Sometime around the start of Spring Training, the Cardinals will be approached by agent Steve Hammond about an extension for pitcher Adam Wainwright. Here's my analysis of some of the factors that could come into play in the Cardinals decision on Wainwright:
First and foremost is money. Based on recent signings by Matt Cain (6 years/$127.5 million), Zack Greinke (6 years/$147 million) and Cole Hamels (6 years/$144 million), one can expect that Wainwright will command an annual salary in the $22 to $25 million range (probably closer to $25 million). Even if you take away the signing bonuses of $5 million for Cain, $12 million for Greinke and $6 million for Hamels, you're still looking at an average annual salary of $20.5 to $23 million. A pretty hefty sum.
Do the Cardinals have the money to afford that kind of contract? Well, the Cardinals have 3 players who could become free agents after the 2013 season: Chris Carpenter, Carlos Beltran and Jake Westbrook. These 3 players are making $12.5 million, $13 million and $8.75 million, respectively. If the Cards let them walk and replace them with cheaper rookies, such as Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, then they would have freed up around $33 million of salary.
In addition, Wainwright is making $12 million for 2013, so to get him to $25 million would only take an additional $13 million, leaving the Cards with around $10-15 million to use to fill other holes (after taking into consideration arbitration raises).
So to answer the question in the title of this article, yes the Cardinals can afford to sign Waino to an extension. However, there is more to the question than just money.
Another thing the Cardinals need to look at is...
Of the 3 pitchers I listed above as comparable contracts, Greinke and Hamels are both 29 and Cain is 28. Wainwright, on the other hand, is 32 and just 2 years removed from Tommy John surgery. So, although the standard contract length with all three is a 6 year deal, do the Cardinals want to go that long for Wainwright?
If the Cardinals need an example of the risk of signing a 30+ year old to a long term deal, they need to look no further than Chris Carpenter. Back in December 2006, the Cardinals signed Carpenter to a 5 year extension at the age of 31. Carpenter promptly missed most of the next two seasons due to injury.
Then, as if they hadn't learned their lesson, the Cardinals signed Carpenter to another extension in September 2011, this time for 2 years, and he promptly missed most of 2012 with a shoulder injury.
Thus, given his age and his recent Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals will need to be cautious when discussing the length of any contract extension with Wainwright. Four years would probably be my limit. If the Cardinals go beyond 4 years, they could be stuck with a hefty contract for an injured or ineffective pitcher, which would likely hamper their ability to compete (see the Cubs and Carlos Zambrano).
With both Carpenter and Westbrook potentially leaving as free agents after the season, the Cardinals need someone to help bridge the gap between them and the new wave of pitchers coming up through the system. In addition, with questions surrounding Jaime Garcia and his shoulder, the Cardinals need an anchor on top of the staff.
For those reasons, the Cardinals will probably do what they can to try to get an extension done with Wainwright. Of course, they could always go out and sign a free agent pitcher or trade for a starter to give themselves and experienced pitcher to lead their staff, but Wainwright has one other thing going for him....
Who can forget the image of Wainwright, arms raised, after striking out Brandon Inge to end the 2006 World Series. That image alone makes Wainwright an icon is Cardinals history. Fans would obviously be upset if the Cardinals couldn't get an extension done, especially so soon after losing another fan favorite, Albert Pujols.
However, as we learned with Albert Pujols, no one is irreplacable.
The Cardinals have moved on from Pujols and certainly won't think twice about moving on from Wainwright if the asking price or the length of the contract gets to be too much. We aren't the Yankees and there are limits to the amount of money the team can spend.
Overall, I think it would benefit the Cardinals to sign Wainwright to an extension. However, I wouldn't go beyond 4 years. It may take a little more on a per year basis to get him to agree to a shorter deal. I'm thinking that 4 years and $105 million (which includes a $5-10 million bonus) should do the trick.