Big Value in Wainwright and Molina Contracts

By signing stars Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina to long-term deals prior to arbitration and free agency, the St. Louis Cardinals saved considerable cash.

They were a pair of transactions that received scant notice at the time, yet have positioned the St. Louis Cardinals to remain a National League Central Division contender through at least 2012.

No, I am not referring to the high-profile contract situations of Matt Holliday in the recent past and Albert Pujols in the near future. Surely both have and will receive far more ink, but the long-term commitments made to Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina during the first quarter of 2008 are arguably just as important.

The deals not only locked the two young stars up at very reasonable salaries, they created significant payroll certainty and flexibility for the club. As such, they helped define the then-young administration of Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, promoted into the top job just a few months prior.

On March 19, 2008, St. Louis announced the signing of the right-handed Georgia native Wainwright to a four-year contract with a club option for two additional years. Assuming all six years will be executed, the now-28-year-old will earn $36 million over the life of the deal.

The contract, announced midway through spring training, came on the heels of a comparable commitment to Wainwright's batterymate, catcher Yadier Molina. On January 21, 2008, Molina received a four-year extension that includes a club option for a fifth season. Five years of Molina's services will require St. Louis to ante up $22.5 million.

It is fair to note that at the time, neither Wainwright nor Molina was yet free-agent eligible. In fact, Wainwright was not even arbitration-eligible, a point Molina had just reached for the first time.

Instead of entering into long-term contracts with each player, the Cardinals could have continued to go year-to-year with each. The risks were considerable, as they may have had to deal with annual arbitration hearings and would undoubtedly ended up paying more for the two players over time. Further, each would have most likely hit the free agent market as much as two years sooner.

Instead, because the two are under favorable long-term deals, the Cardinals enjoy their services for a total of less than ten percent of the club's overall player expenditure this season.

The following table illustrates the differences between year-to-year and signed-in-advance scenarios. The first view is the yearly status of the players in relation to arbitration and free agency while the second view lists their salaries as well as the percentage of the team's total payroll.

Year-to-year 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Molina Arb Arb Arb Free agent
Wainwright Pre-arb Arb Arb Arbitration FA
Signed 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Molina $2M $3.25M $4.25M $5.25M $7M opt
Wainwright $1.25M $2.6M $4.65M $6.5M $9M opt $12M opt
% StL payroll 3.3% 6.6% 9.5%

As you can see above, by guaranteeing money early in the players' careers, the Cardinals have assured themselves of keeping Molina and Wainwright two years into their respective free agent-eligible periods at known prices that are almost certain to be below market value for players of their considerable abilities.

In Part 2 of this article, we will compare Wainwright's deal to a pair of pitchers currently on the Cardinals schedule that will really drive home how much of a value his contract represents.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Brian pens a column each Wednesday at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and selected TCN content appears at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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