The St. Louis Cardinals do not have an easy situation on their hands with their HOF catcher and it is not getting easier.
Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals are in a bit of an awkward situation right now. Yadier Molina is entering his 14th major league season with the team. However, as you already know, he is in the final year of his contract with the team that does include a mutual option at the end of the season.
Negotiations on an extension have been ongoing between Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals, but no deal has been made as of yet. The elephant in the room is that Yadier Molina is almost 35 and is in a slight state of decline. Making matters worse is the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals already have Molina’s replacement waiting in the wings in Carson Kelly.
Kelly right now is not quite 100% ready for the major leagues, but very well could be by the end of the season. The thought process is that Molina could be seeking a three-year deal at a slight pay raise above his current $15 million per year.
There are two sides to this argument, the camp that wants the team to extend him and do it now and the camp that either wants the team to not extend him and let Kelly take over next year.
Reasons to extend Molina
Molina has provided elite defense and an uncanny ability to manage a pitching staff ever since he arrived in the major leagues. He is the leader in the clubhouse and on the field for this team. He has far and away established himself as the best catcher in team history and there is no doubt about that.
While it is an extremely small sample Molina seems to be off to a great start for the season, as he is leading Puerto Rico through the WBC going 5-13 with two home runs in the tournament and is putting Puerto Rico’s pitching staff on his back. Molina could be giving us a preview of a solid season for 2017 and that would make things either easier or more complicated.
However, Molina has taken quite the toll over the years as do most catchers and the concern is that Molina just may not be able to hold up over the next three seasons. Obviously, the team has been in this situation before as they were in a quandary in 2004 when defensive catching star Mike Matheny was set to be a free agent.
At that time, the team had an up and coming defensive catching superstar in a young Yadier Molina. Matheny was good for the Cardinals but the team obviously saw the value in Molina and chose not to extend Matheny.
While the irony is strong here, it really is a completely different scenario. Molina has been with the team far longer than Matheny (four years) and has been a part of three World Series teams (two victories), led his team to the playoffs nine times, won eight gold glove and four platinum glove awards.
So, really the two scenarios are completely different. Yadier Molina is a way better player than Mike Matheny was and that is not even mentioning the offensive impact Molina has had with the team.
When you look at this from this standpoint, it seems like a no-brainer to re-sign Molina. However, one of the reasons the Cardinals have been successful is that they do not overpay for free agents including their own. While they have been great at the bridge deals to lock up young players like they did with Carlos Martinez in the offseason. They do not overpay when a player is above 30, especially when a player is so close to 35 like Molina is.
Reasons to not extend Molina
However, by most standards, Molina’s most valuable asset (defense) declined last season. While Molina bounced back offensively from a year where he missed significant time and struggled with a thumb injury, it will not be the measure he is graded upon.
The team showed their restraint in paying for a player who had spent a long amount of time with the team in Matt Holliday last spring. Holliday struggled through injuries throughout the year and the team decided their plans were to go a different route and let Holliday sign with the New York Yankees while they brought in Dexter Fowler to give the outfield an athletic boost.
Still, Molina is different. He’s the most senior member of this team and has been since the official retirement of Chris Carpenter. He is still regarded by some as the “best catcher in baseball” despite his age.
Despite all of this, you simply cannot argue against age. Molina will get worse, the knees are going to hurt more than he can handle at some point. Eventually, this is going to make a difference in his play. John Nagel of Redbird Daily talks about how some of the past HOF catchers like Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza declined after the age of 35 for his reasoning on not extending Molina.
However, one of the best points for not re-signing Molina comes from Craig Edwards of Viva El Birdos. Craig says this, “The biggest problem with extending Yadier Molina is that you get a lot of downside with a contract guarantee, but there is little upside to be gained.” Like I have stated before, Molina is absolutely the best catcher in club history. However, aside from the legacy of Molina “retiring a Cardinal” there doesn’t seem to be a ton of upside in extending Molina.
Yadier Molina is one of my favorite players and is a player that I have enjoyed watching play over the course of his career. His defense has created a cult following that has spurned t-shirts, songs, and more. He’s absolutely been the heart of this team for some time. While on one hand, it seems crazy to imagine Yadier Molina playing on another team to finish out his career. It also seems crazy to assume the Cardinals (a famously frugal team) just hand Molina a blank check for the next three seasons.
While Bengie Molina‘s claims that the Cardinals don’t seem to want to pay Yadier are scary, it would seem silly to assume the Cardinals aren’t trying to re-sign the fan favorite. I would also argue that the market for Molina’s services would be very limited and his value is at it’s highest with the Cardinals. He’s not a terribly gifted offensive performer and his value as a rotation manager may seem great, it is not quantifiable.
These things considered, it simply doesn’t seem like Molina would be able to get the salary raise he looks for in the open market. Especially if he doesn’t have another solid year this year or misses any time with injury.
Ultimately, I want Molina signed. But, I don’t envy John Mozeliak with this situation. Not only does he have a contract negotiation to worry about, he also has to worry about how the possible transition from Molina to Kelly will go in the future. He has to consider how the manager of his team will handle that, a manager who has a history of playing veterans over young guys. Hopefully, something is done soon and we can put this behind us.