By Rob Rains
After Adam Wainwright made his last appearance of the season at Busch Stadium on Sept. 22, he said it didn’t feel like the last game he would pitch there while wearing a Cardinals’ uniform.
He turns he out apparently was right.
Speculation about Wainwright’s immediate future was put to rest on Thursday when the Cardinals announced that the veteran pitcher, who could have become a free agent at the end of the World Series, had signed a one-year contract for 2019.
The terms of the contract were not released, but a comment from John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations, in the Cardinals’ press release seemed to indicate that the deal is incentive-based.
“There is risk, but it is shard, and this deal gives us added depth as we look to 2019,” Mozeliak said.
After missing much of this season because of more elbow discomfort, Wainwright returned in time to make four starts in September and his performance in those games was good enough for him to decide he still wanted to pitch next season.
The 37-year-old Wainwright’s role for next season likely will be based in part on what other moves the Cardinals makes this winter. Currently the team has more candidates for the 2019 starting rotation than it has spots available, especially if Carlos Martinez moves back from the bullpen to starting.
The 2019 season will be Wainwright’s 15th with the Cardinals, matching Bob Forsch’s tenure in St. Louis. The only two pitchers in franchise history to spend more seasons with the Cardinals were Jesse Haines (18 years) and Bob Gibson (17 years) both of whom are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Adam has proven, when healthy, that he still has the ability and the drive to contribute at the highest level,” Mozeliak said. “We saw it in spring training, and again late in the season, that once he had overcome his ailments, he was prepared to give us a winning effort every time he took the mound.”
Included in Wainwright’s starts in September was a six inning, shutout performance against the Dodgers when the Cardinals were desperately trying to hold onto a playoff spot. In his four starts combined in the month, Wainwright posted a 1-1 record with a 4.84 ERA.
Wainwright is two wins shy of 150 for his Cardinals’ career and needs six wins to pass Bill Sherdel to rank fourth all time in wins in franchise history, trailing only Gibson, Haines and Forsch.
Wainwright’s return, of course, will have an impact on the pitching staff and the team beyond what he contributes on the mound as he will continue to serve as a mentor and unofficial coach for all of the team’s young pitchers.
Of the Cardinals’ 162 games in 2018, 146 were started by pitchers under 30 years old and 121 of those games were started by pitchers age 26 or younger.
Wainwright’s signing leaves the Cardinals with three potential free agents – first baseman Matt Adams and pitchers Tyson Ross and Bud Norris.