Adam Wainwright will pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals next season, choosing to return for an 18th and final year with the club even as longtime teammates Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina head off into retirement.
The 41-year-old Wainwright informed the NL Central champions of his decision to return shortly after they were eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Wainwright did not pitch in either game in part because he had struggled with his delivery late in the season.
“I do tend to think the way the season ended led even more to me coming back,” Wainwright said Wednesday, “because I just didn’t like that. I don’t like gong out like that. I wasn’t performing like I know I should have been performing. Wasn’t helping the team like I knew I should have been helping the team. We didn’t win. I love my teammates.”
“But looking back on it now, it just seemed like everything that happened led me to coming back one more year,” he said.
Asked whether it would be just that – one final year – he replied: “Yes.” But then Wainwright made it clear that he has no interest in answering questions about retirement every week, instead imploring folks to “just let me go out and pitch.”
Wainwright finished 11-12 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 start, his first losing season in which he made at least 20 starts. He won just twice over his final six starts, though, and had a 7.22 ERA while dealing with what he called a “dead arm.”
Wainwright earned $17.5 million on a one-year deal last season. Terms of his contract for 2023 have not been disclosed.
“We all know how competitive he is, we know how special he is in that clubhouse and what he means to this organization,” Cardinals president John Mozeliak said, “so we’re just glad we could get it done.”
Wainwright will head into next season needing five wins to reach 200 for his career. The right-hander is 15 behind Jesse Haines for the second-most wins in franchise history; Bob Gibson is the leader with 251 of them.
Wainwright and Molina set the major league record for career starts as a battery last season, eventually hitting 328 starts together. But with Molina heading into retirement, Andrew Knizner is in line to be the everyday catcher, though Mozeliak did indicate Wednesday that the club would be in the market for help behind the plate.
“We’re super excited that he’s coming back, and we understood that he had interest in pitching again,” Mozeliak said. “He and I started talking about this in early September, and obviously the September didn’t go as he wanted it to, but we really do feel like there’s something left in that tank.”
In other news, Mozeliak said he was willing to offer new contracts to pitching coach Mike Maddux and hitting coach Jeff Albert but both decided to step away. The 61-year-old Maddux had been with the Cardinals since 2018 and Albert spent time with the Astros before taking over as the Cardinals hitting coach ahead of the 2019 season.
The Cardinals had already lost bench coach Skip Schumaker to the Marlins as their manager this week. And with bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd being reassigned as a special assistant within the organization, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol will have four spots to replace on his staff heading into his second season in charge.
Turner Ward, who had been the assistant hitting coach, could be a candidate for promotion. Pitching strategist Dusty Blake also will be back and could be among the candidates to replace Maddux as the pitching coach.
“Clearly we have a lot of openings,” Mozeliak said. “We’ll look internally and we’ll look externally. We know we have some qualified people within the organization but we also want to make sure were addressing all our needs.”
Mozeliak also acknowledged spending time this week with All-Star third baseman Nolen Arenado, who must decide within five days of the end of the World Series whether to opt out of the remaining five years and $144 million on his deal.
Arenado, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, is coming off a season in which he hit .293 with 30 homers, 103 RBIs and a career-low strikeout rate, putting him in the MVP race alongside teammate Paul Goldschmidt. And whereas opting out might have been a longshot last year, Arenado’s year raises the question of whether he could ear more on the open market.
Mozeliak said there is “optimism” surrounding Arenado and the Cardinals but there was nothing to announce yet.