• The Cardinals and Adam Wainwright’s representative engaged in preliminary talks about an extension for the righthander within the past week but as a result have decided to put negotiations on hold, both sides confirmed Tuesday.
Wainwright cautioned that “on hold” shouldn’t be misread as an end.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s over,” the Cardinals’ ace said after the team’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers Tuesday at their spring training complex. “The doors are still open. It just didn’t work out right now. … All that means is we couldn’t come to a number that worked for both sides as of yet.”
Wainwright, 31, is entering the final year of a contract that was worth $36 million over six seasons, and both the Cardinals and the pitcher have stated an interest in discussing an extension this spring, one that could carry Wainwright to the end of his career.
Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. reiterated Tuesday the organization’s interest in pursuing an extension with Wainwright before he reaches free agency. The pause in discussions doesn’t change the club’s optimism.
“He is a significant part of the organization, has been for many years, and is an important presence to have on a (pitching) staff,” DeWitt said. “We have been successful when it comes to retaining our core players. That is something that we have made an emphasis. Deals of this magnitude aren’t supposed to be easy to finalize.”
This is the third consecutive spring that the Cardinals have reached spring training with a core player entering his walk season. In 2011, three-time MVP Albert Pujols and the Cardinals couldn’t come to an agreement before spring and he announced that he would test free agency, a path that took him to the Los Angeles Angels. A year ago, catcher Yadier Molina and the club negotiated a five-year, $75 million extension during spring training that kept the Gold Glove Award-winner from becoming a free agent this past winter.
Molina did not want negotiations to carry over into the regular season, but he did not apply a deadline in the way Pujols did. A week before agreeing on the extension with the Cardinals, Molina’s agent described a “hold” in negotiations. Nine days after that pause in talks the Cardinals announced the deal.
Like Molina, Wainwright has not given the Cardinals a deadline.
He would like to establish some urgency.
“I think, especially from my side of it, there needs to be some urgency just so this thing doesn’t drag on,” Wainwright said. “If you want to do a deal, then let’s get it done. That type of thing. It’s not a peace of mind in the sense of going out to the mound wondering if this is the day it’s going to happen or not. It’s more like this: Are we going to do it or not do it?”
Said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak: “There is still a lot of time. There are no deadlines in place. There’s still plenty of room and lots of opportunity for something to happen. Both sides remain open to discussions, and they could continue at any time.”
There has been an escalating market for frontline starters, especially in the past year. Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and the Mariners reportedly agreed to a deal Tuesday that will pay the righty as much as $175 million over seven seasons. That would make him the highest-paid pitcher in the history of the game. Since 2008, Hernandez is the sixth pitcher to sign a contract worth more than $125 million in guaranteed salary. Zack Greinke was the oldest of the six when he signed, at 29. Hernandez will be 33 when his deal expires.
Wainwright will be 32 at the end of this season.
Wainwright’s age, especially when compared to the younger standouts like Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, will dictate the length of the contract. But in the above deals the per-season salary (or, annual average value) for an elite starter has been established at greater than $20 million. For example, Cliff Lee was 32 when he signed a five-year, $120 million contract as a free agent with the Phillies.
Lee had won a Cy Young Award two seasons earlier. Wainwright has two top-three finishes for the league’s top pitching award. He is a full season removed from the elbow surgery that kept him from pitching in 2011.
Wainwright’s ERA since 2008 is 2.99, and that ranks fifth-lowest among pitchers with at least 750 innings pitched. Hernandez is fourth with a 2.92 ERA. Lee’s 2.89 ERA is third.
The Cardinals acknowledge that to finalize a deal with Wainwright it will probably take the highest average annual salary the club has ever paid a pitcher.
The most recent talks did not reveal a meeting point, so both sides stepped back. No further discussions are scheduled, but they are expected.
“No hard feelings and it’s not over,” Wainwright said. “Isn’t that part of the negotiating process? If you come out and get a deal done within the first 10 minutes of negotiating, that’s pretty weird. I don’t think there is reason for alarm.