Over the last two years, Adam Wainwright has emerged as one of the best and most consistent pitchers in the National League. He won 39 games over that span, put together a phenomenal 2.53 ERA and struck out 425 batters. Those are the numbers of a top-notch ace, and that’s just what Wainwright has become for the St. Louis Cardinals. They may be without that luxury in 2011.
Wainwright reportedly felt a tug in his elbow while throwing on Monday, and the training staff has already termed it a “significant ligament injury,” one that likely stems from an elbow injury toward the end of last season that was believed to be a strain. Early indications are that the 29-year-old could need Tommy John surgery, which would obviously shut him down for the season. Now, Cardinals fans are left wondering where the injury puts them in 2011.
The obvious: making the World Series in 2011 has become a long shot. Prior to the injury, St. Louis had one of the best starting pitcher combinations in baseball between Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Behind that the Cardinals have Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook — not exactly Cy Young candidates. With names like Kevin Millwood being the only ones remaining on the free agent list, it would be hard to imagine St. Louis putting together a quality playoff rotation unless they pull of a major mid-season trade.
The less obvious: retaining Albert Pujols becomes even more difficult. Pujols’ situation for hitting free agency may not be ideal, but we all know how playing for a winning team can soften negotiations. Although he is nowhere near the player of Pujols’ caliber, a similar situation occurred with Mike Lowell and the Red Sox in 2007. At age 33 and clearly on the back end of his career, Lowell had just been named the MVP of the World Series. He wanted to stay in Boston, and the fans wanted him to stay. Having just won a championship, Theo Epstein decided to act on emotion and sign Lowell to a three-year extension — one he never really lived up to.
If the Wainwright injury really hurts the Cardinals and they have a down year, Pujols may feel less inclined to stay. The negotiations are so significant that you would think the effect of winning would be minor, but winning tends to make everything seem a little easier. Contract negotiations have never been an exception.
Bottom line: losing Wainwright for the season would be an enormous blow to the St. Louis Cardinals.Google+
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