March 20, 2008: Cardinals sign Adam Wainwright to his first contract extension

After just one season as a major-league starting pitcher, it was already becoming clear that Adam Wainwright was destined to become a cornerstone of the Cardinals’ starting rotation.

On March 20, 2008, the Cardinals made it official, signing Wainwright to a four-year, $15 million contract extension with a two-year team option that ultimately made the deal worth $36 million.

“Now I just have to go out there and honor that contract and hopefully make myself the most underpaid player in the game the next four years,” Wainwright said.[1]

The Cardinals acquired Wainwright more than four years earlier in a December 2003 trade with the Braves. After appearing in two games in 2005, Wainwright received his first extended major-league look in 2006 as a bullpen arm. He posted a 3.12 ERA in 61 regular-season relief appearances, then made his postseason debut in the National League Division Series against the Padres, where he threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings, earning one save.

He finished off three more games against the Mets in the NLCS, where his two saves famously included his bases-loaded strikeout of Carlos Beltran to end Game 7 and send the Cardinals to the World Series. In the World Series, Wainwright was again perfect through three appearances, earning one win and a save while striking out five of the nine Tigers he faced.

In 2007, the Cardinals moved Wainwright into the starting rotation, where he posted a team-high 14 wins and 202 innings pitched to go along with a 3.70 ERA. Wainwright’s 2.71 ERA after the all-star break ranked fourth in baseball.[2]

“He embodies everything we look for in a player,” Mozeliak said. “His talent. His personality. One of the things we try to do when we look at some of our young players in our organization is to try to have the ability to wrap them up long term, making sure that they understand we want them to be a part of our core.”[3]

Just a few weeks before the contract was finalized, the Cardinals had assigned Wainwright a $448,000 salary for the 2008 season. As a third-year player, Wainwright wasn’t eligible for arbitration, which allowed the club to set his salary. Wainwright was seeking $550,000.[4]

“Sometimes players and management don’t agree on the numbers and you get renewed,” Wainwright said. “It’s part of the game … part of the process. I don’t have any ill will toward ‘Mo’ or the organization for it. I just don’t necessarily agree with the number we’ve reached.”[5]

Wainwright’s new contract overrode his assigned salary. Complete with a $750,000 signing bonus, the deal called for Wainwright to earn $500,000 in 2008, $2.6 million in 2009, $4.65 million in 2010, and $6.5 million in 2011. A club option would pay Wainwright $9 million in 2012 and $12 million in 2013,[6] and he was scheduled to receive bonuses for pitching 200 innings and making 30 starts in any season beginning with 2009.[7]

“They don’t make that kind of commitment unless they want a player like Adam to be here,” said Wainwright’s agent, Steve Hammond. “The team’s concern is (health) during that time, and we felt like if he made the starts and innings pitched that would accomplish what we came here to do. … It wasn’t like us having to talk the Cardinals into, ‘This is what you have.’ They understood. He is a key part of the (team), one of the faces of the Cardinals.”[8]

The most challenging part of the contract to work out was the option, which automatically would vest if Wainwright pitched a total of 400 innings and 60 starts in 2010 and 2011 or finished in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting in either season. In addition to either of those feats, he had to be on the active roster and not on the disabled list at the end of the 2011 season.[9]

“The one thing we were looking at constructing this contract was some flexibility should we have an injury,” Mozeliak said. “There’s no doubt any time you sign a pitcher, you’re one pitch away, but in his case, where he is with his physical and how he looks, being in the shape he’s in, we’re pretty bullish on him.”[10]

“I think they’ll pick that option up,” Wainwright said. “For me, what’s the worst-case thing that could happen? After four years, I’ve made $15 million and they decide not to pick the option up and I go home. Worst thing that could happen, I have $15 million.”[11]

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “The deal also sends a clear signal that the team will construct its rotation upon two pillars: Cy Young Award-winner (Chris) Carpenter and his protégé, Wainwright.”[12] With the deal, Wainwright joined Carpenter and catcher Yadier Molina as the only Cardinals with contracts through 2012.[13] Just two months earlier, Molina had signed a four-year, $15.5 million contract.

“From the Cardinals’ standpoint, the beauty of their contract with Adam Wainwright is that it offers protection on both ends of the spectrum,” wrote columnist Bernie Miklasz. “… At most, it’s a six-year, $36 million deal. And when you consider that career mediocrities such as Carlos Silva are getting $12 million a year, the Wainwright terms are a tremendous bargain.[14]

The same day that the Cardinals announced Wainwright’s new contract, they also made an announcement regarding the young right-hander’s spot in the rotation.

“He’s starting opening day,” La Russa said. “He’s got his head on straight. I don’t think dollars and security is going to change his approach to things.”[15]

“I feel like I’m playing in the best place possible,” Wainwright said. “I love the city and my wife loves the city, and we’re going to be there for hopefully a long, long time and a long time after this contract also.”[16]

That certainly proved to be the case.

While the first opening-day start of Wainwright’s career was erased by a third-inning rainout with the Cardinals leading the Rockies 5-1, Wainwright went 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 2008. A finger injury suffered in June forced him to miss 2 ½ months and limited him to just 132 innings.

In 2009, however, he led the league with 34 starts and 233 innings pitched as he went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA. Wainwright finished third in that year’s Cy Young Award voting, placing only behind the Giants’ Tim Lincecum and his teammate, Carpenter.

Wainwright was even better in 2010, reaching 20 wins for the first time in his career behind the strength of a 2.42 ERA over 230 1/3 innings. He was named an all-star that summer and placed second to Roy Halladay in the fall’s Cy Young voting.

After exceeding anything the Cardinals could have expected from the first three seasons of the contract, Wainwright’s 2011 season never got off the ground. Just a few days after reporting to spring training, he began to experience discomfort in his right elbow. A few days later, the Cardinals announced that he would miss the entire 2011 season with Tommy John surgery.

Though the injury meant that Wainwright’s option for the 2012 and 2013 season did not vest automatically, the Cardinals had no intention of allowing Wainwright to become a free agent and vested both option years. In 2012, Wainwright clearly hadn’t returned to his previous form, though he won 14 games and pitched 198 2/3 innings with a 3.94 ERA.

On March 28, 2013, Wainwright and the Cardinals agreed to a five-year, $97.5 million extension, the largest contract ever signed by a St. Louis pitcher. He followed that up with an outstanding 2013 season, leading the league with 19 wins and 241 2/3 innings. He placed second in the Cy Young voting.

 Through the 2021 season, Wainwright has pitched all 16 of his major-league seasons with the Cardinals, compiling a 184-105 record with a 3.35 career ERA.


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[1] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[2] Derrick Goold, “New deal is set for Wainwright,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2008.

[3] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[4] Derrick Goold, “New deal is set for Wainwright,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2008.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Despite shoulder problems, Johnson stays encouraged,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 5, 2008.

[6] Associated Press, “Cards, Wainwright sign deal,” Springfield News-Leader, March 21, 2008.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[9] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[10] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[11] Derrick Goold, “Jimenez’s stock rises with injury to Ryan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 22, 2008.

[12] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[13] Derrick Goold, “New deal is set for Wainwright,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2008.

[14] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards made a smart move by locking up Wainwright,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 22, 2008.

[15] Derrick Goold, “Wainwright, Carpenter form core,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 21, 2008.

[16] Associated Press, “Cards, Wainwright sign deal,” Springfield News-Leader, March 21, 2008.

2 thoughts on “March 20, 2008: Cardinals sign Adam Wainwright to his first contract extension”

  1. Pingback: February 24, 2011: Cardinals announce that Adam Wainwright will require Tommy John surgery – STLRedbirds.com

  2. Pingback: February 24, 2011: Cardinals announce that Adam Wainwright will require Tommy John surgery - STLRedbirds.com

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