Cards looking to lock up Wainwright

For a third consecutive spring, the St. Louis Cardinals face the prospect of having a cornerstone player entering the final season of his contract. The club is hoping the negotiations with Adam Wainwright go less like those with Albert Pujols and more like they did with Yadier Molina.

While the Cardinals failed to sign Pujols to an extension during spring training in 2011, which led to the former franchise star eventually leaving for the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent the following offseason, the club locked up Molina last year to a five-year, $75 million deal that begins this season.

Making sure Wainwright sticks around is a priority for GM John Mozeliak, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold reports.

Fortunately for the Cards, their 31-year-old staff ace, who is entering the final year of a deal that will have paid him $36 million over six years, isn't setting any definitive timetable for negotiations. You may recall, back in 2011, Pujols set a hard and fast deadline during his talks, halting discussions as soon as he reported to camp.

Wainwright missed all of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery just prior to the start of the season, but he bounced back to pitch more than 200 quality innings between the regular season and playoffs last year. That's a good indication the right-hander is ready to return to his previous form as a Cy Young contender.

Given the hefty contracts handed out to the very top tier free agent pitchers this offseason -- Zack Greinke landed $147 million over six years, while Anibal Sanchez got $80 million for five -- Wainwright is in line for a deal in the vicinity of $20 million annually that could approach nine figures in total.

The Cards must find a way to keep Wainwright in their payroll structure, which will increase in the future, Goold writes Monday.