There has been a lot of speculation about who will man third base in 2017 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Will it be Jhonny Peralta, who saw his 2016 season largely ruined by a thumb injury that cost him his starting job at shortstop? Will it be strikeout-prone second baseman by trade Jedd Gyorko who was signed to be a bench bat and insurance against the shaky play of Kolten Wong? How about Greg Garcia, who has the best glove of this group by far? The fact that he doesn’t exactly have the pop in his bat one would expect from a starting major league third sacker is his major issue.
When the chapter on the 2017 season is written in the Redbirds’ history book, it’s most likely that all three will play significant roles in filling the third base position.
But, might I suggest, before we close the book, that the Cardinals give one other option a chance?
What about letting Yadier Molina try his hand at the hot corner.
Calm down. Calm down. No, I haven’t lost my mind. Bear with me for a minute.
St. Louis is at a crossroads with its most iconic player. Molina, who by all accounts is a fabulous defensive catcher, plays a position that doesn’t lend itself to longevity. Squatting behind the plate is awful on the knees of a human being. Especially when you’ve been doing it for about 20 years of your life. Getting hit by foul balls to the head, shoulder and legs doesn’t do much for your longevity, either. Yadi, who turns 35 in July, is at a point in his career where we can expect him to start to wear down. At the same time, he’s nearing the end of his contract while the Redbirds have a catching prospect, Carson Kelly, waiting in the wings to take over.
If the Cardinals are going to keep Molina beyond 2017, it’s a certainty that he’s going to have to accept the fact that Kelly is going to take up a significant portion of his playing time in 2018 -- if not sooner. So we need to know now if Yadi can do some other things that would keep him in the lineup.
I think he can.
Molina takes ground balls at third base and first base all the time during the season. And I have been told by members of the coaching staff that he has the best hands for fielding ground balls of anyone on the club. And I believe it. I have little doubt he has the ability to be an excellent defensive player, no matter where he takes the field. (Well, maybe not centerfield. Let’s say anywhere on the infield.) Third base is a position that requires good reactions better than fleet feet. A good arm is nice, and we know Yadi has that, too.
While I doubt Molina is going to move to third to be a full-time third baseman at age 36 or 37, I think he ought to be able to play 40-50 games there over the course of the season, saving his legs from getting out from behind the plate and giving Kelly a chance to catch 50-80 games in each of the next couple of seasons.
It would be better for the team to have Molina not only as a safety net but also to put him in the position to be an on-the-job trainer for Kelly.
Yadi wants a contract extension and the Cardinals likely want to keep a popular fan favorite around. Might this be a way to make things work for everybody? If Matt Holliday was better at playing first, the end of his time in St. Louis might have been pushed back a couple years. Of course, if Molina truly wants to be a Redbird for life, he’s probably going to have to agree to do so for less money than he’s been making. But I hope something can be worked out. The Birds were generous with his last contract. Hopefully, there is some good will built up there.
It would be a shame if Molina didn’t stay with the St. Louis organization beyond his playing days. The guy has the makings of a great coach or manager all over him. In fact, the thought has crossed my mind that he might be just as successful as a choice to succeed Mike Matheny as manager as he was in replacing him as Cardinals catcher... Or he might make a great pitching coach just as former catcher Dave Duncan did.
This experiment is at least worth a try. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But it’s always best to know what all of your options are when you’re facing a big decision.