COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Cardinals have come to terms with ace pitcher Adam Wainwright on a five-year extension that makes the term "lifetime Cardinal" a real possibility just two years after they failed to do the same with Albert Pujols. Doing so shows that general manager John Mozeliak understood that this deal made a lot more sense than the potential investment in the team's former first baseman would have.
Just like many fans, I was extremely disappointed when the Cardinals were unable to come to terms with Pujols and he eventually found himself playing in Anaheim. The dust has settled on that deal and clarity has shown that many factors made sense for the team to allow its franchise superstar to leave.
This spring, many fans became concerned that history would repeat itself as the team and Wainwright entered negotiations. The feeling that, for the second time in a span of three years, a foundation piece of the organization would play for another franchise seemed to be developing into reality. The Cardinals and Wainwright announced during a March 28 press conference that the right-hander has been signed to a five-year extension through 2018.
Why was Wainwright retained and Pujols was not?
The deal for Wainwright is worth a reported amount of $97.5 million, far less than most anyone felt it would have taken to secure the pitcher to a long-term deal. Ultimately, many believe that the team offered enough money to satisfy Wainwright, while Wainwright gave the mythical "hometown discount" to remain with the team.
Pujols was not willing to settle for less than his perceived worth, and the team did not feel that his number fit well in its budget.
Roster MakeupThe roster is built in a way that taking on a large contract for one player makes a lot more sense now than it did then. During the course of the Wainwright contract, the Cardinals have Shelby Miller (2018), Joe Kelly (2017), Jaime Garcia (2017), and Lance Lynn (2017) all secured to long-term deals or under team-controlled arbitration. Add to that the departure of Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook after the 2013 season, and the money dedicated to Wainwright does not seem prohibitive at all.
The Pujols deal would have prevented the club from locking up Yadier Molina and Allen Craig to long-term deals and kept the team from being able to go to the market to secure players like Carlos Beltran. The roster would have been far more restricted for the next 10 years with far more holes to fill because of it.
It's funny to think about durability in this discussion because we are discussing a fielder who has only had minor injuries that have not cost him significant amounts of playing time, and a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery and lost an entire season to it. That being said, a five-year extension for Wainwright will keep him pitching for the Cardinals through age 37. The 10-year contract for Pujols will expire when the slugger is 41 years old. Four years may be a short time in life, but it is a drastic amount of time in baseball. It is fair to say that the Cardinals will see some decline in production the last two seasons of the deal with Wainwright. The Angels may very well be on the hook for five years of poor production by Pujols.
Replacing a Superstar
How do you replace players the quality of Pujols and Wainwright? It is not easy to do but, in the case of Wainwright, it was almost impossible. The talent in the Cardinals organization projects to have some strong pitching for many years to come, but only Shelby Miller currently projects as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. That projection will most likely not reach reality until he has a few seasons of experience. Losing Wainwright after the 2013 season would have left the Cardinals with two choices: stand pat and wait for the arms in the system to develop, leaving them with no true "ace" on the staff for a few seasons, or overspend in free agency for a pitcher who could assume that role immediately.
The production gap that Pujols left behind was not replaced by one player, but the pure hitting ability of Allen Craig and the addition of Carlos Beltran allowed the team to overcome his departure without significant financial investment.
All things considered, the deal for Adam Wainwright was one that the Cardinals both could and needed to make. As much as it seemed like a poor decision at the time, Albert Pujols' departure was in the best interest of the franchise.
Bill Ivie has been covering the Cardinals since 2008. You can read more of his work at i70baseball.com.
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