I thought I’d give the dust time to settle after the announcement of the Wainwright extension before I tackled my take on the subject. I know I have mentioned that I am an unabashed Wainwright fanwoman (I’m a little long in the tooth to use the term “girl”), so it doesn’t bother me if you take what I have to say on this subject with a grain of salt. I tend to be relatively fair on most subjects regardless of personal feelings, and I plan to be here, but you can judge for yourself.
I had strong feelings about retaining Wainwright for a number of reasons, but I knew there was a limit to what the Cardinals could afford to pay him, so I was prepared for the worst. Thinking rationally, I calculated that 5 years guaranteed, with an AAV of no more than 21M, would be as far as I would be prepared to go. Getting him for less than that, of course, was preferred. Now, that was my comfort zone as a fan, so it means little to anyone else. My reasoning was based on performance, both past and expected future, age, injury history, and intangibles such as leadership, club chemistry, mentoring of young pitchers, and so forth. Perhaps my evaluation was a little on the optimistic side, granted, but I didn’t think it was out of line. Some may disagree.
I also took expected market value into consideration. This is an area of much disagreement among the fandom. What is market, when you are talking about 1 year into the future? After all, Wainwright wasn’t on the open market as of yet, so the concept of highest bidder didn’t apply. Really, you are talking about hypothetical market value in this case. Of course, any hypothetical involves speculation, which leaves a pretty wide margin for error. Given that, my speculation involved looking for the closest known comp I could find, and extrapolating from there. The comp I considered closest was Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee signed his 5yr/120M contract at the age of 32, the same age Wainwright will be when his kicks in. I then considered injury history; Wainwright had Tommy John surgery, and Cliff Lee hasn’t had it, so something should be taken off for that. I then looked at their accomplishments; Cliff Lee has a Cy Young award, Wainwright doesn’t. Without getting into the minutiae of individual stats, I concluded that their records were very similar given that Lee has more years in the major leagues. So extrapolating from all that, I determined that Wainwright should be paid the same number of years (guaranteed years, that is) but with a lower AAV given the other factors. That is how I came up with my ceiling of 5yrs/105M. It was an inexact calculation, and one that is no doubt subject to criticism.
Now, having read many opinions across the internet on this subject prior to the agreement being reached, I was aware that there were any number of fans who simply didn’t see it my way. Some were of the opinion that pitchers over the age of 30 were just too risky and felt the Cardinals should let Wainwright go elsewhere. Naturally, I felt this was an extreme position, especially when backed up by what I considered shaky factual information regarding the expected recovery from Tommy John surgery as well as Wainwright’s pitching abilities. Others were of the opinion that the Cardinals didn’t need Wainwright because of the paucity of young pitching available in the organization. This determination didn’t take into account the risks associated with relying on young, unproven prospects in your rotation. It also ignored or discounted the intangible value that Wainwright possessed as a proven veteran pitcher. Some fans believed that retaining Wainwright would be acceptable, but only if it could be done in the short term and as cheaply as possible. This position really just wasn’t realistic. And then there were the fans who believed baseball players are paid too much, and gosh darn it, paying Wainwright a lot of money really offended them. These were generally the same group of fans who felt the same way about Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and basically any player making more than league minimum. These people I ignored.
On occasion I would make my case to other fans, using reason, logic and statistics. The task was made more difficult when confronted by those who disdained the “newfangled statistics” and wanted to rely solely on pitching wins and losses and ERA. They argued that what I proposed was way too much for a pitcher who was 14-13 and had an ERA of 3.94 the prior season, not to mention had a “bum elbow”. Well you can imagine the strain of trying to reason with THAT. Wainwright was never going to be the same again, they said, and was just a run of the mill, average MLB pitcher who couldn’t throw hard (of course, failing to acknowledge that Wainwright never did “throw hard”). After a short while, the frustration grew to a fever pitch, as you can imagine. At last I determined to cease trying to persuade the unpersuadable (and grossly misinformed) members of Cardinal Nation. My blood pressure was better for it.
Then the announcement of the extension came. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Cardinals had managed to get agreement to a deal that was less than my ceiling. I was elated. Not so many of the unpersuadable, but I won’t get into that. The press conference that followed had me in tears, and more convinced than ever that Adam Wainwright embodied everything that was good and noble, and who personified, to me at least, the ideal Cardinal. There were those of course that doubted his sincerity, given the large amount of cash he was being given. The jaded and the cynical were ignored by me, not that I don’t acknowledge that for a lot of ball players it is all about the money (Lance Berkman, who I like, said as much), but because I sensed that there was more involved where Wainwright was concerned. This was not a new sensation for me, since about 2007 I have been of the opinion that Adam Wainwright was more than your typical baseball player. He had a certain calmness and sense of purpose about him that to me transcended just doing your job and picking up your paycheck. He wanted to be the best he could be just as most players do, but to me it seemed a purpose without ego. Anyway, call me naive if you like, I don’t get worked up about stuff like that. I just know that I am excited that I get to watch Adam pitch for my team for six more years.
And if you are not excited too, then I feel sorry for you. It’s going to be a great season.