that Wainwright’s contract is reported just before the latest round of Nolan Arenado rumors. As my Meet Me at Musial partner Allen Medlock said to me, could they be wanting to give Wainwright (and Yadier Molina, assuming they can come to terms with him) one last strong chance at a ring? Of course, the idea that 2020 was going to be their last year in St. Louis didn’t inspire that sort of push, so perhaps that’s us creating a narrative where none exists, but it’s nice to think about, isn’t it?
Imagine making this move, getting Yadi for another year, and somehow finding a way to fit Kolten Wong back on the roster. That’s a team that wins a lot of games (especially with the decimated NL Central being a large part of their season) and gives fans hope that the World Series drought doesn’t make it to a decade. The whole thing is probably a pipe dream, but as the calendar starts to roll around to February and the apparent on-time start to spring training, it’s the time of year for dreaming.
To swing this back to Wainwright, one of the best things about this is, by the end of the year at least, Cardinal fans will get to express their admiration, fondness, and gratitude to Uncle Charlie before he heads off into retirement. Losing him to another team or retirement after 2020, when the fans were kept out of the stadium, would have been a discordant note to end a legendary career. I’m very glad to hear that we’ve avoided that situation!
Welcome back, Mr. Wainwright, and good luck!