Wainwright signs for 15th season with Cards

Right-hander, beset by injuries, made strong return in September

October 11th, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- 's tenure as a St. Louis Cardinal will extend into a 15th season after he and the club reached an agreement on a one-year contract for 2019.

The two sides ended any speculation about the right-hander's future on Thursday when they announced the extension, which will follow a five-year, $97.5 million contract that expired with this season. Financial terms of Wainwright's next deal were not disclosed by the club, but a source confirmed that the contract features a low base salary with "significant incentives." Those include incentives that are tied to both starting and relieving.

"He'll come to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, and then we'll see how things work out," general manager Michael Girsch said. "Obviously, we have a lot of starting pitching options, but the majority of those starting pitching options have also pitched in the bullpen in the last six months. So we have a lot of ways to sort through things."

Other pitchers projected to compete for rotation spots alongside Wainwright include , , , , , , , and . All are already under contract.

The decision to craft an incentive-laden contract shields the Cardinals from assuming too much financial risk. That was a necessity for the organization, which has watched Wainwright be limited to 68 starts since 2015. This year, he made eight.

Wainwright has been on the disabled list six times over the past four seasons, most recently for a four-month stretch in 2018 to recover from another right elbow injury. Still, when the 37-year-old returned to the rotation in September, he did so rejuvenated and encouraged by a return in strength and velocity.

In four starts, Wainwright allowed 12 earned runs on 22 hits in 22 1/3 innings, but also walked just four while striking out 25. That stretch -- and the 17 scoreless rehab innings that preceded it -- left Wainwright feeling certain he hadn't reached the end of his career.

"The way I'm feeling now, if that is my last start, it would be kind of hard to walk away knowing how I'm feeling right now," Wainwright said after his five-inning season finale on Sept. 28. "I've got good stuff. I've had better stuff these last four games than I've had these last two years. I've found the youth."

Just days earlier, he and the Cardinals had begun discussions about ways to extend his career with in St. Louis.

"The way he pitched in that rehab assignment and the way he pitched in September is what established the fact that he can still pitch in the big leagues," Girsch said. "He was an able and effective Major League pitcher. It became obvious that he wanted to come back. He had convinced himself that he could do it."

Just as importantly: He had also convinced the Cardinals.

"Adam has proven, when healthy, that he still has the ability and the drive to contribute at the highest level," Cardinals president of baseball operations John 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. There is risk, but it is shared, and this deal gives us added depth as we look to 2019."

With his 15th season in St. Louis, Wainwright will match Bob Forsch (1974-88) for third-most by a pitcher in a Cardinals uniform. Only Jesse Haines (18 years) and Bob Gibson (17) accrued more.

Including his time in the Minors, Wainwright has been a member of the organization since December 2003.