Have Recent Ace Contracts Priced Adam Wainwright out of the Cardinals' Budget?

Will Grapperhaus@@WillGrapperhausContributor IIIDecember 19, 2012

I can't help but think there has to be some serious, old-school respect between baseball agents and the Cardinals' front office when the time comes for a star like Adam Wainwright to get a contract extension.

Agents are used to leading owners like Arte Moreno and Jeffrey Loria around by the wallet, guided only by a ringed pinky finger.

As Billy Joel sang on one of his most underrated songs, "I want the easy money."

On the other end of the spectrum are the franchises that would be right at home in a strip mall next to Wal-Mart and Dollar General. Call it Baseballz-R-Us, with friendly locations in Oakland, Pittsburgh, and San Diego.

Oh, and Miami—they can't seem to decide if they want to be an upscale establishment or bottom-basement discount team.

Agents don't even give those GMs a call. They probably don't have cell phones anyway.

And somewhere in-between are the St. Louis Cardinals.

Major League Baseball is slowly stratifying between the Haves and the Have-Nots with the Cardinals and a dwindling few other franchises doing their best to remain in the middle class.

Going with a rock-bottom budget would be the easy way out and many teams have taken that route.

But the Cards continue to walk a fine line by being competitive year in and year out; willing to pay big money within reason, but refusing to get swept into the rapids of free agent contracts that take players well into their retirement age.

Just imagine: the Angels' Albert Pujols may actually one day earn $25 million to play horseshoes.

So the real question is, have escalating salaries for top-shelf pitchers priced Adam Wainwright beyond the Cardinals' fairly rigid salary structure?

Back in April the Giants extended Matt Cain through at least 2017, possibly 2018 by way of a vesting player option, for a grand total of $141 million.

Wainwright is roughly two years older than Cain and has not been as durable as the Giants' ace so that should bring his price down slightly.

However, Wainwright's career OPS+ of 130 is markedly better than Cain's (124), which is attributed to the fact that Busch Stadium is a much fairer ballpark offensively than spacious AT&T Park, where pitchers have more room for error.

Sabermetrically, Cain's best season came in 2009 when he posted a 14-8 record and a 5.9 WAR rating, but in no other season has Cain posted a WAR higher than 4.4.

Wainwright, on the other hand, had WAR ratings of 6.0 and 5.9 in the two Cy Young-finalist seasons prior to his surgery.

Aside from health, it can be argued Wainwright is the better pitcher—he certainly has a higher ceiling than Cain, provided he's fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.

In more recent contract news, Zack Greinke's new contract with the Dodgers is even worse news for the Cardinals' camp.

Greinke will receive up to $158 million over six years, for an annual annual salary near $25 million. But aside from one excellent Cy Young Award-winning season way back in 2009, one would have to say Greinke has been rather overrated since.

His career ERA+ of 114 ranks well behind Wainwright and Cain. With his elite talent, Greinke gives the distinct impression he's always holding something back when he competes.

Wainwright on the other hand is a bulldog who leaves it all on the field every time he takes the mound.

He learned how to attack a lineup while studying under the tutelage of one of the fiercest competitors in Cardinal history—a Cy Young winner himself, Chris Carpenter.


Wainwright is an ace—while Greinke is a $25 million No. 3 pitcher.

Just as Cardinal fans held out hope for Pujols to re-sign a year ago, so it is with Wainwright, who seems to have a much warmer disposition toward the Cardinals than Albert had:

"It’s not like I have one foot out the door (to free agency). If I’m being honest, they have to show they respect what I’ve done and what I will do. And they have. They have. So I don’t think it will be a problem.” (h/t STLtoday.com)

A five-year deal is likely the absolute maximum the Cardinals would want to commit to, which would take Wainwright to age 37.

A three-year deal would be an insult, so we can hope that Mozeliak at least leads off with a generous four-year offer and a mutual option for a fifth year—$80 million, $100 million with the option exercised.

$20 million per year for one of the top five starters in the NL would be fair for all parties involved and the club would show how serious it is about locking Adam up by laying down a nine-digit figure right at the start.

Of course if Wainwright wants top dollar, he'll have to leave St. Louis. This is a mid-market team where baseball is religion, fans try to view every player as a hero and players get paid well, but not to the detriment of the team.

Agents deride the "hometown discount".

Players say they simply want respect.

News flash for both sides—a hometown discount simply means the respect goes both ways—and that's the way it should be.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.com.


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