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Transaction Analysis 1/30: Cards Add Certainty to Rotation by Re-signing Wainwright

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MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cards announced the following transaction yesterday:

1/29/21: Re-signed RHP Adam Wainwright to a 1-year, $8 million contract. 40-man roster at 38.

The last two contracts Wainwright signed were incentive-laden deals. Coming off of a 2018 season in which he only pitched 8 games, he signed a deal for 2019 that only gave him a guaranteed $2 million salary. That package maxed out at $10 million for 30 starts, $5 million for 60 appearances and $9 million for 60 appearances with 55 games finished. After maxing out that contract with 31 starts—the first season he started as many games since the 2016 season, he re-signed in 2020 to another deal with incentives. The 2020 deal gave him $5 million guaranteed with $10 million max as a starter, but this time required him to only pitch 28 games to get the max value. Like in 2019, he maxed out at $8 million at 60 relief appearances, but this time could max out at $12 million if he pitched 60 games while finishing 55.

All Wainwright did in 2020 was anchor the rotation with a staff-leading 10 starts and 65.2 IP. He started one more game than Jack Flaherty, who was in second place in both categories, but beat him in innings pitched by 20.1 innings. Wainwright wasn’t the best pitcher on the staff by DRA, and his strikeout rate wasn’t anything to write home about, but he led all starters with the lowest walk rate and helped the Cards snap a four game losing streak by pitching the only complete game by a starter.

There have been conflicting reports on exactly how much guaranteed money is in Wainwright’s 2021 contract. At first it was said that he would only get $5 million in guaranteed money with incentives that could push it to $8 million. Later, reports surfaced that the $8 million is fully guaranteed and that there are unstated performance incentives that could push it even higher. Hilariously, if the latter report is correct, Wainwright’s $8 million deal is the most expensive free agent contract signed by a National League Central club to date. Either way, there were good reasons to bring Wainwright back. Not only does he help stabilize the rotation, but the price is fair. Every year for the past 3 years or so, we have been asking whether Wainwright has anything left in the tank and whether the current season would be his last. Every time, Wainwright has answered the bell. It’s unclear exactly what took so long. Perhaps the Cards were waiting to see what the market for Wainwright would be. Wainwright himself told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch that he turned down larger offers from other clubs to re-sign with the Cards. We’re not big fans of legacy contracts here at VEB, but Wainwright has a good shot to earn this deal, and I’m sure many believe that it just wouldn’t feel right watching Wainwright pitch in another uniform.

When I was first writing this, the Arenado trade had not been announced. It is still not final, but one of the names in the potential return to the Rockies that has been thrown about is Austin Gomber. If Gomber is truly out of the picture, it looks like that leaves one rotation job between Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes. That is just a rotation competition rather than a competition for a roster spot, because whichever pitcher is not in the rotation will be in the bullpen for sure. Suppose the rotation is Jack Flaherty, Kwang Hyun Kim, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez. Let’s further suppose that the 2021 season features the rules that were supposed to prevail for the start of the 2020 season and the club is limited to 13 pitchers. Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, Alex Reyes, Andrew Miller, Genesis Cabrera and John Gant would seem to be locks. Tyler Webb is out of options and led the club in appearances last year. If Webb isn’t DFAd, that would leave just 1 pitching job between Seth Elledge, Junior Fernandez, Ryan Helsley, Johan Oviedo, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Angel Rondon, Kodi Whitley and Jake Woodford. Of those candidates, one might think that Helsley will get the nod, but if that happens, the club will have to get rid of Ponce, as he’s also out of options. We may be seeing another DFA with the pitching staff before it’s all over.

I haven’t discussed the Arenado trade in this article because all of the details have not been finalized yet, and I didn’t want to have to essentially write the article twice. As soon as all the particulars are ironed out, I’ll keep you updated on the status of the 40-man. If you’ve got time between celebrating our new acquisition, let me know what you think in the comments about the direction of the pitching staff and how you might allocate the time.