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Encore for Wainwright: Cardinals, longtime ace agree on one-year deal for 2020

Encore for Wainwright: Cardinals, longtime ace agree on one-year deal for 2020

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Atlanta Braves vs St. Louis Cardinals, Game 3 NLDS in St. Louis

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright celebrates getting a strikeout to end the sixth inning during Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. Photo by David Carson,

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The preference, even as he hit free agency for the first time in his career and could field offers from other interested teams, was always to return for one more year, that last encore before the curtain, with the Cardinals.

Adam Wainwright will get that chance.

Wainwright and the Cardinals agreed to a one-year deal Tuesday morning. The team announced the contract on Twitter before confirming it.

"I originally proposed a six-year deal, guaranteed, but the Cardinals didn’t go for it," Wainwright joked during a conference call with St. Louis-based media. "At the moment we’re going year to year. And with the likelihood of this probably being it. But who knows how those things work? My thought right now is only to help this team win a World Series. That’s it."

Wainwright, 38, spent the previous year on an incentive-laden contract that gave him a base salary of $2 million. He reached all of the incentives and made a total of $10 million this past year. A source described how his deal for 2020 could have the same max value of $10 million, though the guarantee is more than his previous year and the rest is based on incentives.

UPDATE: Wainwright's base salary will be $5 million for 2020. He can earn an additional $5 million in incentives, starting with 20 starts, then 25 starts, and then maxing-out the contract with 28 starts.

He was at his best as the Cardinals charged through September, toward a division title, and into the postseason, where he had two starts of at least seven innings, struck out 11 in his start against Washington, and shut out the Braves for 7 2/3 innings. 

In 14 seasons with the Cardinals, Wainwright is 162-95 and headed to the team's Hall of Fame a few years after his retirement.

A rookie in 2006, Wainwright clinched the pennant as the closer that fall and tossed a slider past Brandon Inge to give the Cardinals the final out of their 10th World Series championship. He moved to the rotation the next season and has been there every season since as the winningest pitcher in Busch Stadium III and second only to Bob Gibson in many of the club's significant pitching categories.

With Wainwright's contract going through 2020, his lines up with catcher Yadier Molina's. Molina had said when he signed it that his current three-year extension would likely be his last, but health and performance and the opinion of his close friends have urged him to reconsider and play at least through 2021. Molina is open to that idea, he said this past season.

The Cardinals and their catcher are expected to have those discussions about an extension at some point before the end of spring training.

A Georgia native, Wainwright was acquired from the Braves during the 2003 winter meetings, and he spent a little more than one season in the Cardinals' minor-league system

In the past few years, his seasons have been undone by injuries that had their epicenter around his knee and traced their way through a ruptured Achilles' tendon, and eventually caused trouble in his elbow. As recently as 2018, Wainwright was limited to eight starts and he has talked candidly about believing his pitching career was likely to end with that season.

A shift in his mechanics, a wrinkle in how he uses his pitches, and some late-season appearances in 2018 filled him with optimism for 2019 — and a chance to end his career on his terms, not an injury's. He presented the Cardinals an idea for a contract that he wrote on a napkin. It started with the low base salary and then rewarded him for making starts.

"Last year’s contract was more about me needing to prove mainly to myself but then to my teammates and the Cardinals that I still had something left to give, and that I was still capable," Wainwright said. "If I had gone out this year and been injured throughout the season, then struggled left and right, then I would have gracefully and thankfully walked away knowing that I had a decent career and been OK with it. I felt like I got better as the season went on – which completely contrasts with the year before that and the year before that when I was injured and really trying to figure out a way to make one more start here."

"A win-win," said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, this past week.

Wainwright went 14-10 with a 4.19 ERA in 31 starts this past summer for the Cardinals.

Wainwright had not entertained offers from other teams yet, though he and his family did discuss that possibility and the situation they would want with another organization, be it a return to Atlanta or some other organization to which he had a tie.

"I told Jenny (Wainwright's wife) the other day if Mo calls and says, 'Hey we just signed Cole Hamels and Gerrit Cole,' you know, I would have to be OK with that," Wainwright said. "What it took for us to come back was the assurance of being somewhere that we knew, comfortable with the Cardinals, somewhere that we love. But also, strangely, I only wanted to play for the Cardinals. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else on a one-year deal, probably. If somebody would have called with a two-year deal, in a really nice place that has a chance to win, I would have had to consider it, just for what you can do with that money. How many mouths we could feed, or houses we could build for people who need that. It would have been something to think about."

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