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03/20/08 8:21 PM ET

Wainwright signs long-term deal

Cardinals right-hander agrees to four-year contract

JUPITER, Fla. -- If only Adam Wainwright's beloved Georgia Bulldogs had pulled out a win in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, it would have been a perfect day for the right-hander.

Before the Dawgs fell to Xavier, Wainwright secured his financial and baseball futures by agreeing to a four-year deal with the Cardinals. The contract is worth a reported $15 million guaranteed through 2011, and it contains a two-year club option for 2012 and 2013. The option would be worth $21 million, bringing the potential value of the deal to $36 million.

Wainwright gave up his first two years of free agency, but in return he gets four guaranteed years and the chance to continue pitching in a place he loves.

"I get to do it in St. Louis, where the fans are the greatest in the game, and I love the city and my wife loves the city, and that's what's most important to us," he said. "We're going to be there for, hopefully, a long, long time, and a long time after this contract. My wife is very, very excited about this deal, and I look forward to raising our daughter there. It's just a great situation for both parties, I think."

According to The Associated Press, Wainwright will receive a $750,000 signing bonus, $500,000 in 2008, $2.6 million in 2009, $4.65 million in 2010 and $6.5 million in 2012. The club option is for both 2012 and 2013, with values of $9 million and $12 million, respectively. The new pact supersedes his 2008 contract, which was worth $448,000.

The value of the buyout on Wainwright's option was not immediately known. The option will vest automatically if he reaches certain thresholds of innings pitched and starts within the final two years of the guaranteed portion of the pact.

"Free agency is something that players play for, and it's something that's very valuable to a player in his career," said Wainwright's agent, Steve Hammond. "So there were trade-offs. That was the toughest thing, giving up free agency for the multiyear and the dollars."

Wainwright would have been eligible for arbitration starting with the 2009 season and eligible for free agency following 2011.

"I think they treated me very fairly," he said. "I'm not looking to break the bank. I'm not looking to make headlines or put my name on the paper. I do this game because I love it and because it's going to take care of my family for hopefully the rest of my life. And I'm in a great position where that hopefully has taken place."

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While Wainwright and Hammond gave some on the two-year option, the club assumes a risk by committing four guaranteed years to the pitcher. However, the Cardinals have consistently been more willing to guarantee multiple years to in-house players than to new free agents from outside the organization.

The club's view of Wainwright as a pitcher, a teammate and a person helped make the deal easy to swallow. Wainwright has emerged not only as the team's best young pitcher, but as one of the faces of the organization.

"He embodies everything we look for in a player: his talent, his personality and what he brings to the St. Louis Cardinals," said general manager John Mozeliak. "One of the things that we try to do when we look at some of the younger players in our organization is to try to have the ability to wrap them up for the long-term. Making sure that they understand we want them to be a part of our core system moving forward."

Earlier this winter, the Cardinals committed to a four-year deal with catcher Yadier Molina, also buying out all of Molina's arbitration years. Pitcher Chris Carpenter is signed through 2011 with an option for 2012, and first baseman Albert Pujols is inked through 2010 with a club option for 2011.

The four represent a significant portion of what the team would consider its core, now and in the coming years. As the Cardinals move more towards utilizing homegrown talent, one imperative will be to keep that talent in-house. Wainwright isn't technically homegrown, since he was drafted by the Braves, but he played in the St. Louis system as well and has only known the Majors as a Cardinal.

"One of the key things for us," Mozeliak said, "is that we had someone we value such as Adam and we felt like it was the right thing to do to get him under control for up to the next six years."

Wainwright, 26, excelled in his first season as a big league starter in 2007. He posted a 14-12 record with a 3.70 ERA in 202 innings, striking out 136 against 70 walks. The right-hander was one of the league's best starters in the second half, putting up a 2.71 ERA after the All-Star break.

In 2006, he starred in relief, moving from long reliever to setup man to closer in September and the playoffs. Wainwright is still probably best known for striking out the Mets' Carlos Beltran to end the 2006 National League Championship Series.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.