Good news for St. Louis Cardinals fans and for the organization: It seems the team is close to working out a contract extension with superstar catcher Yadier Molina.
Reports from well-connected baseball writer Jon Heyman said earlier this week that significant progress has been made in hammering out a pact, and it looks like Yadi will, in fact, be able to finish his career in the only major-league uniform he has ever worn.
I was pretty pessimistic about the prospects of something being worked out. Molina is in his mid thirties and St. Louis has the top catching prospect in baseball in its farm system, Carson Kelly. If the Redbirds wanted to take the easy way out, from a financial sense, the decision to let Molina walk away would seemingly be a no-brainer.
Who signs a 35-year-old catcher to a long-term deal?
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But baseball isn’t all about stat sheets. And Yadi isn’t just any catcher.
Molina does a lot of things for the Cardinals that aren’t necessarily going to show up in his on base percentage, percentage of attempted base stealers caught or the popular stathead metric, WAR, which measures a player’s production against a mythical average player.
Molina had one of his finest season at the plate in 2016. But the most important thing he does is run the game on defense. He’s incredible at guiding young pitchers, taking the pressure out of the moment and putting it on his shoulders. It’s something he’s always done, dating to Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series when then young hurler Adam Wainwright was trying to close out a World Series clincher with the bases loaded, two outs and All-Star slugger Carlos Beltran waiting to be the hero.
Cardinals fans will never forget how that turned out. Wainwright, filling in for injured closer Jason Isringhausen, struck out Beltran and St. Louis would go on to win its first World Series since 1982.
Molina built the foundation of his reputation on that game. Ever since, he’s been a Cardinals legend. Let’s not forget that he sells a lot of tickets and merchandise to earn his keep. More than half of the current player jerseys you’ll see on a trip to Busch Stadium have Yadi’s No. 4 on them.
So it was painful to think about going into the 2017 season with the same fear and trepidation that Redbirds rooters had in 2011 when Albert Pujols was set to hit free agency. We were all torn between the idea that it was emotionally impossible to accept that Pujols would leave — and the financial reality that if Albert hit free agency, the Birds weren’t likely to be the highest bidder.
Throw in that Yadi’s brother Bengie stirred the pot a few days ago and said, if the Cardinals don’t buck up, the younger Molina would have no problem going elsewhere. Sigh.
I’m more optimistic that something can be worked out. But it’s not over until the ink dries. We’ll see if a deal comes to fruition and, if so, for what terms.
Rumors floating around included nuggets that Yadi wanted to be the highest-paid catcher in the game and that he wanted a four-year pact. The fact that Heyman said the sides were close to a deal leads me to believe that the club and the player have found a way to bridge that gap. Talk is that the contract will likely guarantee $45 million to $55 million over three years with an option for a fourth year.
Considering that Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants makes about $21 million a year to catch and that Kelly is waiting to eventually replace Molina, a front-loaded deal should be in order.
It would be the best for everyone if the Cardinals tore up Yadi’s current contract, which calls for him to make $14 million in 2017. Give him $22 million this year, which makes him the highest-paid backstop in the game. Then give him $15 million in 2018, the amount of the mutual option in his current contract and $12 million in 2019 as he likely gives up playing time to Kelly. Then give him a $1 million buyout of the option year and that’s $50 million. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to include language that helps Molina transition from a player to a coach.
That deal doesn’t put St. Louis in a spot where it can’t compete over the long run. Molina gets a nice raise and an extension and a Cardinals icon will end his career with the home team. Kelly has a clear plan to ease into the starting catching role. Everybody’s happy.
Get this done, boys.