Do The Cardinals Really NEED To Re-Sign Wainwright?
Given the lack of winter moves, several Cardinal-related websites have been speculating about the still-unresolved contract issue involving Adam Wainwright. Recently, a few have gone so far as to suggest that the Cardinals MUST lock up Wainwright to a long-term deal, and that the Cardinals might be FORCED to give Wainwright the richest contract in franchise history. Even Joe Strauss, typically known to remain objective, began ringing the warning bell about the situation.
All of this is, of course, absolutely ridiculous.
We like to think of baseball as a kid’s game, but truthfully, it’s a game of economics. As Lance Berkman famously said, it’s business. And if we look at this potential business transaction coldly, without emotion, we see a seller (Wainwright) attempting to extract fair market value for his services (somewhere between $20-$25M a season for approximately 5-7 years) from a buyer (the Cardinals) eager to contend in the postseason.
However, the Cardinals are not desperate buyers. Their vault is fully stocked with powerful, young, and healthy arms with the potential to dominate for years to come. Even better, these young arms are ridiculously cheap and under control for multiple seasons.
Imagine taking a bear pelt to a fur trader. You might have the most luxurious and precious bear pelt ever touched by human hands, but the price will go down drastically if you take it to a trader whose warehouse is already full of bear pelts. As a seller, you have two choices – drastically reduce the price of the pelt so that this particular trader will buy it, or you can take your pelt elsewhere. It’s pure supply and demand economics.
When these writers make their apocalyptic demands to extend Wainwright, they often fall back on some peculiarly flimsy logic. Here are some oft-cited reasons:
1. “Wainwright is our ace.” Sabermetricians wince at terms like “ace” since they are so ill-defined. What makes a pitcher an “ace?” There is no doubt that Wainwright is a team leader who keeps a clubhouse loose and focused. Should the Cardinals really pay $20M a year to someone because they’re “nice” or “fun” or “knowledgeable?”
If an ace is defined as the “best” pitcher on a staff, can that really be applied to Waino? Honestly, Wainwright has been the “best” pitcher on a staff two times (2009, 2010) since his arrival six years ago. Even then, Chris Carpenter was the undisputed ace, the one pitcher you’d want on the mound in a critical game. Last year, Kyle Lohse outpitched Waino and took over that ace role down the stretch.
2. “Wainwright is a veteran presence for the younger pitchers.” This is an interesting argument, and an opinion I even share to a degree. However, we already have Derek Lilliquist hired as a pitching coach. We also have several other veteran players who are able to impart wisdom and knowledge to our impressionable youths. If Wainwright is being hired to shepherd younger players, then let him take a coaching salary instead of $25M a year.
3. “Wainwright has several more great seasons in him.” First of all, there is no proof of that. I do believe that Wainwright will work hard to replicate his pre-injury successes (he might even accomplish it). However, here is the sober truth: Wainwright is entering his 32nd year, and is just one year removed from the most serious pitching surgery possible. His return to the rotation in 2012 produced average results. One always hopes the best for a guy as genuinely nice as Wainwright, but no amount of wishful thinking can make a 36 or 37 year-old Wainwright worth $20-$25M a year.
4. “Wainwright should retire a Cardinal.” This is complete bullshit, a sentimental plea that has no basis in reality.
Here’s reality: if the Cardinals can successfully walk away from Albert Pujols, then they can walk away from Adam Wainwright. Period. The Cardinals didn’t have a viable replacement for Pujols when they let him go, but the organization is fully armed and capable of transitioning past the loss of Wainwright if that comes to pass. With even more confidence than the Pujols fiasco, the Cardinals will be able to look Wainwright in the eye and reject his demands if they get outrageously high.
If the Cardinals feel that they really need a veteran leader on the staff, then they should lock up Carpenter (if he’s healthy) for significantly less time and money. Of the two, Carpenter “deserves” to retire a Cardinal more than Wainwright does anyway.
From an economic standpoint, the Cardinals should not pay Wainwright more than $15M AAV. If Wainwright demands more, then the Cardinals would be economically wise to keep him throughout the summer, work Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal onto the staff for some exposure, and then trade Wainwright at the August deadline. By doing so, the team will maximize Wainwright’s efforts and his market value while also prepping his eventual replacements.
Such a move would undoubtedly upset many of these irrational writers and many overly-sentimental fans. However, the Cardinals have too many supplies to deal foolishly in a seller’s market.