Adam Wainwright has been a fixture on the Cardinals’ pitching staff since 2006, and while the right-hander’s career looked to perhaps be drawing to a close a few years ago, he now tells Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) that he hopes to return to the Cardinals for another go in 2021.
Wainwright, who’ll turn 39 in August, details that as recently as 2017, “my arm hurt taking a spoonful of cereal.” Had the current shutdown occurred back then, the three-time All-Star candidly acknowledges that he “would have retired so fast it wouldn’t have been a second thought.” Now, however, his arm feels as healthy as it’s been since 2013-14. Wainwright is playing long toss with newly signed Cards lefty Kwang-hyun Kim from distances of close to 300 feet.
The improved health in his arm is apparent in his results on the field as well. The 2019 season marked just the second time since 2014 that Wainwright has been able to make 30 starts, and last year’s 171 2/3 frames were his second-highest single-season total of the past five years. Wainwright worked to a 4.19 ERA last year, averaging 8.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 1.15 HR/9 to go along with a 48.8 percent ground-ball rate. He was slightly better than the league-average hurler, per ERA+ (102), and he was right at the league average in terms of FIP- (100).
Certainly, it’s a far cry from the Cy Young-caliber ace that Wainwright once was, but the Cardinals weren’t asking him to be that — nor were they compensating him as such. Young Jack Flaherty has taken up the mantle as the team’s ace, while Wainwright gave the Cards 171 league-average frames while pitching on a $2MM base salary and maxing out an incentives package that earned him another $8MM. He re-upped on a one-year, $5MM deal this winter (with another set of incentives), as the organization hoped he could again serve as a steady source of innings and mentor for the younger pitchers.
While he’s open to and even hopeful of playing another year in 2021, Wainwright didn’t sound like a player who has much interest in relocating to another club. Longtime teammate Yadier Molina recently went on the record to state a newfound willingness to play anywhere next season, but Wainwright focused his comments specifically on another year with the Cards:
My wife loves St. Louis. My family loves St. Louis. As long as (the Cardinals) will have me, I’d love to play again next year.
Presumably, Wainwright will play out the remainder of his career on a series of one-year deals in St. Louis, with similar incentives packages to those negotiated over the past two offseasons. Interestingly, both contained incentives based on both starting and relieving, so it seems that a return to the ’pen hasn’t been entirely ruled out for the longtime starter. For now, though, the expectation is that he’ll serve as a starter whenever play is able to resume.