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Do the Adam Wainwright contract economics trump Adam Wainwright fandom?

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The St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright are back to discussing a long-term contract. What could it possibly look like?

Getting to watch Adam Wainwright hit should not be discounted in your calculations.
Getting to watch Adam Wainwright hit should not be discounted in your calculations.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright are talking again. We've only heard from Wainwright's agent—here's Derrick Goold on the subject—but they're talking, or else Wainwright's agent is actually just a guy who's really good at sneaking into and out of the Cardinals' offices while holding a briefcase.

I've struggled all offseason to say interesting things about the Wainwright contract because the question we have to ask ourselves, as Cardinals fans, is really easily formulated: How much of Bill DeWitt's money is watching Adam Wainwright worth to you, in excess of his value as a baseball player?

This is one weird side-effect of the arbitration-buyout deals that have made it easier for teams to keep homegrown talent: The player you're left with at the end of the deal is more popular than ever, because he's homegrown talent, and less attractive as a franchise cornerstone than before, because he's deeper into his prime years than most free agents. (I plan on rerunning this post with the names changed when Allen Craig's deal ends.)

Wainwright broke out older than most aces, and the Cardinals bought out his first two years of free agency, which means the most obvious comparisons are being made to players like Matt Cain and Zack Greinke, who were significantly younger than he is at the time of their own megadeals.

Which doesn't mean it's impossible to sign Wainwright to a contract that's reasonable for both sides—it only means that for me (and potentially Wainwright) it's difficult to picture that deal. He lands between two classes of pitchers; he's not Greinke or Cain, but he's a better bet than C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) or Anibal Sanchez (five years, $88 million.)

Between those figures, unfortunately, is a wasteland filled with internet-speculation contracts, the ones that are so common-sensical and novel and neat-sounding that nobody ever seems to agree to them. The current internet-speculation vogue—I know this because they're my favorite, too—is short contracts with extremely high price-tags, but if the Cardinals and Wainwright were to agree to one as short and rich as we'd like they'd be the first.

Someone has to sign a four-year, $100 million contract, eventually; I'm just not sure it will happen until $25 million annually looks more like C.J. Wilson money than Adam Wainwright money. And the options surrounding that number—five years, $100 million for the Cardinals, five years, $120 for Wainwright—both seem at the very edge of plausibility to me.

There is one other issue, of course—one that had me half-convinced that Wainwright and the Cardinals would eventually take this all the way to free agency. What will Adam Wainwright get in 2014 if they don't agree?