Click this audio player to hear Adam Wainwright contract extension press conference.

Audio courtesy FOX Sports Midwest and St. Louis Cardinals.

UPDATE: Adam Wainwright, along with Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt , Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak met with the media Thursday morning. To hear the press conference click on the audio player.


 The Cardinals will announce a five-year contract extension for Adam Wainwright on Thursday. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

When Adam Wainwright takes the ball for opening day on Monday in Arizona, he will do so as the highest paid pitcher in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals announced at a news conference today that they have agreed to a contract extension with Wainwright, who was set to become a free agent at the end of this season.

Multiple media outlets, including Fox, reported Wednesday night the extension is for five years and is worth a total of $97.5 million, which works out to $19.5 million per season.

That is the highest average salary the Cardinals have ever paid to any player, although the total value of the contract is $22.5 million less than the $120 million for seven years currently being paid to outfielder Matt Holliday.

The extension will begin in 2014, it was reported, and means Wainwright will be tied to the Cardinals through the 2018 season, when he will be 37 years old. Wainwright, only two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, is completing the final year of a six-year contract he signed before the 2008 season.

Wainwright’s agent, Steve Hammond, and the Cardinals had been negotiating the deal for close to two months. The talks escalated last week when Hammond came to the Cardinals’ spring training complex in Jupiter to meet with team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak and continued this week.

Both sides had said they hoped a decision on an extension could be reached before Monday’s opening day so they would not have to negotiate during the season.

The 31-year-old Wainwright had always maintained his desire to stay in St. Louis and play his entire major-league career with the Cardinals, which now appears that it will be a reality. Originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2000, he was traded to the Cardinals while in the minor leagues in 2003.

He had been reportedly seeking a five-year deal, while the Cardinals were reluctant to guarantee more than four years. It was expected the deal would be worth more than $20 million a year, so it appears both sides reached a compromise agreement which gave Wainwright the length of contract he desired but at a lower total cost and a lower cost per season.

In his first year back from the elbow surgery in 2012, Wainwright was 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA in 198 2/3 innings. He was a 20-game winner in 2010, the year before he blew out his elbow in spring training, and won 19 games in 2009. He finished third in voting for the NL Cy Young Award in 2009 and was second the following year.

For his career Wainwright has a won-loss record of 80-48 with a 3.15 ERA. Promoted to the majors as a reliever in 2006, Wainwright’s career record as a starter is 78-47, a .624 winning percentage, with a 3.14 ERA in 151 career starts.

This spring Wainwright was 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA in six starts. In 27 innings he walked six while striking out 18.

His start on Monday in Arizona will be the second opening day assignment of Wainwright’s career. He previously stated the Cardinals’ opener in 2009.