The St. Louis Cardinals are facing a decision on whether to bring back Adam Wainwright. Should the future Cardinal Hall of Famer be brought back for one more season, or is it time to say goodbye to Waino?
Watching Adam Wainwright walk off the mound in the eighth inning of October 12th’s NCLS game versus the Washington Nationals, I wondered if this would be the end for the 38-year old right-hander. Even though we saw Wainwright pitch again in relief in the following Tuesday’s finale, that Saturday’s exit could’ve been his swan song at home in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.
Speculation has already started by fans and media on whether Wainwright will or should be brought back in 2020. Mark Saxon of the Athletic said on 101 ESPN that he thought the Cardinals would bring back Wainwright next year. Additionally, Ben Hochman of the St. Louis Post Dispatch says the Cards should bring him back if he’s willing.
But if you follow social media, many fans have often expressed their criticisms of Wainwright and would like to see him pushed out the door for other options in the rotation.
However, it’s going to be up to John Mozeliak and company…and Wainwright and family, on whether the Brunswick Georgia native should come back for another season. Let’s look at the case for and against bringing back Adam Wainwright for 2020.
The case for bringing back Wainwright
Wainwright signed a one year contract last offseason for $2 million with incentives that could have reached $8 million. It turned out to be a win-win for both the Cardinals and Wainwright. The 6’7” three-time All-Star and former Silver Slugger pitched 171 innings with 14 wins (second on the team),153 strikeouts (second again), and a home ERA of 2.56 (also second among starters).
Adam Wainwright’s 2019 regular season was only part of the story, he also had a 1.62 ERA in 16.2 innings pitched with a .96 WHIP during the postseason. He only gave up three walks, striking out 19, while allowing opponents a meager .213 BA.
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Yet, it’s the starter situation in 2020 that helps build the case for bringing back Wainwright. The St. Louis Cardinals have Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Miles Mikolas as the only returning starters under contract. Michael Wacha is unlikely to be brought back in 2020, Carlos Martinez’s status is up in the air, Luke Weaver is now in Arizona, and no one can really count on Alex Reyes to fill a role in the rotation.
After filling an impressive role in the bullpen in 2019, Ryan Helsley is an option for the rotation in 2020 though. The 25-year old right-hander has been groomed in the Minors as a starter with 69 starts in 82 games. However, Helsley only pitched 36.2 innings in 2019 and it’s uncertain if he could be stretched out into a starter for next year.
Daniel Ponce de Leon could be another option for the Cardinals in 2020. The 27-year-old righty had four starts in 2018 and eight starts in 2019. Additionally, he has a two-year ERA of 3.31 working both as a starter and in the bullpen. Still, the Cardinals seem more comfortable using him as a piece they can use as an occasional starter, but primarily in a bullpen role.
The Cardinals could try to bring in another starter via the Free Agent market or seek a trade. Even so, with their contract commitments for next year, it’s unlikely they would try to bring in two additional starters.
Therefore, with options internally limited and hefty salary commitments in 2020, Wainwright could be a cost-effective option for a 4th or 5th spot in the rotation for next year.
The case against bringing back Wainwright.
Adam Wainwright will be closer to 39 than 38 when the Cardinals leave Jupiter, Florida for St. Louis after the completion of Spring Training in 2020. With that, the question is, how much longer can his aging arm hold up? Would it be able to make it through another 30 start, 170 plus inning season? Also, wouldn’t Waino’s 2019 year be a good way to finish his distinguished career with the Cardinals?
Additionally, it would seem the Cardinals could find another starter who could improve upon Wainwright’s away ERA of 6.22, which was the highest among the starters by the end of the season, including Michael Wacha.
If Ryan Helsley is in the rotation at the start of the season, it would seem wise for the Cardinals to pursue a fourth or fifth starter who had a history of being an innings eater. There are younger options available to the Cardinals in the upcoming free-agent market.
If they wanted to spend big money, options could be Garrett Cole (29, 6.8 WAR), Zach Wheeler (30, 4.1 WAR), or Madison Bumgarner (30, 2.8 WAR), to name a few. If they wanted to be more cost-conscious, some names available are Kyle Gibson (32, 2.5 WAR), Brett Anderson (32, 2.7 WAR), or Tanner Roark (33, 2.0 WAR).
In other words, Wainwright can be replaced, if the Cardinals are willing to spend the money. It would just depend on how much.
If Adam Wainwright is willing, then I agree with Ben Hochman, bring him back. I’m sure another one year deal could be reached which would be agreeable to both the Cardinals and Wainwright.
With the uncertainty in the back-end of the rotation and the Cardinals’ somewhat limited budget due to some contract commitments, a Wainwright deal would make sense. This might save the Cardinals from having to go into the FA market for rotation help and allow them to add help in other areas, such as bullpen, outfield, or third base.
Wainwright, I think, would like to come back and help the team get to the World Series. He is a big-game pitcher and his leadership is invaluable. So yes, bring back Adam Wainwright for 2020. It’s the low-cost, low-risk, smart call.