Waino, Cards agree to 1-year extension

October 2nd, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Uncle Charlie isn’t going anywhere.

He considered it last season, entering the free-agency foray but ultimately decided to return to St. Louis. Back at the start of his career, it wasn’t his choice to come here, when he was traded by the Braves in 2003. And at one point, he was sure he wouldn’t get a job anywhere else.

And now, the career journey he’s taken will probably conclude in the familiar spot. For one more season -- likely the last of his stellar career -- Wainwright will be a Cardinal. The club announced prior to Friday’s series opener against the Cubs -- their final series of the 2021 regular season at Busch Stadium -- that their 40-year-old ace has agreed to a one-year extension to return for the ’22 season.

“I understand that I'm in a very, very, very good situation here. My family loves being here. I love being a part of this team, I love wearing these birds on the bat, I love that. I love representing St. Louis, and I feel like it's home for me now,” Wainwright said. “Leaving is going away from home.”

Wainwright, like longtime batterymate Yadier Molina, will return to the only big league club he’s called home next season. Wainwright did not fully commit to next year being his last, unlike Molina, saying he doesn’t want to be the athlete who retires three times and wants to fully know when he’s ready to hang up his cleats.

"[But] I'm almost certainly riding off with him," admitted Wainwright, who’s told his five kids that they will finally get a dog whenever he retires. “I will say that the odds of my kids having a dog after the season next year are very, very high.”

Wainwright’s deal is for $15 million, which the club has not confirmed, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. Wainwright will be embarking on his 17th active season (18th in total) as a Cardinal -- that latter number passing Bob Gibson and tying Jesse Haines for the most in franchise history as a pitcher. He already has two World Series rings and the chance at a third starting on Wednesday, when he starts the NL Wild Card Game with Molina.

“One of the greatest Cardinals ever,” said Cardinals chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr.

Friday’s announcement was one of nostalgia, with Wainwright reflecting on the pitfalls of his career that saw him almost retire in 2018 due to an elbow injury. “To do it on my own terms is a much more meaningful way to go out for me,” he said. But it was also one that was forward-looking.

Wainwright, set to turn 41 next season, owns a 3.05 ERA on the season, is bound to garner votes for NL Cy Young and has been the ace of the Cardinals’ staff this season -- partly due to injuries but more due to pedigree.

“Clearly, we think we're getting a top of the rotation starter,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.

Friday’s announcement was long expected, especially after Wainwright re-signed with the Cardinals last offseason despite receiving offers from other contenders. Now it's official. At the start of September, in conjunction with his non-profit Big League Impact, Wainwright teased that he would be returning to play in 2022.

Wainwright had wanted to make that announcement with his wife, Jenny, his four daughters and one son, knowing that they had made immeasurable sacrifices -- like his oldest daughter, Baylie, going to high school in Georgia while living with Wainwright’s mother -- over his career. Their priorities have been as important as his.

“The last thing I want to do is make high school or middle school or even elementary school any tougher for my kids if I don't have to,” Wainwright said. “A lot of things went into that decision, but they finally gave me their blessing and we finally came to a conclusion that, yeah, we'd like to try one more season.”

Their support allowed Wainwright, like Molina, to solidify his plans for next year prior to the close of the 2021 season. Now the two can focus on one thing: their start together for the National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday.

A fully healthy 2022 for both next season will almost assuredly rocket them up baseball history. The battery of Molina and Wainwright will end this season with 304 starts together, two back of third place in AL/NL history, and 20 back of leaders Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan of the Tigers.

“Waino and Yadi represent maybe the greatest tandem in baseball history,” Mozeliak said.

And they’ll get one more year -- together -- with the franchise they grew up in.

"I don't want to be anywhere else,” Wainwright said. “Who am I kidding?"