It's easy for St. Louis Cardinals fans to take perennial All Star catcher Yadier Molina for granted. He's like the coffee you drive a few miles to get every day because you know it's the best in town. It's easy to assume he will take care of you. For Cardinals pitchers, especially the younger fleet, he is the backbone of their futures and the resource behind their current success. Don't take him for granted. Keep him around.
As Molina enters the final year of his five year, 75 million dollar extension in 2017, the future now begins to take its spot at the table of Molina's status right next to Father Time. Molina will be 35 years old in July, but his knees should reportedly be turning 65 years of age, so protection is required moving forward. However, a little wear and tear shouldn't prohibit one last extension between Molina and the Cardinals.
Let's cut the slack of this conversation before we move forward. There's no way Molina doesn't finish his career in St. Louis. It will come down to the particular amount of dollars and years attached to this one last ride. Carson Kelly played in just 32 games in Memphis in 2016 and needs to start every day of 2017 down there. He doesn't need to create a file in his head or log in his diary full of Molina roadie quips just yet. He needs experience, innings behind the plate at Triple A, and to further grasp the strengths of being a hitter in the majors. After this final contract, Kelly is the guy. If it's that important, why rush him up to Busch to play 25-30 games in 2017?
Eric Fryer may not be a consistent .365 hitter(what he was in his short time with the Birds in 2016), but he can more than handle the duties behind Yadier Molina in 2017. He can handle the pitching staff, throw out prospective base stealers, and contribute more than the diet soda bat of Tony Cruz. He gives you a low key yet affordable bridge to the next phase.
2016 represented a comeback for Molina at the plate. After people questioned if he could string a few hits together after two injury plagued seasons, Molina put together his highest OPS(.787) since 2013 and his highest on base percentage since 2012(.360). The .427 slugging percentage fit in well with the power surge at the plate, and he laced 38 doubles to go with eight home runs. Not too bad for a hitter who people freaked out about when he suddenly got healthier and lost weight.
The reason Molina was strong again at the plate in 2016 was due to having a pair of healthy hands. He hurt his thumb sliding into a bag midway through 2014 and was injured on the tag at home with Anthony Rizzo in 2015. As fans saw in 2016 with a fair portion of the Cards roster, thumb injuries zap a hitter of their power and reliability. Molina needed time to get back, and delivered a .307 batting average last year. That's not bad for a guy who finished 2006 with a .216 average.
Moving forward, the bat isn't the main reason to retain Molina and make sure he retires in St. Louis. It's his quarterback ability on the field behind home plate in nurturing young pitchers along to formidable careers. Without Yadier, Carlos Martinez would have been lost at numerous times these past three seasons. Molina is the shrink with a missile back there, so he can't go anywhere with high wire talent like Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, and Austin Gomber on the way up the pipe.
You can ask any player in Major League Baseball off the record who the best catcher in baseball is and the answer would be Molina. While his streak of eight consecutive gold gloves came to a half in 2016, he still showed signs of being a captain on the field. His pop up speed and release didn't take too much of a hit. He didn't throw as many baserunners out, but a slow to the staff didn't always help. For the Cardinals pitching to make a realistic comeback in 2017, Molina is needed behind the dish. If you think Kelly is ready now or Fryer can handle 150 games, please show yourself into a brick wall before rethinking the idea.
How about if this next season Molina didn't have to catch 1,218 innings? Molina has caught 1100 innings in seven of the past eight season. 2016's total was a high, so let's not do that again.
Molina is getting older, but he's still got it. If people think he can't do the job anymore, imagine if he got more rest. If Fryer can start more than 15 games in 2017, Molina could return to Gold Glove form. That task falls solely on manager Mike Matheny growing up behind the dugout steps and learning to override a persistent catcher. I don't care how bad the guy wants to play. That's a lame excuse for a player as important as Molina.
Sign him up. A three year extension for Molina that would carry him through age 38 is a fair deal for both sides and gives Kelly the proper amount of time to grow into the position. Kelly can be a part time guy in 2018 and 2019 before taking over at least half the starts in 2020. Molina has averaged a 2.5 WAR over his 13 year career, so an annual salary of 18-20 million should seal the deal. In 2016, Molina's 14.2 million salary ranked fourth behind Buster Posey, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann. Miguel Montero was 5th and lost his starting job in Chicago midway through the season and Martin's offense slipped in Toronto. Molina and 19-20 AAV isn't a bad stretch when compared to what other catchers are making. The money can be figured out. I'm not an accountant, so pardon me if my math on an extension is off.
The juice of this conversation is simple. The Cardinals need Yadier Molina's skills behind the plate and next to it for a few more years. He's still a potent hitter and his defense can't be denied. Most importantly, Molina serves as the guide for young pitchers. If Reyes is going to be all he can possibly be on the mound, Molina has to be there to get him there. With no disrespect to Kelly, he's not the guy now or even next year. This is still Molina's team. He's the face of the team.
When Albert Pujols departed for more cash and losing after a 2011 championship, it wasn't as shocking after one thought about the logistics. He had a chance to finish his career in St. Louis, and Jose Alberto decided against it. Molina won't choose that option. The Cardinals shouldn't even let him get close to that option. Sign him up. Unlike players half his age, he's untouchable when it comes to his future. On the field and off, Molina still means a lot to the Cardinals. Forget the age, because a little rest could make those knees springboards again in 2018. It's not a hunch. It's a certainty.
What do you think, Cardinal nation. Come at me here or on Twitter, @buffa82. Let's discuss Molina's future. For me, he's the red wine that could get better with age if you let it breathe a little in May and June.
Thanks for reading and pass the coffee.