You don't win 11 World Series championships by stumbling upon them blindly. The St. Louis Cardinals, with the second-most World Series titles in the history of baseball, have almost always been a shrewdly run organization.
Throughout their history, the Cardinals have consistently managed player evaluation, player development and the team's payroll with world-class precision.
It's for this reason that the Cardinals' recent signing of Adam Wainwright, as reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, is such an interesting topic. Especially on the heels of their decision not to pursue Kyle Lohse, who, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com, was recently signed by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Although Lohse, at the age of 34, is a few years older than the 31-year-old Wainwright, there seemed to be more at work in the Cardinals' evaluation of these two players than just the wear on their respective arms.
Lohse had one the best years in his career last season, ending play with a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA. Wainwright, on the other hand, went 14-13 in 2012 with a 3.94 ERA.
Based on their new contracts, Lohse will earn around $11 million per year, while Wainwright’s extension is for significantly more at approximately $19.5 million per year. Lohse is signed through the age of 37 in Milwaukee, while Wainwright will be a Cardinal through the age of 38.
The extension of Wainwright must have left Kyle Lohse feeling mighty underappreciated. Given that he will pitch more than a few times against his old team in the coming years, it's not difficult to imagine that he might draw some extra motivation when his turn comes up against the Red Birds. This is just the type of situation that may help the Brewers get the most out of the pitcher’s contract.
Before missing the 2011 season due to injury, Wainwright was as dominant a pitcher as there was in the league. From 2009 to 2010, he amassed a 39-19 record with an average ERA of 2.53. However, when Wainwright returned to the team in 2012, he looked downright average.
Given their successful history, the benefit of the doubt must be given to the Cardinals' management at this early stage of the two players' new contracts. The Cardinals must have felt something unusually compelling about Wainwright given that they locked him up to a long-term contract after such an unremarkable season.
In the past, the Cardinals have been mostly lauded for their effective management of player development and contract strategy. In the case of Albert Pujols, a wildly popular figure in St. Louis, the Cardinals deftly negotiated the exit of both the player and his out-sized payday without too much collateral damage.
The wisdom in the Cardinals' approach with Pujols is one reason their approach with Wainwright seems so peculiar. At 31, Wainwright is almost exactly the same age as Pujols was when the Cardinals let the rubber hit the road toward Los Angeles.
While the nearly $100 million for Wainwright is less than they would have invested in Pujols, Wainwright also has the added complication of coming off major injury. And given that he was already signed through the 2013 season, the team also had the luxury of continuing to evaluate his progress before laying down the big bucks.
Despite these factors and Wainwright's drop in production last season, the Cardinals still felt they were best served locking the pitcher up right now as opposed to somewhere down the road. The team will have to hope Wainwright can still tap into his former self and maintain that type of productivity for six more seasons.
The Brewers, on the other hand, will merely have to hope that Kyle Lohse continues where he left off last year. And they will have considerably less risk in the event that that doesn’t occur.
Time and results will eventually reveal which team negotiated the better contract and ultimately partnered with the more productive player. For now, however, the Cardinals' decision is the one that appears more suspect—a puzzling situation, given how they usually do things in St. Louis. For the Brewers, their relatively economical signing of Lohse could be a positive sign of things to come.
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