St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright delivers a pitch to the Washington Nationals in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on October 7, 2012. UPI/Bill Greenblatt
By Rob Rains
The last two years, the Cardinals have gone to spring training with one of their star players on the verge of his free agent season. One did not sign and left after the year. The other signed a contract extension while in Florida.
That experience of what happened with Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina has left general manager John Mozeliak prepared for the upcoming negotiations with starting pitcher Adam Wainwright.
“I would hope to think that in each instance you do learn some things along the way,” Mozeliak said Saturday at the Cardinals’ winter warm-up. “Any time you get experience in dealing with high level negotiations you should be learning from it. I do think every case is different but having said that, it’s important experience to gain and very valuable.
Mozeliak said he would like to have a Wainwright extension completed even before the team arrives in Jupiter the middle of February.
“We will take the next four weeks or so and see what we can do,” Mozeliak said. “We both want to get to a positive ending and that is something we will work towards.”
Mozeliak also said, however, he did not foresee any demands from Wainwright’s agent that an extension must be completed before or during spring training or Wainwright would play out the season and become a free agent.
Wainwright turn his turn at the same podum as Mozeliak about six hours later on Saturday and said his sentiments about the contract situation were summed up in the T-shirt he chose to wear for the occasion.
“I’m just happy to be here, hoping to help the ballclub,” read the message on the shirt.
Wainwright did point out, however, that it was his decision to postpone talking about the contract when the Cardinals approached his agent last September. He was concerned about the timing, with the end of the season and playoffs approaching, and did not want the negotiations to be a possible distraction.
The talks had progressed enough, however, that Wainwright said, “I liked the way it was headed.”
With Chris Carpenter in the final year of his contract as well, and headed toward possible retirement, the Cardinals want to get Wainwright signed to an extension to continue their ability to have a quality veteran starter at the head of their rotation.
The strength of the team’s minor-league organization is right-handed starting pitchers, but none are ready to assume a leadership role, Mozeliak said.
That job, going forward, should belong to Wainwright, who will turn 32 during the 2013 season.
“When you look at the success of this club and go back to 2000, we always sort of had someone to point to to be that mentor, whether it was a Darryl Kile, a Matt Morris, Andy Benes, Woody Williams, Chris Caprenter,” Mozeliak said. “Clearly you look at what Wainwright has grown into and we have that.
“If you looked at it from a very purest standpoint in the sense that we have all these arms coming, there’s probably a way to do this without making the investment into a veteran pitcher. But when you look at those intangibles and that leadership and the ability to mentor young pitchers, that also has value. It’s something we certainly believe has been part of our success over the years.”
Wainwright, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, was 14-13 in 2012 with a 3.94 ERA. In his seven years with the Cardinals, he has a record of 80-48 with a 3.15 ERA in 214 games, including 151 starts.
Other news and notes from Saturday at the winter warm-up:
*Mozeliak said he considers second base Daniel Descalso’s job to lose going into spring training, especially if shortstop Rafael Furcal is playing and hitting well. He is interested to see how well Matt Carpenter can handle the position, however.
*Mozeliak had the same answer about pitcher Lance Lynn and the potential competition for the fifth spot in the starting rotation and cautioned that “if everybody broke healthy we probably would have trouble getting a couple of people on this roster.”
*Bengie Molina signed the paperwork on Friday and will be the Cardinals’ assistant hitting coach.
*Mozeliak says nothing has happened with the three players who filed for arbitration since the salary figures were exchanged on Friday, David Freese, Jason Motte and Marc Rzepczyski.
*Rzepczynski said he had new Cardinals’ left-hander Randy Choate were on the same flight from California to St. Louis on Friday but he didn’t meet him until both were standing at baggage claim. “I saw his Marlins bag so I went up and introduced myself, then we shared a cab,” he said.
*Rzepczynski said he has lost 10 pounds this winter, which was his goal in the off-season.
*Outfielder Matt Holliday said he was not asked to play for the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic and while he would have liked to represent his country, he was not too disappointed because “I enjoy spring training.”
*Pitcher Jaime Garcia said he never told Mexican officials that he would pitch for his native country in the WBC and never intended to do so as he comes back from last year’s shoulder problems. “I would love to play for my country but now is not the right time,” he said.
Garcia said he is confident that he will not have more physical problems in the spring and is happy with how his off-season workouts have been going.
“Believe me that I am doing everything I can everyday to be ready,” he said. “I’m not thinking about last year. I’m thinking about 2013.”
*Pitcher Chris Carpenter said he got eager this winter and began throwing in early December, about a month earlier than usual. “I’m excited about the way I feel,” he said.
Carpenter’s contract expires after this year but he said he is not ready to think about whether this might be the final year of his career. Health will be the biggest factor, he said.
“My thought is that I will pitch this year and see what happens,” he said. “I am going to see how I feel, and if there is an opportunity to pitch beyond this year, I will talk to my wife and kids and see what we want to do.”
The warm-up runs through Monday at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis.