Adam Wainwright: Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Cy

Nov 17, 2010 at 10:48 am
click to enlarge Adam Wainwright, contemplating the most likely candidates to beat him out for future Cy Young awards. -
Adam Wainwright, contemplating the most likely candidates to beat him out for future Cy Young awards.
I wonder if Cy Young Award Winner Announcement Day is just like the worst day of the year for Adam Wainwright. The way some people have particularly sad anniversaries marked on their calendars -- family deaths, divorces, things like that -- just so they know when to start dreading, that's the way I picture the calendar in the Wainwright household. There's a day in mid-November marked off every year so Adam and his family can start counting down the days to the moment he doesn't win a Cy Young award. Again. 

Of course, it isn't as if Wainwright hasn't deserved to win the award; he's deserved it each of the past two years. Problem is, there's been another guy who deserved it just a little bit more both times. Last year it was Tim Lincecum winning his second Cy Young in a row, this time it was Roy Halladay winning it in his first season in the National League. I fully expect next year Adam will win 22 games, post a 2.68 ERA, and finish second in the Cy Young voting to Josh Johnson, whose Marlins will finally win him enough games for the voters to hand him the award. Always a bridesmaid, never a Cy. 

Wow. What an awful joke. 

There are two rather interesting sidelights to this story. Actually, make that one interesting one and one slightly ironic one. 

The slightly ironic sidenote is that when Roy Halladay was notified of his Cy Young Award win, he was actually on a golf course in Mexico with Mike Sweeney, Chris Young, and Chris Carpenter. And not the Chris Carpenter who is a Cubs prospect, nor the Chris Carpenter who used to be a submarining middle reliever for the Cardinals in the late 80s. No, the Chris Carpenter who is Wainwright's teammate, and who Adam has given loads of credit to in the past for being a huge influence on the way he prepares for and approaches the game. So when Adam Wainwright lost the Cy Young this year, his mentor was on a golf course in Mexico with the man who beat him out for the award. Et tu, Carp? 

The other, actually interesting note is that with this top 5 finish in the Cy Young voting, it appears Wainwright's options for 2012 and 2013 will become guaranteed. I say appears because Matthew Leach, beat writer for the Cardinals MLB website, mentioned on Twitter that Adam must not end next season on the disabled list for the options to vest. I don't doubt Leach's word, but I can't find anywhere a mention of such a proviso in the contract. The clause in question states that with a top 5 finish in the Cy Young voting in either 2010 or 2011, the options become guaranteed. There's probably an extra something in there somewhere I'm just not aware of, but it also doesn't much matter for my purposes this morning. The two options are club options, and they have to be assumed at the same time, and I can't imagine the Cardinals would have any reason to not want Wainwright back. 

So operating under the assumption that Adam will, in fact, be a Cardinal through 2013, we can get some idea of just how valuable he has been to the club so far in his big league career. He was called up for a brief cup of coffee in 2005, and didn't look particularly special. In fact, the most memorable moment I can think of from said callup was a walkoff home run someone from the Mets hit off Adam. Might have been Mike Piazza, but I'm not sure, and too lazy to look it up. So let's just kindly forget that ever happened, hmm? 

In 2006, Wainwright made the club out of spring training as a middle reliever. We all know he ended up closing out World Series games, but for most of the season he was just a low-leverage bullpen arm. He moved into the rotation in 2007 and has been there ever since, improving each year until he's the pitcher we know and love today. 

Here are Adam's annual salaries, along with his wins above replacement and approximate monetary value for each year: 

  • 2006: Salary -- $300K, WAR -- 1.1, Value -- $4.1 million
  • 2007: Salary -- $400K, WAR -- 3.5, Value -- $14.2 mil
  • 2008: Salary -- $700K, WAR -- 2.2, Value -- $10 mil
  • 2009: Salary -- $2.6 mil, WAR -- 5.7, Value -- $25.6 mil
  • 2010: Salary -- $4.65 mil, WAR -- 6.1, Value -- $24.6 mil 
Note: if you're wondering why Wainwright was better in 2010 than 2009 but worth less in dollars, it's because teams, on average, paid a little less per win in 2010 than in '09. 

So over the first five years of his career, Adam Wainwright has made, by my calculation, a little over $8.5 million in actual salary. On the other, he has been worth $78.5 million. Or, if you prefer not to look at it that way, you can say it would have cost the Cardinals 78.5 million dollars to replace Adam Wainwright's production on the open market. 

That is exactly why developing your own in-house talent is so very important. To get the same value Adam Wainwright has provided the Cardinals the last five seasons, they would have had to spend almost 80 million dollars. Instead of doing that, though, they paid just a tenth of that figure. 

This is also why I find it so odd when teams quibble over a matter of a hundred thousand dollars or so on a draftee's signing bonus. Sure, most drafted players never see the light of day in the majors, but just one Adam Wainwright provides so much excess value that he wipes out hundreds of draft pick bonuses in one fell swoop with plenty enough left over to buy a utility infielder or three every year. When the possible return is so ridiculously high compared to the actual investment, I just find it hard to understand why teams are still so hesitant to spend more in the draft. Oh, well. Enough of my soapbox. 

And one more point: this is also the reason why you don't trade away, oh, I don't know, incredibly talented center fielders making league minimum because the crusty, short-sighted old man calling the shots doesn't like the kid. Just keep that in mind next time the guy on sports talk radio is talking about Colby Rasmus and the need to trade him now.