Adam Wainwright has already announced his intentions to return for a 17th Major League season in 2022, and the widespread expectation is that he and the Cardinals will eventually agree to a new contract. Per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the two sides have been encouraged by “introductory” contract discussions and hope a new deal will be hammered out “in the near future.”
Wainwright turned 40 a month ago, but the right-hander isn’t showing his age whatsoever. To the contrary, he’s enjoying his best season in at least seven years. Wainwright is one of just three pitchers in Major League Baseball to have surpassed 200 innings in 2021, and his current 200 1/3 frames are already the most he’s thrown in a single season since his All-Star 2014 campaign, when he finished third in National League Cy Young voting. Wainwright currently boasts a 3.05 ERA with a 21.2 percent strikeout rate that’s a bit below the league average but strong walk and ground-ball percentages (6.0 and 46.9, respectively).
Wainwright’s fastball hasn’t averaged even 90 mph since the 2017 season, but that lack of velocity hasn’t hindered him so far, as he continues to rely on impeccable command and weak contact. Wainwright’s 21.5 percent called-strike rate is the highest of any qualified pitcher in baseball by a wide margin — Lance McCullers Jr. is second at 19.9 percent — and he’s comfortably better than average in terms of opponents’ average exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel rate, according to Statcast.
The Cardinals were idle for much of the 2020-21 offseason, as ownership perhaps waited on additional clarity regarding potential attendance numbers in the wake of the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign and the total lack of ticket revenue. Wainwright kickstarted the team’s offseason dealings when he agreed to a one-year, $8MM deal to return to the club on Jan. 29. Nolan Arenado was acquired just three days later, and Yadier Molina re-signed a week after that.
This time around, Molina has already re-signed (and surely campaigned for his longtime battery-mate to do the same). The 39-year-old backstop inked a one-year, $10MM extension back on Aug. 24 and announced that the 2022 season will be his last before retirement. That $10MM sum marked a slight raise for Molina over this year’s $9MM salary, and one would imagine that based on Wainwright’s brilliant year, he’d be in line for an even larger pay bump heading into the 2022 season. Wainwright has already unlocked bonuses based on games started, and he only needs a Top 10 finish in NL Cy Young balloting to receive an additional $500K bonus — an outcome that seems quite likely given his workload and general excellence on the mound this season.