It’s hard to believe it has been nearly 10 full years since then Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty got together with then Braves GM John Schuerholz to make the trade that brought future staff ace Adam Wainwright to the Cardinals. It’s even harder to believe the luck involved in making this type of deal. At the time, the Braves were seeking to bolster their outfield production and the Cardinals were dangling J.D. Drew as trade bait so that they could strengthen their pitching depth. The ensuing deal would go on to become an integral piece in the Cardinals success, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the better trades in franchise history.
The two sides engaged in negotiations, and ultimately settled on Drew and Eli Marrero for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and Adam Wainwright. However, this wasn’t the initial deal on the table. Apparently, Jocketty had initially asked for Horacio Ramirez to be included instead of Wainwright, but Schuerholz felt that price to be too steep as Ramirez had just made 29 starts for the Braves as a rookie while posting a 4.00 ERA and being named to the Baseball Digest All-Star Rookie team in the process. So, Jocketty did the next best thing and demanded Wainwright, who was the #1 Braves pitching prospect at the time, be included or there would be no deal. Schuerholz agreed and the rest is history, but that’s where it gets fun, and shows just how lucky the Cardinals were to have gotten Wainwright instead of their first choice in Ramirez.
Ramirez began the next year by proving Schuerholz correct in keeping him while posting a 2.39 ERA through his first 9 starts of the season, but then the wheels fell off the wagon as he injured his shoulder and missed the rest of the season. He made a comeback in 2005, and despite throwing over 200 innings was fairly mediocre while posting an 11-9 record and a 4.63 ERA. He stuck in Atlanta for 1 more season, and has since proceeded to bounce around the league between 7 different teams including 1 stop in Korea for a season.
Meanwhile, Wainwright labored in AAA his first 2 seasons after the trade while acclimating to the Cardinals organizational pitching philosophies, but nonetheless managed to provide a preview of what he was going to become in the process. Wainwright earned himself a cup of coffee in 2005, and then he put a literal exclamation point on the trade with a historic 2006. In his first major league at bat he blasted a home run on the first pitch he saw, making him the 22nd batter in Major League History, and 11th National League player to achieve this rare feat. As every serious Cards fan knows, the home run was just the beginning of Wainwright’s magical 2006 as Adam went on to close out the NLDS, NLCS, and ultimately the World Series bringing the Cardinals their 10th World Series title. Since 2006, he has continued to solidify his presence as one of the premiere pitchers in all of baseball while accumulating a Gold Glove Award in 2009, as well as a top 3 finish in the Cy Young voting, and then following that up by posting a runner up finish in the Cy Young voting in 2010.
There were injury questions heading into last season, as Wainwright was coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011, but he steadily progressed all season long, and gradually gained his strength back. With another full off season behind him, I anticipate a complete return to form this season. This is the biggest reason I felt it was critical to get this extension done before the season got underway. If the Cardinals had slow played this negotiation, Wainwright would have most likely pitched himself out of St. Louis because I have no doubt that a huge season is coming from him and there would have been a massive bidding war for his services next off season.
As the Cardinals continue to usher the litany of young power arms through their farm system and onto the major league roster, it is going to be imperative that they have a battle tested bulldog to guide them through their inevitable growing pains. If there was ever a person that deserved the amount of money that the Cardinals rolled out to facilitate this deal, it is Adam Wainwright. Listening to his press conference to announce the new extension confirmed that he is a truly genuine person, that is humbled, almost to the point of embarrassment about the amount of money that he has rightfully earned through his performance. At one point during the unscripted press conference, Adam uttered the biblical quote, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Indeed it is, but I have very little doubt that Wainwright will mentor the next wave of Cardinal hurlers by setting the same example with the same dedication and guidance that he was welcomed in and groomed with under his predecessors. In Adam Wainwright the Cardinal Way is alive and well, and they couldn’t have hand picked a better person, and player, to hand the reigns to going forward.