Back to the Future with Wainwright

I don't know about the rest of you but I'm ready for some real baseball.  Don't get me wrong; I like Spring Training and all but I'm ready to watch some games that count.  Just a little over a week till that first game. . .

Derrick Goold has an article up today discussing Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright whom the Cardinals have positioned to anchor their rotation over the next 3-5 years.  In it John Mozeliak says,

"The one thing that we were looking at constructing this contract was some flexibility should we have an injury," Mozeliak said. "There's no doubt any time you sign a pitcher, you're one pitch away. But in his case, where he is with his physical and how he looks, being in the shape he's in, we're pretty bullish on him."

With the signing of Lohse this past week, Mo was asked on Bernie Miklasz radio show about how much flexibility there would be mid-season to add a player if needed.  Mo made all the right platitudes about management being committed and willing to add players at the right cost.  It was exactly what you'd want to hear and exactly what he should have said.  Anyone else catch that buzzword though?

Flexibility.

A team (read: payroll) that can quickly react to the market and the opportunities each offseason and trading deadline is obviously a desirable thing. The best way to create that scenario is cost-controlled talent, namely players from your farm system, but that's a subject which is approaching dead-horse status. Let's take a quick glance into the future to see what commitments we have from 2009 on.

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
1B - Pujols 16 16 16
2B - Kennedy 4
3B - Glaus 11.25
RHP - Carpenter 14 14.5 15 15
LHP - Mulder 11
RHP - Pineiro 7.5
RHP - Franklin 2.5 2.75
C - Molina 3.25 4.25 5.25 7
RHP - Clement 8.75
RHP - Wainwright 2.6 4.6 6.5 9 12
Total 80.85 42.1 42.75 31 12
Options 31 2.75 16 31 12

What you see here are the contractual obligations through 2013 in no particular order.  The options line is the amount of committed money if all options (both player and club variety) were exercised that year.  The club has options on Mulder and Clement next season and Glaus has a player's option as well.  That's a hefty amount of semi-committed money.  Depending on those decisions the Cardinals could make a lot of noise next offseason. While I don't want to wear out my crystal ball too much, one name that immediately jumps to mind this offseason is AJ Burnett.  I'll say no more.

What did Wainwright's shiny new contract mean in terms of flexibility though.  The last two seasons are club options at what would probably be below market rates.  The first three years in the table above buy out his arbitration years.  Obviously, these years are meant to continue a player's cost controlled time without being the total screw job that the pre-arb years are.

Looking at his Baseball Prospectus page, PECOTA is quite the fan of Wainwright.  Not only does his ERA improve over the next 5 years but it isn't even forecasting any significant injury with his IP sitting around 180. Some people will disagree with that but I'm not an injury prognosticator -- well, not often at least -- so I'm gonna stick with those totals. 

Doing some back of the envelope calculations (that I hope to make nice and pretty to show you in a later post), Wainwright looks to be about 2.7 wins above replacement level next season. If we anticipate him maintaining that level over the next 5 years, I'd estimate his free agent value around $40M.  Try not to get too caught up in where I got those numbers, but for those who really care to know its a WAR calculation and Tom Tango's salary scale.  Again, I hope to lay that all out in more detail in the future but for now I want you to focus on those adjectives before "value" because that's the hitch.  Wainwright isn't a free agent so we have to do some kind of pro-rating on his salary for his arb years.  Tango uses .4/.6/.8 coefficients to calculate the three-arb year values based off of the free agent value.  Doing the same, I'd guess Wainwright's value during the arb years is about 20M if he went year-to-year.

That is a well done contract by John Mozeliak.  If you want to point to something that he's done right this offseason, here's a great example.  The contract saves the team something in the neighborhood of 7M over the next 3 years and both of the options are club options meaning it's all upside for the team those seasons.  If he's playing well, they'll get him at below market rates.  If not, they can cut and run.  This was quite the coup.  Now that's not to imply that Wainwright didn't get something in return.  He certainly did -- security.  He's set for life financially at this point.  Everything else is gravy.

It's impossible to say for certain that Wainwright won't blow his elbow out this season.  Hell, that's exactly what happened to the other half of the Cardinal's pitching "core".  This is a team friendly contract, however,and it locked up a player that's likely to be one of the prominent (and marketable) faces of the franchise over the next 5 years. I've been critical of some roster management lately but this deal gets two thumbs up from me.

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