For months, I’ve written that the St. Louis Cardinals need to do whatever is necessary to keep their longtime and sure-fire Hall of Fame catcher, Yadier Molina.
But sometimes, feelings change and a point of view can be adjusted due to unforeseen events. Or, you just get tired of the noise.
Fact: Molina can still be a very important asset to this team, even at 38 years of age. Just listen to Cardinals manager, Mike Shildt, tell The Athletic’s Mark Saxon this weekend at the Winter Meetings that he hasn’t thought about a 2021 season that doesn’t have Molina behind homeplate for the Birds on the Bat.
Fact: There’s a chance that Andrew Knizner, if given a real chance, could produce better at the plate and maybe not be too bad behind the plate for St. Louis.
The unforeseen circumstances here are the pandemic, of course, but there’s more to it. As Major League Baseball teams rebound from a year where zero fans were placed in stands and minor league circuits were discontinued, I have to hear about Molina whining about a bad offer.
Then, his loyal brother, Bengie Molina, told ESPN Radio that his brother wants to feel appreciated by the Cardinals.
Hey Bengie, the Cardinals have paid Molina a sum of $155 million dollars in his 16 year career. They have paid him at least $14 million a year over the past eight seasons, including $20 million annually over the past three seasons. For a guy who spits out hot takes about loyalty and the need to feel wanted, Molina has been paid pretty well over the past decade. More well than most people this year.
If the Cardinals wanted to pay Molina based on WAR alone, he’d probably get around $8-10 million over the past two seasons. Injuries have taken a shot at Molina’s durability recently, but then again, the guy is nearing 40 years old. Here’s the amount of accolades he has accumulated over the past three seasons: A Gold Glove award in 2018, his ninth.
Over the past three seasons, 2018-20, Molina’s slash line looks like this: .265/.312/.410. The catcher’s OPS+ is just 93 (league average is 100). There’s some power in there, but it’s not insurmountable. These are just the stats one will find on Baseball Reference. Let’s head over to Fangraphs real quick to check Molina’s temperature.
Steamer, a great projector of stats over at that esteemed site, has Molina producing a fWAR of 1.4 next year in 112 games caught. Molina’s BABIP, aka batting average on balls put in play, was .281 and .289 the past two seasons, respectively, so his hits aren’t being stolen by infield grifters out there. The walk rate is slightly down and the strikeout rate is slightly up. Molina’s hard hit percentage in 2018-19 was around 44%, which is solid for him. But Molina is trying to pull more pitches instead of driving them to right field, which is a sign of a declining hitter. Let’s face it, all nostalgia aside, Molina is declining both behind and standing at the plate.
So here’s what the Cardinals owe him: NOTHING. Yeah, nothing. If you stepped back and looked at what each side has received during their time together, the final result is even. The team has gotten a lot of good times and awards out of Molina’s time, but these are unprecedented times and ALL players get old and less useful. That’s Father Time and as many rounds as Molina still wins on its chief opponent, he isn’t owed anything by this organization. My good and talented friend, Daniel Shoptaw, talked about it over at Cards Conclave earlier this week.
They’ve given everything to him that a player could want. A spot in the starting lineup even when one of his hands is very injured. A spot in the lineup in each game of a doubleheader, in a month stuffed with doubleheaders. They move young players, so he can play every day. As much of a leader as he is, Molina sure won’t share the time or really show a younger catcher the way. Not if it inhabits his time and career. Tony La Russa, Mike Matheny, and Mike Shildt have all bowed to Molina in their tenures, trusting his stat-proof effect on the team.
Molina is a one of a kind talent, but he’s been treated like one. If you think St. Louis hasn’t given this man everything a professional athlete could ask for, look again. Look at the salary. Look at the revered status in this city. He’s got it for life, no matter where he spends his 2021 season.
He could take a few lessons from his longtime battery mate, Adam Wainwright. One could sit and make the argument that the pitcher is more valuable than the catcher for next year. I could easily make a case that Kolten Wong, who is currently jobless as well, is more valuable than Molina next year-but he was basically released last month.
Wainwright handles his offseason business like a pro, patiently waiting and allowing what he did in 2020 to write his check next year. You don’t see Waino’s brother going on a radio station telling the world that his bro isn’t being appreciated. The Cardinals worked closely with #50 on his past two contracts, doing what is right for both sides.
That’s how it should be done. Molina hasn’t been disrespected by the Cardinals once, not even this year. At some point, a player needs to understand what he was worth then and what he is worth now. A team must step back from legend and decipher what is right and wrong for their longtime player.
Let me ask you a question. Who performs better with 90% of the playing time next year: Knizner or Molina?
Most of the pitchers have worked with the younger Knizner, so there’s familiarity there. Instead of paying one guy $10-20 million per season, the Cardinals would be paying the rookie less than a million dollars. If you want to save money, the route is clear. But it’s complicated, like it continuously seems to be with Molina.
I love what he means to this city. It’s a rare thing in corporate America to have a player spend all his playing days under one set of lights inside a single thread. It’s something. But it’s a reality that doesn’t move in straight lines anymore. A player’s fate slices like a hammer.
For months, I wanted the team to sign “Yadi” for whatever it took. I believed in that. I believed in his impact. But these days, call it COVID-19 soul tax or a different mood, I am starting to believe one side is sitting right and the other is out of line. Maybe I just see things differently these days.
If Yadier Molina thinks he is under-appreciated, he needs to look around. Look at all the hardship, closing businesses, crashing industries, and growing despair. The Cardinals have paid him his money. They have shown him appreciation. I still hope each side finds a way to work out a new contract.
But … the Cardinals don’t owe him a damn thing.