St. Louis Cardinals

‘Three more years. That’s it,’ Yadier Molina says

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina returns to the lineup Tuesday after missing 26 games with a pelvic injury.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina returns to the lineup Tuesday after missing 26 games with a pelvic injury. AP

Yadier Molina confirmed Monday what everyone suspected last March.

When he hangs up his catcher’s gear when his playing days are done, he’ll do so as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

That three-year, $60 million contract, which begins with the upcoming season, will be the last one he ever signs.

“Three more years,” he said at the final day of the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up on Monday. “That’s it.”

Molina was reluctant to make any additional comments other than to insist he won’t change his mind and that he’d like to crown a 17-year major league career with another World Series championship — or two, or three.

“I can’t wait to grab that trophy in November or October,” he said.

Throughout the Cardinals’ history, it’s been rare for a standout player to spend his entire career in St. Louis. Of the 11 players and managers to have their numbers retired by the team, only Stan Musial and Bob Gibson played for the Cardinals from beginning to end.

It might not have happened for Molina, who already had a one-year, $15 million mutual option for 2018 built into his previous contract. After representing Puerto Rico in last year’s World Baseball Classic, Molina made clear that, not only would he not exercise the option, he was “not afraid” of free agency.

But on the eve of Opening Day, word broke that player and the organization that developed him would be paired through the 2020 season, when Molina will be 38 years old.

The contract delays playing opportunity for Carson Kelly, 23, the organization’s second-rated prospect and No. 32 overall according to Baseball America. He’s appeared in 44 games over the last two seasons and is expected to start the season in St. Louis this season as Molina’s backup.

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St. Louis Cardinals catcher Carson Kelly will bide his time as Yadier Molina’s backup. Derik Holtmann Derik Holtmann

Kelly, who moved to St. Louis this offseason to train, said he can bide his time for now.

“It’s just being ready when the opportunity presents itself,” he said of his role for 2018. “Who know what’s going to happen in the future? We can plan all we want, but we never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens. I think this offseason and simplifying my game and my workouts and putting myself in this city has opened up a lot of doors for me and I think I’m going to be in a great spot come spring training and transferring that into the season.”

Molina is an eight-time National League All-Star and won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards between 2008 and 2015. He joined the Cardinals in time for their 2004 National League pennant run and replaced current manager Mike Matheny as the team’s everyday catcher.

“I realize I’m playing for one of the best catchers in baseball history,” Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright said at the 60th annual Baseball Writers of America St. Louis dinner Sunday, “but I truly believe I throw every day to the best catcher the game has ever seen.”

Molina was the first National League player to win the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award to the best defensive player at any position in each league and one of just two to win it more than once. Molina won the award four times (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015).

But Molina has been a contributor on offense as well. He batted .216 as a member of the 2006 World Series champions, but has since batted .300 or better four times. His best season arguably was in 2013, when he hit a career best .319 with 12 home runs and 80 RBIs. He hit 22 home runs the year prior.

Last season, at 34, Molina hit .273 with 18 home runs and a career-high 82 runs batted in.

Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman