The offseason is upon us, baseball fans.
And with that comes a big question: what will the Cardinals do in regards to future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina? He is set to hit free agency, he is 38-years old, and he is reportedly seeking a two-year deal.
But will the Cardinals give him a two-year deal? And should they?
In recent years, Molina’s plate appearances have dropped significantly, as have his at-bats. Excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Molina’s at-bats dropped from 534, to 501, to 459, to just 419 over the course of the 2016-2019 seasons.
And yet, despite the drop in at-bats by Molina, the planned future replacement for Molina, 25-year old Andrew Knizner, still hasn’t seen as much action as one would think given the situation at catcher. In his rookie season, Knizner only had 53 at-bats, and in 2020, he had a mere 16 at-bats.
And it’s not like he is the first catcher that the Cardinals have tried to groom as Molina’s replacement. Tony Cruz, Carson Kelly, along with Knizner, just to name a few. All have been backups to Molina over the years in hopes of taking over the future Hall of Fame catcher’s spot. Matt Wieters also filled in well for Molina in 2019, although there are no indications to have him as the future backstop for the team.
It’s clear that preparation for the future is one issue the Cardinals are dealing with. Another issue that they have on their hands is the money.
Whether fans like it or not, baseball, like every sport, is a business. And the Cardinals are not particularly known for going all in on players when it comes to contracts.
According to Molina’s agent Melvin Roman, who recently spoke out on his client’s contract details, Molina is asking for a 2-year, $20 million dollar deal. He has made it clear he wants to play until he’s 40. For the anchor of the Cardinals defense for the past 17 seasons, it may not seem like such a tall task to give him the contract. Although, due to the collective bargaining agreement, he’ll have to wait until he hits free agency to re-sign should he want to take a pay cut of at least 20% to his next contract.
However, his contract isn’t the only one the Cardinals have their eyes on.
Next season, Adam Wainwright, Wieters, and Brad Miller are all up for free agency. At the same time, Kolten Wong and Andrew Miller have team options that could possibly be picked up, and the Cardinals might be extremely hesitant to let their star second baseman hit the open market. They also will be paying outfielder Dexter Fowler $16.5 million next season, which is also the final year of his contact.
Finally, there is the “fan effect.”
When Albert Pujols left St. Louis to sign a $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels, fans were heartbroken. But at the same time, many understood it was better for both sides to have him head to the American League, where he could eventually thrive as a DH, and all the while, the Cardinals could afford to sign future stars.
In the case of Molina, however, it’s retain or bust for the Cardinals. Anything short of having him back with the team throughout the remainder of his career will be met with backlash towards the front office (more so than they usually see). Because Molina is a once-in-a-generation player, one of the greatest catchers of all-time, especially in regards to defense.
A small sample of some of his accolades over the course of his career:
- 9× All-Star (2009–2015, 2017, 2018)
- 2× World Series champion (2006, 2011)
- 9× Gold Glove Award (2008–2015, 2018)
- Silver Slugger Award (2013)
- 4× Platinum Glove Award (2011-2012, 2014-2015)
- Roberto Clemente Award (2018)
He has over 2,000 hits, nearly 1,000 RBI’s, and a career .281 average. Molina is the longest-tenured active player with any one team in baseball, having been with the Cardinals since 2004. He’s also sixth all-time in games caught.
Quite frankly, it’s a no-brainer: the Cardinals have to re-sign Molina so he can finish his legendary career with the team he’s spent nearly 20 years with. From his heroic Game 7 home run in the 2006 NLCS, to forming one of the greatest pitcher-catcher tandems with Wainwright, to having played the most postseason games by ANY National League player of all-time, to becoming just one of 12 catchers in Major League history to reach the 2000-hit mark.
His impact is already etched into Cardinals history, as well as baseball history in general. It only makes sense for him to finish his career where it started… before he goes to another team.