Bringing Wainwright Back Is Fine, As Long As He Truly Earns A Roster Spot.

The Cardinals and Adam Wainwright are extending their relationship for a while longer, with the beloved veteran agreeing to a one-year contract that’s packed with incentives. And this is fine.

This isn’t a long-term deal loaded with huge salaries.

The incentives make this is a pay for performance arrangement. If Wainwright can pitch regularly and effectively, then his compensation will increase. If Wainwright breaks down with another injury and isn’t viable, there are no payroll repercussions for the Cardinals.

And this is fine.

The Cardinals are showing respect to Wainwright by taking a look. The rest is up to him. If he’s an asset — as a starter or reliever — that’s great. And there’s nothing to complain about.

If Wainwright doesn’t pitch well or is flat-out bad, then presumably the team would move on.

Of course, there is a potential issue — which is rendered irrelevant if Wainwright pitches with “plus” stuff that can hold up for five, six innings.

If this doesn’t work out for Wainwright, then the Cardinals must pivot and do what’s best for the team. The nostalgia, sentiment and personal feelings must be put aside. Manager Mike Shildt, pitching coach Mike Maddux, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch can’t let the heart overrule the brain.

But does it make sense to see what Wainwright is capable of doing in spring training and early in the 2019 season?

Yes, it’s OK to take a look.  Even with all of the red flags in full view.

Wainwright is 37. He’s been on the DL six times over the last four seasons, averaging only 17 starts per year since the start of 2017.  Elbow miseries limited him to 40.1 innings and eight starts in 2018. He had a 4.84 ERA in four September starts. Over the past two seasons, Wainwright has spent 197 days on the DL and pitched to a 4.95 ERA with only 10 quality starts in 31 assignments.

That profile isn’t a source for optimism.

So why do this?

I would have opposed this decision — not that my opinion matters — before I took a closer look at Wainwright’s four September starts to close 2018.

There definitely were some positives.

Wainwright’s ERA over the four starts was 4.84. That’s lousy, right?

On the surface, yes. But his fielding independent ERA in the four starts was a more accurate 3.21.

Small sample and all of that stuff, but Wainwright’s strikeout rate in four September starts was 27 percent — well above his career rate of 20.3 percent. And Wainwright hasn’t had a strikeout rate over 20 percent since posting a 23% K rate in 2013.

Wainwright’s walk rate has been escalating in recent seasons, but he reversed the trend. In the four September starts, his walk rate was 4.3 percent.

That’s good pitching. His fastball had more velocity. His curve ball was back in business. His pitches had new life.

It just showed that if Wainwright can stay healthy, he has a chance to help this team in 2019.

But if Wainwright isn’t helping this team as a starter or reliever, then the Cardinals can’t be be intimidated by Wainwright’s popularity and superb skill at working the media to get a good spin out to the public. Wainwright is an outstanding politician in that way.

This team must get back to the postseason in 2019.  And the Cardinals can’t afford to carry any pitcher — even a future team Hall of Famer — if he isn’t doing the job.

As of now, the Cardinals have many starting-pitching options for 2019:

  • Miles Mikolas
  • Jack Flaherty
  • Carlos Martinez
  • Michael Wacha
  • Austin Gomber
  • John Gant
  • Luke Weaver
  • Daniel Poncedeleon
  • Dakota Hudson
  • Alex Reyes (if healthy)

And that doesn’t include any free-agent signings.

The Cardinals front office is sizing up the pros and the cons of pursuing an expensive free-agent pitcher this offseason. They have a couple of candidates in mind. Hint: Keep an eye on the American League Championship Series.

Wainwright will fit if he’s one of the Cardinals’ most qualified and deserving options.

But if turns out that Wainwright isn’t deserving of a spot on the staff — and the Cardinals stubbornly defer to him, anyway — then they won’t be trying their best to win.

Thanks for reading … have a nice weekend.


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