The best thing for the St. Louis Cardinals, their fans and maybe even for baseball in general would be for Yadier Molina to sign a contract that makes him a Redbird for life.
But we’ve all experienced enough offseason negotiation intrigue to know that the ballplayer is going to do what’s best for “business.” Legacy and loyalty are nice, but only as the cherries on top of a mutli-year, multi-million dollar cake.
Molina’s contract with the Cardinals is up at the end of the coming season. There is a mutual option for 2018, which the club is certain to exercise.
The eight-time Gold Glover and seven-time All-Star, however, wants a new deal.
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Molina told media as much Saturday upon his return to spring camp from the World Baseball Classic, issuing the club an ultimatum that comes straight from the Albert Pujols’ playbook.
“Hopefully, we can get it done before the opening starts,” Molina told reporters. “After the opening, I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve got one more week to talk about it and then after that I’m going to concentrate on my game.”
Of course, he wants back in St. Louis if a deal can be worked out, he says. But asked whether he’ll test free agency, he was quick and enthusiastic with his answer.
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
By season’s end, Molina will be a 35-year-old practitioner of baseball’s most grueling position. Under ordinary circumstances and for an ordinary ballplayer, that’s not worth more than a $3-million, one- or two-year deal to be someone’s backup.
But Molina’s current negotiating position is buoyed by a 2016 in which he hit .307 with a .360 on-base percentage in the most games he’s played in any single season of his 13-year career. And he’s still riding the high of leading Team Puerto Rico to the WBC championship game, which will probably influence his contract demands.
“The energy is contagious,” he said, adding that he’s got many more years left in his tank. According to our friend Jenifer Langosch of mlb.com, Molina also has hinted that he wants a salary in line with the top-paid catchers in baseball.
The Cardinals will certainly extend themselves beyond fair market value for a 35-year-old catcher, both in dollars and in years. It would be worth it just to make sure an iconic franchise player and potential Hall of Famer gets to take his farewell tour (and enjoy one last round of boos in Cincinnati) wearing the Birds on the Bat.
It also would give promising prospect Carson Kelly quality time to intern under one of the best catchers of all time.
But if Molina thinks that’s worth four or five years at a Buster Posey-like $22 million each, prepare yourself for a tense 2017 and a nerve-wracking offseason to follow.
And if he’s still up to his career .285 average and Gold Glove defense this season, prepare to watch him playing in a different uniform in 2018.