Waino re-signs: 'I love being a St. Louis Cardinal'

January 29th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- After detailing how different this offseason has been compared to previous years, said three words that seemed to drive his free agency more than anything else.

“I’m coming home,” the veteran pitcher said Friday during a Zoom call with local media to announce his return to the Cardinals.

The Cardinals and Wainwright made the one-year deal for 2021 official Friday morning, bringing the veteran pitcher back to the only Major League team he's ever played for. The $8 million contract came much later into the offseason than Wainwright’s previous two one-year deals, in part because the 39-year-old -- healthy and coming off a strong season -- was able to explore other teams’ interest in him for the first time. The pace of negotiations accelerated in the past two days as teams made competitive and compelling offers, and Wainwright said he had two offers that were for greater values than the deal he agreed to with the Cardinals.

“Even the last couple years that I was a free agent, there was really only one team that was even willing to look at me,” Wainwright said. “There was no doubt I was hoping to come back for a year with the Cardinals. This year was a different situation in that I actually had suitors. I had teams that were interested, and I had a little bit of patience and I was perfectly at ease in the process of waiting. It was a fun time. I honestly sat back and let [my agent] take the reins on this thing. Stayed out of it. And I think he knew deep down I wanted to come back to St. Louis.

“I’m just really glad that it worked out the way it did, because I’m coming home. I love being a St. Louis Cardinal.”

A three-time All-Star and last year's Roberto Clemente Award winner, Wainwright was drafted 29th overall by the Braves in 2000. He was traded to St. Louis in '03, made his debut in '05, closed out the World Series in '06 and has spent every inning of his Major League career with the Cardinals. He ranks third all-time among Cards in wins (167), second in strikeouts (1,830) and sixth in innings pitched (2,169 1/3).

Wainwright was the Cardinals' most reliable pitcher in 2020, throwing two shutouts and posting a 3.15 ERA in his 15th full season with the club. After a coronavirus outbreak paused the team's season for two weeks, it was Wainwright who delivered a five-inning, one-run outing against the White Sox in St. Louis' first game back.

“We were very concerned about how quickly we were going to blow through the bullpen, and we had multiple roster changes throughout those five days,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “But the one thing that stood out was Adam going deep into a game. The importance of what Adam meant, not just from that leadership standpoint or that clubhouse standpoint, it’s actually just from a pure performance standpoint. He really did pitch as an elite pitcher in the game.”

Wainwright began his season 4-0 for the first time in his career, and one of those wins was a nine-inning complete game on his 39th birthday against the Indians.

“I was pleased with answering the bell every time, I was pleased with the way my body felt,” Wainwright said. “Those are the things I’m going to try to build off of and continue. The expectations were there to be great and to pitch nine [innings] again. I wasn’t hoping to go nine, I was really expecting to go nine. The expectations of me wanting to go out there and go deeper in games were there for, realistically, the first time in a few years.”

By re-signing Wainwright, the Cardinals have made their first addition to the Major League roster this offseason, and now they could see movement elsewhere on their roster. They have expressed optimism for their chances of re-signing Yadier Molina, who has an offer in hand from the Cards as he suits up to represent Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series this weekend.

And the Cardinals, without saying a name, addressed reports of renewed interest in Nolan Arenado on Friday. They have engaged in talks with Colorado for the Gold Glove third baseman, although nothing appears to be imminent.

“There’s a lot of rumors floating around the industry right now, and I imagine those things will probably continue,” Mozeliak said. “There’s not a whole lot I can add to those other than recognize that they’re out there. … Still time to improve the club. Still time to look at things. So we’re going to remain open-minded and see what other things we possibly could do.”

That was part of Mozeliak’s introduction to announce the return of Wainwright. The definitive comment Mozeliak made came when he said that the club would have a lower payroll for 2021 from the planned payroll for '20.

“I suspect we’ll be lower,” Mozeliak said.

Coming off the payroll so far this offseason has been Molina’s $20 million salary and $11.5 million committed to Kolten Wong, whose option was declined, as well as $2 million each to free agents Brad Miller and Matt Wieters. Arenado, who would have to give permission for any trade, is owed $35 million in 2021 and has six years and $199 million remaining on his contract, but an opt-out clause following the '21 season complicates the issue. The Cardinals have shown no indication that they are willing to take on a contract of Arenado’s magnitude, and their interest in completing a trade would hinge on the Rockies covering some of the money or taking a big contract off St. Louis’ payroll.

Still, the Cardinals’ search for an offensive upgrade via trade this offseason has brought them back to the Rockies again. It’s no secret that Arenado would fit with the Cards, and a move like that would put St. Louis as the clear front-runners in the National League Central, a division that hasn’t seen much movement this offseason.

Part of Wainwright’s press conference Friday was about his preference to join a team that had a clear chance to win the World Series. It became a big part of his free-agent market, and he said he believes the Cardinals can be that team, too.

“I just got a feeling,” Wainwright said. “I just got a feeling that there’s going to be some goodness happening here. … I think there’s some things that they might be thinking about or trying to pull off that will make people pretty happy. We’ll see.”