With the Carlos Martinez contract now on the books, I hope the St. Louis Cardinals will now turn their attention to making catcher Yadier Molina a Redbird for the remainder of his playing career – and beyond.
It’s going to be a tricky situation. Molina, who incredibly has played in four World Series with St. Louis in his stellar career, will be 35 in July. We just saw the team part ways with Matt Holliday, who obviously would have preferred the Cardinals gave him the chance to stay, largely because of his age. In short, General Manager John Mozeliak isn’t a fan of handing big extensions to players on the wrong side of 35 and major league ballplayers aren’t keen on taking less money than the most they can get. So there is going to be a lot of difficulty finding something both sides can live with.
On paper, it doesn’t seem like there is much chance for the perennial All-Star to remain in St. Louis beyond 2017. Both Yadi and Mozeliak would have to agree to accept the catcher’s mutual option just to keep him here for 2018. Mozeliak might be willing to make that move if Molina has a good 2017. But Yadi has already said publicly that he wants an extension. The implication is that he wants his team to show a long-term commitment. And if he doesn’t get it, maybe leaving sooner is better than later. He’s much more likely to get a contract he finds appealing when he’s a year younger than sticking around another season in St. Louis.
Molina brings a lot of things to the Cardinals table. He’s an elite defender, he’s developed into a tough out at the plate and he has a knack for coming though in the clutch. But, maybe most importantly, Molina is a leader. The pitching staff performs remarkably better when Yadi is behind the plate. He’s a polished player who understands all the little things about the game that separates good players from great players.
Because of that, I see a great future for Molina as a coach and a teacher. As unpopular as the concept has proven to be outside of St. Louis, Molina could be the link that perpetuates the “Cardinals Way” beyond the current generation of players. He could and should be the next Mike Gonzalez, George Kissell, Rich Hacker or Red Schoendienst. In fact, I see a lot of parallels between Molina and former Redbirds pitching coach Dave Duncan. Both were catchers. Both were keen observers of pitcher mechanics. Both were strong at developing pitcher game plans, readying their hurlers before the game and settling them with a plan developed on the fly to get out of a jam.
While the Cardinals are going to be reluctant to give Molina big dollars to allow him to be the St. Louis starting catcher as he pushes toward 40 years old, they need to find a way to keep his institutional knowledge and his expertise about the game in the house, permanently.
The short-term view is that the Birds have a catcher in waiting, Carson Kelly, so they don’t need Yadi anymore. But the youngster is still very green with a handful of appearances at the big league level – and not a lot more experience as high as Class AAA. Are the Cardinals really going to push Yadi out the door and hand the most demanding position in baseball to an inexperienced prospect? If Kelly struggles and has to go back to the minors for additional seasoning, what happens then? This isn’t bringing in Jedd Gyorko to cover for Kolten Wong at second base. This is a player who is involved in EVERY SINGLE PITCH when his team is on the field.
The Cardinals need to come up with a three-year deal for Molina that phases him from being a starting major leaguer to a coach or even the future manager. Give him one big payday for 2018 in a front-loaded deal that allows him to fade gracefully from a player to his post playing career days.
If I had my way, Molina would take a path from starting catcher to part-time catcher to bullpen catcher to pitching coach and then, maybe to manager. But I would also like to see the Cardinals add some of their other former players to the coaching staff. If I had my dream coaching team, I’d like to see Jim Edmonds become the bench coach or the third base coach, Larry Walker added as the hitting coach and Chris Carpenter added as the pitching coach or bench coach.
Edmonds and Walker are probably the two best outfielders I’ve ever seen play for the Cardinals. They both understand the game on an incredibly keen level. They could bring a lot to the plate in terms of offense AND defense. Meanwhile, Edmonds and Carpenter are incredible at observing players and recognizing when they are tipping pitches or otherwise giving away their strategy. I’d love to see Edmonds, Walker, Carpenter and Molina pushing the buttons and pulling the levers that guide St. Louis players in the future.
There’s no way the average player would get a contract from the Cardinals in Yadi’s position. But Molina is by no means an average player.