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Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals will play extension chicken in 2013

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Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals both sound like they're open to discussion a long-term contract in 2013, but when they make the deal could determine how big it is.


A year after Pujolsgate John Mozeliak is likelier than anyone to know that team-friendly contracts only last so long. After a sturdy first season in the rotation—14-12 with 202 innings pitched and an ERA of 3.70—the St. Louis Cardinals signed Adam Wainwright to a four year contract worth $15 million following the 2007 season.

And even after he missed all of 2011 it's hard to say the Cardinals didn't get a great deal: Wainwright followed up his first year in the rotation by throwing nearly 600 innings with an ERA of 2.68, just missing two Cy Young Awards and bumping his strikeout rate up to the levels it reached during his season in middle relief.

Two team options later—his 2013 contract is worth $12 million, almost twice as much as he made for his 19 and 20-win seasons combined—Wainwright is a year away from free agency, and the Cardinals have to decide whether they'll be the ones to give their ace his first player-friendly deal. So far—as in this great Derrick Goold piece—both sides seem eager to talk about a long-term contract.

But both sides must also know that they're locked, thanks to the unusual shape of Wainwright's recent career, in a weird game of extension chicken. Wainwright's value is as low as it's been in a while, after missing 2011 and dealing with results, in 2012, that didn't match his peripherals; the Cardinals might get a bargain if they sign him now, before his typically excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio finally shows up in his ERA. But if he starts the 2013 season and things still don't look quite right, he could get cheaper still.

Eventually someone will have to budge, and if Yadier Molina's contract is a relevant example it might be the Cardinals, who responded to their catcher's career year by paying him as though he'd replicate it for the next five seasons running.