photo: Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)
Will the greatest battery in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals keep playing in 2021?
If they have their way, the answer is “yes.”
First it was Yadier Molina to declare. The Cardinals’ catcher since 2004 stated his thinking has changed due to the delay in the 2020 Major League season caused by the pandemic. The 37-year old is no longer leaving his future playing time plans in the hands of the Cardinals.
Saying the virus has “changed everything”, the nine-time Gold Glove Award winner recently said that he wants to play in 2021. Molina prefers it be with the Cardinals, but made it clear he would look elsewhere if necessary.
The man who has thrown to Molina more than any other, Adam Wainwright, has announced his intent to play another year, as well. This was stated at the conclusion of a must-read interview the pitcher conducted with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, posted on Friday.
While the primary focus of the talk was on Wainwright’s many charitable efforts, including a $250,000 donation this spring to help Cardinals minor leaguers most disadvantaged by the shutdown, the interview concluded with the pitcher disclosing his hope for 2021.
“As long as (the Cardinals) will have me, I’d love to play again next year,” Wainwright said.
Wainwright explained that one reason behind the decision is that his health has improved, specifically noting his “arm sense is increasing” and summarizing that “I have more left in the tank.” Another factor he noted is the lost time due to the game’s 2020 delay.
As this was not the focus of the interview, the discussion did not evolve into whether the 38-year old will attach any conditions (other than continued good health) to his return, as has Molina.
Coming off a five-year, $97.5 million contract following the 2018 season, Wainwright expressed no interest (at least publicly) in pitching for another team. Because of rules that restrict salary cuts in extensions to no more than 20 percent per year, for 2019 Wainwright had to reach free agency before signing a new contract with St. Louis.
The two sides settled on a one-year deal that guaranteed Wainwright just $2 million, quite a step down from the $19.5 million he received in each of the five prior seasons. However, his 2019 terms also included $8 million in appearance incentives, each of which Wainwright satisfied through his strong 2.2 fWAR performance. That extended his total earnings last season to $10 million.
That same $10 million maximum defines Wainwright’s second consecutive one-year contract. But the Cardinals rewarded him for his 2019 by increasing his 2020 base to $5 million (with the remaining $5 million in appearance incentives).
With the financial losses mounting for MLB owners, talk has already begun of teams cutting back on player payrolls for 2021. As most stars have long-term contracts and youngsters earn relatively little, veteran free agents-to-be like Molina and Wainwright may be among the group to feel the most pressure this coming winter.
Still, to say the duo has been legendary both to the franchise and the game itself is no exaggeration. Over 16 seasons and counting, they have worked more games together, 265, than any St. Louis battery ever and seventh-most of any pair in the history of MLB.
So, one would have to assume that if the two continue to be productive, the Cardinals will find a way for Wainwright and Molina to remain teammates in 2021.
Whether or not that will be the end is a chapter not yet written, but Wainwright’s latest comments have added another page to the long-running volume.
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