What does Yadier Molina’s contract extension mean for Carson Kelly, the St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher of the future?
Molina’s new three-year, $60 million deal will keep him in St. Louis through the 2020 season, during which he will turn 38. Kelly, a converted third baseman, broke in last year and could stick on the 2018 roster after playing this season at Class AAA Memphis.
Barring a trade, the plan is for Kelly to be Molina’s understudy for two or three seasons. Kelly will turn 26 midway through the 2020 season.
“The way I see it is at some point, Carson will get his opportunity to be here,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “But in a lot of ways, he’s going to have a great mentor when that time comes. So I don’t really see any down side in that at all.
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“Clearly, had this (Molina) deal not worked out, maybe there would have been different dynamics there. But he’s still growing as a catcher, (and) as a player. Now he can learn from one of the best.”
Mozeliak said it’s fair to speculate that Kelly won’t be a major factor on the Cardinals for at least a couple of years, even if he improves his offensive output. Kelly is a career .248 hitter in the minor leagues, with 35 homers and 202 RBIs in 471 games and 1,711 at-bats.
“I think it’s fair to say that he won’t have the robust role of an everyday catcher, especially in those first couple of years,” Mozeliak said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to develop.”
The last thing the Cardinals want to do is stunt Kelly’s development. A spot as a major-league backup, at this juncture, would fall under that category.
“We’re not forced with having to try to push him faster than we have to,” Mozeliak said. “You could argue, ‘Does this slow down his push to the big leagues?’ That’s something we’re just going to have to try to navigate as we go.”
The Cardinals made signing a backup catcher one of their top offseason priorities, and it led them to Eric Fryer, 31, who was with the team for 24 games last season.
“One of the important (reasons) of trying to sign Eric Fryer this past year was to make sure that we weren’t rushing Carson,” Mozeliak said. “Now, it’s 2017. It could be a totally different question in 2018.”
Few people are in a hurry to see Molina’s career end, although it’s all but a certainty that his play, unless restricted, won’t begin to taper off during the length of his contract.
Molina is coming off a .307 season in which he clubbed 38 doubles in a career-best 147 games.
“That’s the kind of player you’d like to see stay in this uniform and finish what he started,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “But I think he alluded to it (Sunday). There’s a whole lot of baseball left in him. The way he looked this spring, he looked as good as he’s looked in a long time. It’s going to be fun to watch him compete.”