Yadier Molina took a big step toward being a St. Louis Cardinal for life Sunday.
Molina, the seven-time All-Star catcher and eight-time recipient of the Gold Glove award, signed a three-year, $60-million contract extension that will keep him with the Cardinals through at least the 2020 season.
“This is a special day,” Molina, 34, said in a news conference more than six hours before the Cardinals opened the season with a game against the Chicago Cubs. “I can’t be more happy than I am right now. This is a dream come true.
“I always wanted to be here. My family knew that. My agent knew that. My teammates knew that. It was a hard week going back and forth with feelings. But I’m just glad that we got it done because this is the right place to be. I’m happy to be here.”
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The deal pays Molina $20 million in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and makes him the highest-paid catcher in baseball in terms of average annual value. The contract had been rumored to be complete since Thursday, but the Cardinals decided to announce the extension in conjunction with Opening Day.
Last Sunday Molina gave the Cardinals a one-week deadline to get an extension, explaining that he would not negotiate during the season. The Cardinals and Molina had a mutual option for 2018, but Molina said he would not be hesitant to instead enter free agency.
Molina never wanted to leave.
“This is a great organization, a winning organization. I’m a winning player,” Molina said. “I see myself doing good stuff from now on, especially winning a World Series. One or two more, three … or four. That’s my idea. We have a great team. I have some great teammates. They worry about me and my family.”
Molina batted .307 with 38 doubles, eight home runs and 58 RBIs in a career-high 147 games last season. At the completion of the contract, Molina will join Hall of Famers Stan Musial (22 years) and Bob Gibson (17 years) as the only players to have spent 17 or more seasons with the Cardinals.
“You don’t see a player like him very much anymore,” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. “He’s a special talent and I think the Cardinals have been great and very wise about retaining that. I don’t think guys like him come around too often.”
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak agreed, and he would have preferred to lock up Molina with a contract prior to Molina’s deadline.
“We understood that we were going to try to get this done before the season started,” Mozeliak said. “When I look at hindsight, I was hopeful we could have done something before he went to the WBC (World Baseball Classic). But it just didn’t happen. Clearly, this past week was a busy week for us and we were able to work through it.”
Some have characterized the contract as a legacy deal to cement Molina’s iconic stature with the Cardinals.
While that may be the case, Mozeliak doesn’t like the picture that paints.
“I don’t want people to think this is sort of the sunset deal because my expectations are still very high from a performance standpoint,” Mozeliak said. “He is someone that we still expect to be an elite performer. When you hear that word ‘legacy,’ it almost seems like you’re on the down side of your career. I feel where he is physically and where he is mentally, he still wants to contribute in a big way. We welcome that.”
Molina said he’s changed dramatically since he signed a five-year, $75-million contract in March 2012.
“You get more mature and you understand more about taking care of yourself,” Molina said. “You work even harder because you’re getting older. I understand that, so I prepare myself. ... (My) goal is to be healthy, to play as many games as I can. And to do that, you have to take care of yourself, take care of your body, eat well. When you do that, you can do whatever you want.”
During a time in baseball when few players remain with one organization throughout their career, Wainwright said it’s special that Molina will get to buck that trend.
“You always want to see those type of players start and end with the same team,” Wainwright said. “It would have been a shame had Derek Jeter left (to go) somewhere else. I remember even when (John) Smoltz was on our team here. He was my idol growing up. I still felt like he needed to be in a (Atlanta) Braves uniform, so I’m really excited for Yadier and his family to get this opportunity.”
Molina is optimistic about the Cardinals and expects far greater things than last year when they finished 86-76 and missed the postseason.
“I will tell you, it’s going to be better than last year,” Molina said. “We’ve got a great team. I’m so excited to be part of this team. The chemistry is way better than it used to be last year, I’m happy for that. We’re healthy, we’ve got everybody healthy. Hopefully, we stay like that because I know that this team can do good things.”