The Meaning of Wainwright’s Option

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak recently told a reporter that the team has “unofficially” decided to pick up Adam Wainwright‘s team option. That might have seemed like a foregone conclusion before the season, but Wainwright has missed the entire 2011 season with Tommy John surgery. The option isn’t just a one-year option, either. It is an option for both 2012 and 2013 worth a total of $21 million. Wainwright has been an outstanding pitcher in the past, and we’ve seen pitchers come back from Tommy John successfully before. Assuming the Cardinals make the decision “official,” it is interesting to speculate not only on what Wainwright has to do to make the contract “worth it,” but also on what it means for how the Cardinals perceive their near future.

Wainwright pitched well during his first two full seasons in the majors in 2007 and 2008. In 2009 and 2010, he took things to a new level by improving on his previous strikeout rates by about two per nine innings, enabling him to put up about six wins in each of those seasons, making him one of the four most valuable pitchers in the National League during that time.

What we really want to know is how good he might be in 2012 after missing all of 2011 recovering from surgery. That is a bit more complicated, but we can use some simple tools at our disposal. Prior to the 2011 season, Marcel projected Carpenter for a 2.98 ERA and 3.15 FIP. That is about what the Fan Projections came up with as well, seeing Carpenter as a 4.8 WAR pitcher for 2011. [Gotta love the Cardinals fans seeing him putting up a career-high seven wins in 2011. I can just see the Best Fans in Baseball filling out their projections, peering at their laptop, thinking about all the morans who don't know how to project players.] If we assume that was correct about his true talent level and apply the standard aging curve of -0.5 wins a season for a veteran like Wainwright, we get something like four to 4.5 wins for 2012. Over two seasons, $21 million would be a steal for that kind of pitcher, even in the event that the average prince of a win drops a bit.

Let’s not get ahead of our selves. While Wainwright’s recovery is reportedly going well so far and he is saying he’ll be ready for Spring Training 2012, there might always be setbacks that keep him out longer. Moreover, while we’re used to Tommy John success, it doesn’t always work out that way. Francisco Liriano dazzled baseball over 121 innings in 2006, then had Tommy John. When he did come back in 2008, he wasn’t the same, and wasn’t really back to his old self until 2010. Despite flashes of brilliance this season, he’s struggled. This isn’t meant say that Wainwright and Liriano make for a good comparison. Rather, it is just to point out that immediate success upon return isn’t a sure thing. Perhaps he’ll struggle, perhaps he’ll take longer to come back, or both. I won’t pretend to be a doctor, but let’s pick an in-between point of good and bad probabilities and say that Wainwright only projects to be two-win pitcher next season, and comes back to be a three-win pitcher in 2013. The $21 million isn’t a great deal in that case, but it still isn’t horrible. It doesn’t add value if Wainwright is really struggling to return to form, but it doesn’t kill the Cardinals either. There’s some risk to the Cardinals decision, but it makes sense to do what they are doing.

While picking up Wainwright’s contract is a sensible decision, much rests on what St. Louis thinks they are doing the next couple of years. By itself, picking up Wainwright’s option can even make sense if the Cardinals are going to rebuild: if he comes back and can be a four-win pitcher, he would have enough surplus value over his contract to bring back decent younger players in a trade. However, if they aren’t planning on rebuilding, things get pretty interesting. Assuming they make it “official” the Cardinals would project to be at about $60 and $50 million dollars of committed payroll for 2012 and 2013 before arbitration raises.

The Cardinals had about a $110 million payroll on Opening Day 2011. If they want to contend in 2012, can they do so without Chris Carpenter? If he comes back at the beginning of next season and pitches to the basic projection discussed that the beginning, Wainwright would basically replace Carpenter’s 2011 production (four wins so far this season), but are they going to need both? Lance Berkman was a great signing by the Cardinals, but he’s a free agent after this season. If they need to bring him back, it’s probably going to cost more than the $8 million they are paying him this season. Let’s say they somehow get Berkman back for just $10 million next season (He says he wants to stay. That means he’s definitely coming back at a discount, right?) and also pick up Carpenter’s option. Adding that to the the Wainwright option, that would bring the Cardinals 2012 payroll to roughly around $85 million dollars before arbitration raises and any other holes they need to fill in free agency. If payroll stays around $110 million, they should have plenty of room.

Oh yeah, about one of those holes. You know, the one at first base? After his “down” 2011 (only four wins so far), will Albert accept $25 million or less a year (or at least that amountin 2012)? If not Albert, how about Prince Fielder?

Things are just heating up, morans.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


26 Responses to “The Meaning of Wainwright’s Option”

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  1. Moran says:

    You mistake Wainwright for Carpenter twice. Who’s the moran now?

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  2. Andrew says:

    If you’re paying attention, you’d know the Cardinals will probably restructure Carpenter’s option into a cheaper AAV for two years.

    Not sure how “everything” would have to go right for Wainwright to replicate a 4-win season. With Wainwright’s recovery progress, I wouldn’t expect any drop off caused by the injury at least.

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    • Hmm… I didn’t mean it to sound like an unrealistic expectation. Maybe I’ll reword it.

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    • AJ says:

      I assume you mean Wainwright and pulled a Klaassen? How would that conversation go?

      Mozeliak: Well Adam, we gave you a two year option. Who wouldn’t want to be a Cardinal for life? We’re thinking of not picking up the option unless you agree to lower the value of it. So, why don’t you do that and show the best fans in baseball your commitment to them?
      Wainwright’s agent: Adam has been a pretty huge badass over the last two years. You sure you want to let him hit FA?
      Mozeliak: Well, he might not be able to play for the best fans in baseball. And he has been hurt all year. And we need to sign Pujols too. And Tony is a little worried about his want to.
      Wainwright’s Agent: We aren’t restructuring. Good luck. ::click::

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  3. Anthony says:

    At what age do you normally start knocking off 0.5 wins for a guy? 30?

