Of the 11 players and managers to have their numbers retired by the St. Louis Cardinals, only Stan Musial and Bob Gibson wore the Birds on the Bat from start to end of their major-league careers.
Yadier Molina, with his apparent contract extension, looks like he’ll be the third.
National baseball writer Jon Heyman reported Thursday evening that Molina and the Redbirds have come to terms on a three-year contract that will pay the eight-time Gold Glove catcher $55 million by the time he turns 38. The team has scheduled a 1 p.m. Opening Day press conference to make the deal official.
The reported terms represent an unheard of deal for any ordinary player of Molina’s age and position, but which also recognize that this is no ordinary player. Both sides of the negotiation have been motivated to find a common ground that will make this franchise icon a Redbird for life.
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It begins with Molina.
This season is the last on his guaranteed five-year contract, though there is a mutual option for 2018 worth $15 million. Molina was clear that he would not exercise it, declaring that he is “not afraid of free agency.”
For Molina, who’s already earned $95 million in his career, what risk would there have been in letting the season pass and testing the market? There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. It takes one to reset the market with an unheard of deal.
A four- or five-year offer or $2 million more in annual value might have changed this outcome.
But Molina not only recognizes his value to the Cardinals franchise, he recognizes that the Birds on the Bat also are an important part of his “brand.” Loyalty clearly means something to this proud player.
It means something on the other side of the negotiating table as well.
The Cardinals have routinely exercised a shrewd policy of not paying top dollar for players in their declining years. That’s why Albert Pujols is now an Angel, Matt Holliday is a Yankee, John Lackey is a Cub, etc, etc.
Plus, the team already has Molina’s heir apparent ready to go in Carson Kelly, the top-ranked catching prospect in all of baseball.
It is entirely possible Molina can give the Cardinals four more years of Gold Glove defense and offense that matches his .285 career mark. But that’s not why Bill DeWitt and the rest of the team ownership have extended themselves.
To some measure, it’s about leadership and stability: Molina, at any age, exerts powerful influence on young pitchers like Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes. Having him available to mentor Kelly to the promise of his potential is also meaningful.
It’s also about legacy. This landmark contract will permanently pair one of sport’s most iconic franchises with one of its most popular players.
Whatever career benchmarks Molina reaches — 2,000 hits? 10 Gold Gloves? 1,000 RBI? — he’ll do so in a Cardinals uniform. He’ll take his final bows in the stadiums of the National League as a representative of St. Louis. And when he says his farewell to the game, he’ll do it to an adoring Busch Stadium crowd.
Then he’ll slip comfortably into a cardinal red blazer and, on some sunny spring afternoon, watch as his likeness and his No. 4 are unveiled on the left field wall with the other members of a very exclusive club.
Yadi, Gibby and The Man: Cardinals from start to finish.