Buffa: Yadier Molina and the Cardinals secure a legacy

The owner of eight Gold Gloves and seven All Star game appearances will remain a Cardinal for the foreseeable future.

After a week of discussions and "finalizing", the St. Louis Cardinals and Yadier Molina agreed on a three-year extension Sunday that will carry him through his 17th season donning the birds on the bat. A special contract for a special player beyond reasonable doubt from even the most cynical of fans — Molina gets to finish up his career right where he started it; behind home plate at Busch Stadium.

Why is it a special contract? It cements the legacy of one of the all-time greatest catchers in baseball history. You can park Molina right next to Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada as a few of the greatest bodies to ever patrol the backstop. Any time a team locks up an eventual Hall of Famer, the deal is going to go down as a smart move in the long run. 

While it was sensible, the Molina extension wasn't a sure thing due to a myriad of factors. The 13,000-plus innings caught on his knees, the 35th birthday ahead on the calendar and the fact that 22-year-old Carson Kelly awaits MLB duty by mid-2018 at the latest. How do you put a dollar sign on a legacy that is going to end up frozen in time outside Busch Stadium in a statue next to other greats like Bob Gibson and Lou Brock? The process wasn't easy, but there was a deadline placed on the table, and both sides hit it before the first pitch was thrown Sunday. 

Photos: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina

The extension is believed to be worth around $60-million, which would make Molina the highest paid catcher in baseball in 2018 when it came to average annual value. The contract oversteps Buster Posey's Giants contract, and the Brian McCann and Russell Martin deals in recent memory. Molina wanted to be up there with the best contracts, because he is the best.

There are only two catchers to win more consecutive gold gloves than Molina's eight, and they are Rodriguez and Bench with 10 straight. Rodriguez finished with 13, which puts him out of Molina's reach, but don't be surprised if the Cardinal catches Bench. When he retires, Molina will be among the top-five catchers of all time. 

The catcher position is the hardest MLB spot to place a pure quantifiable value on, and Molina's value to the Cardinals is limitless. He mentors, guides and nurtures a pitching staff that has seen its fair share of bumps and bruises over the past 13 seasons, and he will be raising a new crop of young hurlers in the next four seasons. With every season that passes, the rotation will get younger. Think about Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Sandy Alcantara, Austin Gomber, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and others. The reliability of those pitchers is tied directly to Molina and his ability to get them through the hardest transitions of the game. He's the Obi Wan Kenobi of catchers, and the only Darth Vader on the horizon is father time. 

Here's the thing to remember: Yadier Molina will be starting for the Cardinals on opening day tonight for the 13th consecutive time. That's a legacy that can't be denied or revoked due to the future pursuit of a free agent. One of the things the Cards do with their long-term payroll is allocate it to the players who provide the team with an invaluable trait.

Molina isn't just the face of the Cardinals; he's the soul, and one that isn't slowing down yet. In case people forgot, he hit .300 last year, slashed 38 doubles, and anchored a troubled pitching staff with terrible defense behind it. He's got a few years left in him. There's even a Gold Glove or two left in him. Anyone who doesn't think he's got a chip on his shoulder for missing out on a Gold Glove and All Star game last year hasn't been watching Molina. He's a highly motivated man coming into the 2017 season.

The contract carries him through the 2020 season, where he'll be 38. Carson Kelly will then be 25. The plan hasn't changed — all the Cards have done is solidify their future behind home plate with a smart and modest deal, and one that goes beyond what Baseball Reference or Fangraphs can tell you or project.

For the first time since Bob Gibson, a Hall of Fame Cardinal will start and finish his career in St. Louis.

My son Vincent is happy. The Molina jersey he's wearing today will be a special item when he's a teenager and an adult. He will tell his kids about the great Yadier Molina. My wife and I will tell our son about the time Yadier Molina hit a three-run home run at Busch Stadium, and he kicked inside her stomach as loud as any other time during the nine month pregnancy. The stories we will tell don't carry a worth or value; they are timeless.

Yadier Molina isn't just any Cardinal or baseball player, he's the one you keep around. Sunday — hours before the first pitch of the season and before the beautiful Clydesdales rumble around Busch — The Cardinals locked up their prize horse to an extension that gives insurance to each side.

When Albert Pujols left, he denied himself the chance to stand next to Stan Musial as the greatest Cardinal to start and finish a career with the Cardinals. Now, Molina's contract gives him the chance to stand with Musial and Gibson as the lone survivors of St. Louis Cardinals baseball. 

© 2017 KSDK-TV


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