Yadier Molina isn't ready to work part-time hours just yet.
He's got a few things left to do, like put a couple more rings on his hand while ushering in the newest wave of young pitching. So stop telling him to slow down, because you are bound to get that notorious glare. No. 4 is doing just fine. Better yet, he's doing better than fine. He's great.
The St. Louis Cardinals catcher who goes by Yadi is a bona fide future Hall of Famer, but that doesn't mean he's ready to mentor Carson Kelly or hand the kid 30 or 40 starts. What about his 2017 season would lead you to believe that he's ready to decrease his time in the field? Was Rambo done after a couple adventures? No.
But, won't Molina be 36 in July? Doesn't Father Time start to win a few hands at the baseball poker table after a certain amount of time?
Normally, both of those things would cause a catcher similar to Molina in age to start taking steps back. Instead, the owner of 14,356 innings behind home plate is ascending at a late stage in his career. He's literally turning back the hands of time, and the Cardinals need him more than ever right now. Other catchers aren't like Yadi, but boy do they try.
It's not just catching well or collecting singles and doubles these days. Molina is bringing back the power with authority. On Sunday in New York, Molina blasted a home run that put the game out of reach for a Mets team running into brick walls against Luke Weaver. It was a long, majestic home run that allowed the outfielders to simply stand and admire the flight, like bystanders passing by an airport with a plane passing overhead.
It's a renewed source of output that has overturned the idea back in 2015 that a healthier weight would zap some of the long-ball appeal of Molina, who once hit 22 home runs in 2012. After a relatively ordinary year at the plate in '15, Molina hit eight home runs in 2016 while slugging .427. That wasn't the best part.
In 2017, Molina hit 18 home runs while slugging .439. How much of a contrast are we talking about in big pop?
From 2014-16, Molina hit 19 home runs, covering over 1,300 at-bats.
From 2017 to the moment his article is being written, Molina has hit 20 home runs in fewer than 550 at-bats.
If you held those numbers next to a premier slugger, fantasy owners would laugh at the comparison. But the power is a bonus to the other attributes Molina brings to the table, which are numerous and vital.
The veteran catcher is in charge of maturing a new fleet of young arms that the organization is leaning on to trigger the next World Series run. This isn't 2006 where Walt Jocketty jury-rigged a ragtag group of veterans together with a small group of raw-armed, yet sure-minded elite throwers to produce the most unlikely World Series run ever. President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and General Manager Michael Girsch are building an army of young guns in a very meticulous fashion.
When the Cardinals refused to hand Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta a long-term contract over the winter, Molina must have chuckled in his native Puerto Rico, knowing the higher-ups still had a mission for him. Molina knew then that the three-year contract extension he received last year wasn't a lifetime achievement award for a couple rings and a decade of selfless service in one of the most brutal positions in pro sports. He had one last thing to do before getting on a Clydesdale and riding through the Arch out of town.
Molina is the field general now more than ever. When Carlos Martinez needs a pep talk, there's Molina. When Mike Matheny and Mike Maddux need a lifeline, they call Molina. When Adam Wainwright needs to reach back for something impossible this summer in the broiling St. Louis heat, Molina will be there to guide him through traffic. He doesn't just serve the youth; Molina works on older engines as well, bringing them back to life. If Waino has a hope or prayer of finding a little piece of 2013-14, he can thank Molina.
As he tilts towards the final stretch of his career, Molina isn't like Wainwright or former Cardinal Matt Holliday, looking into the party from the outside as he ruffles through his coat for an invitation to the party. At 35, Molina still is the life of the party. How about that?
So, let's stop talking about properly using Kelly or getting him ready for part-time duty. It's not happening anytime soon unless the captain loses a foot or suddenly loses the urge to be the best at his position. You don't accumulate eight gold gloves and all-star appearances by being comfortable with second place. Molina wants to be the guy. He's the reason Kelly is expendable once there's a real need this July. He is still giving the Cardinals premium performance and extra security on his way out.
You heard him correctly in January. After the current contract runs out in 2020, he's done. Molina is set to walk away from home plate after the extension ends. He won't stay too long and become the sequel no one wants to watch. Molina won't embarrass himself.
After three games, he already has two home runs, which is half the total he contributed in 2015 in about 518 fewer plate appearances.
While discussion over whether Molina is actually human can be tabled until after he does hang up the cleats and chest protector, the man has two goals: win a World Series and get the next generation ready. Father Time and normal career projection don't apply, so stop trying to make it stick.
Here's an idea. Just watch the man work. It's a great sight to behold every time the Cardinals take the field. Molina comes out, crouches down, and sets to receive. The eyes stab the images outside the face mask, the taped hands drag across the dirt, and the knees steady into position. For the 14th straight opening day on Thursday, Molina was there, ready to go.
Sometime down the road, there will be an opening day without Molina behind home plate. That's going to be a sad day. One that I am not ready for just yet.
Neither is Molina. He's got one last mission left, and you bet he'll see it through.
And when it's all over, No. 4 will go from the field to retirement to being legitimized in a bronze statue outside Busch Stadium.