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    • Generally 28 at the very latest. Personally, I would start at 27 for hitters and earlier than that for pitchers.

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      • Anthony says:

        Does it vary much based on a guys particular skill set? ie. speed vs. power guys?

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      • miffleball says:

        By that standard, shouldn’t there be no ‘all-star’ quality players anymore by 32? After all, even a 6 WAR hitter at 27 is down to 3.5 WAR by then. Just looking at the leaderboards, does this actually hold true? Bautista is 31, pedroia 28, votto 28, granderson 30, victorino 31, a gonzalez 29, holliday 31. were these guys all 9 WAR players once upon a time?
        how about halladay, at 34, shouldn’t he be a 1 WAR pitcher by now (or verlander at 28, CC at 31, weaver at 29, haren at 31, lee at 33 all be on the back side of their careers instead of among the top 10 pitchers in baseball?)
        aren’t the aging curves based on anyone who has been in the league and not specifically on guys who’ve had 10-15 year careers (i don’t know where the right place specifically to draw the line is)? after all, if wainwright was the second best pitcher in the NL for 2 years, isn’t he analogous to a very elite group of players and therefore should be compared to them when guessing how he (or someone else in his category) should age instead of comparing them to the matt murton’s of the world?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Great question miffleball.

        I’d be interested in that answer too.

        I wonder if a lot of the studies regarding aging curves were further back than 20-30 years ago.

        I ask because NOW baseball players value strength training and conditioning, and the surgery and recovery available is amazing, while the workload is stable/decreasing.

        In short, I’m wondering if the genetically gifted will be able to sustain performance longer than the days of Willie Mays and Joe Morgan.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    [Gotta love the Cardinals fans seeing him putting up a career-high seven wins in 2011. I can just see the Best Fans in Baseball filling out their projections, peering at their laptop, thinking about all the morans who don't know how to project players.]

    Gimme a break.

    Are we talking about projections for Carpenter or Wainwright?

    Cardinal fans projected 7 WAR for AW50, who put up 5.7 in ’09 and 6.1 in ’10? That’s optimistic for certain, but not ridicule worthy.

    Rather than just throwing numbers out or picking a number in the middle, why not research 5-6 WAR SP’s who have had TJ surgery and see how they generally did after the surgery? Granted it’ll take more time than making bad jokes, but it would be more useful and interesting.

    The Cards have some tough financial decisions to make, but AW’s 2 years of team options is the easy one … regardless of what other contracts are up.

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  5. jim says:

    who is this article about, carpenter or wainwright? if it’s about wainwright, why would there be unprefaced discussion of carpenter?

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    • Sometimes it’s aboput Wainwright, sometimes it’s about Carpenter. I assume the seven win projection bit was really about Wainwright.

      The really mistifying bit is why it hasn’t been editted/corrected for readability.

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  6. Nick C says:

    Pretty big hatchet job on the Cardinals and their fans. Thought this site was supposed to be about baseball analysis. You sound a wee bit bitter. Are you a Brewers, Reds or Cubs fan Matt? Pathetic writing regardless.

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    • gnomez says:

      Seconded.

      Also, I’d like to point out that the Team Fans and Other Fans sections had pretty much the same rate stats for Carpenter; the big difference is Team Fans projecting him to have about 70 more innings.

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  7. Todd says:

    Unnecessary and unprofessional fanbase bashing. Very disappointing.

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  8. Ryan says:

    So, you pick a totally arbitrary midpoint of 2 WAR based on the fact that Liriano hasn’t been that good. Why don’t you look at a larger sample of pitchers coming back from TJ?

    This website is losing everything that was once good about it. It’s quantitative still, but in a totally mindless way. There’s no difference between this article and one that says that Wainwright is likely to be OK next year. Both are baseless, this one just tags a number to the baseless estimation. It’s not better than ESPN.

    I really hope it’s not true, but I think that Fangraphs has jumped the shark.

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  9. Evan Bruschini says:

    Here’s the twist. Adam Wainwright is Chris Carpenter.

    Directed by David Fincher.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    Finkle is Einhorn.

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  11. TheRedParty says:

    Swing and a miss on this one, Fangraphs.

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  12. Jeff L says:

    Not a good job writing on this one.

    Sorry, I expected more of a proper insight here.

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  13. yungmuneyholla wat it dew says:

    lol at the butt hurt Cards fans bitching and moaning about a little cheap shot, get over yourselves

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      *Woosh*

      The bitching and moaning is due to the lack of research, the ridiculous comparisons, and well … the bloggish reference to the “Morans” picture, while the author gets the pitcher’s name wrong in the article.

      The author misses the point that StL has gotten such surplus value from Wainwright, Pujols, Berkman, Carpenter, and the 3 minimum wage players that combined for 7 WAR in 2011, that the FA pay increases and arbitration awards are going to make for some tough decisions for StL.

      Yeah, no kidding. But, that’s a good problem to have (versus say, the Cubs problem).

      I understand the distaste for StL many fans have due to LaRussa, the fans thinking players will take a hometown discount for the privvilege and honor to play in front of the best fans in the world in Baseball City, USA, etc. But to compare Wainwright to Liriano to suggest that AW50 for 21M over 2 years is anything but a bargain casts a shadow over the whole article.

      The “morans” stuff is what it is. Like someone calling you a doody-head.

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  14. CardinalRules says:

    This spam is more informative than the article.

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