The new deal will span 2008 plus Wainwright's three arbitration-eligible seasons, 2009, 2010 and 2011, along with a pair of team option years that would cover his first two seasons of free agency. As a result, the 26-year-old could remain in a Cardinals uniform for six more seasons in total - through the 2013 campaign.
As the long-term agreement was apparently being worked, earlier this month the Cardinals renewed the 26-year-old Georgia native's contract for the 2008 season at $448,000. With just two-plus years of major league service time, Wainwright was obligated to accept the one-year deal, which is now superseded by the new contract.
According to the AP, terms include a $750,000 signing bonus with salaries of $500,000 in 2008, $2.6 million in 2009, $4.65 million in 2010 and $6.5 million in 2011. The club options are $9 million in 2012 and $12 million in 2013, making the total potential value $36 million.
The options will vest automatically if Wainwright meets certain conditions within the final two years of the guaranteed portion of the contract. Specifically, he must log 400 innings and 60 starts from 2010 to 2011 or finish in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting either year.
An injury would negate the option, however. In other words, Wainwright must achieve either of the innings/starts or Cy Young Award incentives plus not be on the disabled list at the end of the 2011 for the options to trigger automatically.
The pact becomes the longest in potential duration for any current Cardinals player. Ace Chris Carpenter and catcher Yadier Molina's contracts can run through 2012. The latter deal was negotiated by new general manager John Mozeliak during the winter.
Wainwright is expected to be confirmed as the club's 2008 opening day starter. Between Wainwright's emergence and the injuries of veterans Carpenter and Mark Mulder, the choice is obvious.
After making his MLB debut late in the 2005 season, Wainwright was pressed into action as the team's closer down the stretch in 2006. Subbing for injured Jason Isringhausen, he was a post-season hero for the unlikely world champion Cardinals. Wainwright then moved into the rotation in 2007, going 14-12 with a strong 3.70 ERA.
In one of the better deals of the Walt Jocketty era, the Cardinals originally acquired Wainwright from the Atlanta Braves in the December, 2003 trade for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. The Cardinals also received two players who contributed immediately and for multiple seasons, starter Jason Marquis and reliever Ray King. Drew left the Braves as a free agent after just one year.
Wainwright was the Braves' first-round pick in the 2000 draft at the age of 19. With the new contract, he may not become a free agent until the age of 32, but will earn millions between now and then. With this aggressive move, the Cardinals are clearly banking on many more victories from the big right-hander, too.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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