In the wake of the Cardinals being swept out of the National League Championship Series, it isn’t surprising that Adam Wainwright was more focused on the end of his club’s season than he was on his future plans. The 38-year-old righty told MLB.com’s Adam Berry and other reporters after Game Four of the NLCS that “I haven’t even thought about” what he might do for the 2020 season, though “we’ll talk about it over the next couple weeks.”
If the veteran does decide to hang up his glove after 14 seasons, Wainwright will have gone out on a very high note. He posted a 4.19 ERA, 8.02 K/9, 48.8% grounder rate, and 2.39 K/BB rate over 171 2/3 frames for St. Louis this season, and then delivered a 1.62 ERA over 16 2/3 innings during the Cards’ playoff run.
While not at the level of Wainwright’s ace-like prime in 2009-14 (a stretch that saw him earn four top-three finishes in NL Cy Young Award voting), it was still the right-hander’s best season of the last half-decade. Wainwright has been hampered by injuries in recent years, so it’s no wonder that his performance began to improve once his nagging elbow problems finally began to subside. Aside from a 10-day minimum stint on the injured list due to a balky hamstring in June, 2019 was a very healthy campaign for Wainwright, as he passed the 170-inning plateau for the eighth time in his career.
Signed to a one-year deal for just $2MM in guaranteed money, Wainwright ended up earning $10MM by maxing out his incentives. Wainwright re-signed with St. Louis last offseason before October was even over, so another quick deal isn’t out of the question if Wainwright and the Cardinals have a mutual interest in continuing their partnership with as little drama as possible, though it’s fair to wonder whether other teams might also be keen on talking to Wainwright on the open market.
Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, and Dakota Hudson project as the Cards’ top three starters for 2020, and with Michael Wacha unlikely to return, there would certainly seem to be room for Wainwright to once again suit up as the veteran leader of the St. Louis rotation. Wainwright’s presence would help stabilize an otherwise uncertain back of the rotation, as the Cardinals would then have their younger options (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, Genesis Cabrera or possibly Alex Reyes if healthy) battling over one rotation job, rather than two. Of course, the Cardinals could also augment this mix with another veteran arm via free agency or trade, even if Wainwright does return.