Cardinals: Who backs up Yadier Molina in 2017?

Brayan Pena didn't do what the St. Louis Cardinals paid him to do in 2016. He was signed to back up Yadier Molina and ensure the veteran gold glove winner didn't catch 1,300 innings again.

When it was all said and done, Molina caught the most innings of his career. Pena only played in nine games and collected just 13 at bats. He was a non-factor and due to the wear and tear of all those innings, Molina's defense faltered.

Photos: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina

The Cardinals designated Pena for assignment this week, cutting his two year deal in half and ensuing he plays elsewhere in 2017. They will most likely eat half his contract and it consists of $2.5 million. I don't understand this move for a myriad of reasons. Acquiring Brett Cecil required a 40 man roster move, but there were other options. Zach Duke is missing the entire season so why not him? Miguel Socolovich? Jonathan Broxton(please!)?

Who backs up Molina in 2017? Let me document those right here before we get into free agents. 

Carson Kelly isn't ready. Surprisingly, Kelly played more in September than Pena, but he needs everyday time at Memphis. He's young, raw and needs to keep improving his bat. He is the future for a reason. Kelly doesn't need to stay up here and start once a week. He's not the answer. 

There's no need to go back to the Tony Cruz saga. 

Mike Ohlman isn't around anymore. 

Pena would have been a good fit for the 2017 Cardinals. He hasn't played more than 115 games in a season, but that's due to his backup status. Chances were slim he was going to slip on dugout steps and miss the first few months of the season. The design of the two year contract he was given was aimed to bridge the gap between Molina and Kelly. Or at least between Kelly in Memphis and Kelly being ready to backup Molina. Why not bring him back? 

Perhaps they weren't impressed with Pena's offseason rehab. They may not have liked his career. 650 OPS. In the case of Molina going down and Kelly not being ready, the Cards may have wanted better depth. They are paying Pena good money to not play for them so there has to be a reason. He's joined Ty Wiggington status.

Who is out there? Let's present a few names. 

Josh Thole's career OPS is .620 and he's not a good defensive catcher. Scrap it. Kurt Suzuki is 33-years-old, doesn't hit much, usually plays in 100+ games and isn't great behind the plate. He also costs six million. Ryan Hanigan is also bland.

Let's think outside of the box. Try another aisle in the mediocre grocery store of free agent catchers. Matt Wieters played three games at first in 2015, but is labeled as a starting catcher on the market. He cranked 17 home runs last season, owns a couple gold gloves, but overall OPS+ of 98 and price tag will place out of John Mozeliak's range. Forget it. 

Out of the realistic options on the market, few are better than Pena at playing a game here and there. With a manager in Mike Matheny who can't be convinced Molina's legs aren't bionic, it may not matter who stands behind the eight time gold glover. More reason to retain Pena for one more season. 

While Molina didn't get the rest he needed in 2016(or any of the past ten seasons), that wasn't the problem last season. I didn't scream every night, "if only we had a better backup catcher this team would be in the playoffs." 

Molina regained his stroke this year and his defensive drop had as much to do with meeting father time as it did the loss of Pena. 

As Kyle Reis pointed out in his STL Sports Minute piece Tuesday, Mozeliak is stacking his 40 man roster pretty tight. It's not typical. Perhaps he is planning something bigger than any of us expect. Maybe not. 

Cutting Brayan Pena loose didn't make much sense, because the free agent market is dry and Carson Kelly isn't ready. 

A cleansing and unusual offseason continues. 


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