ST. LOUIS — Few things are ever certain in sports. 2020 has taken that notion to a completely different level. But for 16 years now, St. Louis fans have had a certainty every year. Yadier Molina was going to be the starting catcher for the Cardinals.
That pudgy, defensive-minded youngster we saw permanently take over the reigns in 2005 is now a grizzled, 38-year-old veteran with a Hall of Fame case and without a contract for 2021.
It shouldn't be that way for long, though. The Cardinals and Molina need to come together to make sure number four sticks around for another year or two.
The Molina free agency saga has actually been going on for a while now. He went from saying he'd be done after his contract ended in 2020, to saying he'd only play for the Cardinals and was open to another deal and to eventually saying he just wanted to play more, even if it wasn't here.
There are a number of reasons the Cardinals should make sure it is here, and that No. 4 rides off into the St. Louis sunset.
First off, he can still play.
I don't know if there's ever been a 38-year-old catcher in better shape in the history of baseball. While a lot of backstops have eventually had to shift to either first base or designated hitter at the end of their careers, Molina wears it as a badge of honor to be behind the plate every day. Heck, the guy had COVID-19 and still played 42 games of a 58-game season for the Cardinals.
While not flashy by any means, Molina was still a respectable offensive player in 2020. He didn't hit for much power, with just six extra base hits and an SLG of .359, but he was consistently one of the team's better options with the bat this year. Should he be counted on in the five hole? Well, no probably not. But that's more of a commentary on the current state of the Cardinals' offense now isn't it?
He also threw out 45% of would-be base stealers this season, so the arm is still there, too. He did have three passed balls in just 42 games compared to 4 in both 111 and 121 games the past two seasons. But I'm not worried about Molina's defense. He's shown we should really never be.
But this is bigger than just the on-field product. Molina finishing his career any place other than St. Louis seems almost sacrilegious.
We've seen time and time again that it does mean more when a player is a Cardinal their entire career, or at least from a certain point all the way to the end. Just look at how revered Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Stan Musial were. Yadi could be that, and I think he wants to be that.
Molina is going to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame some day. Sorry to burst any naysayers' bubbles, but that's just a fact of the matter. He seemingly passed someone on an all-time or Cardinals list with every game and hit this past season, and there is no doubt an increased value for him to keep doing that in St. Louis.
Cardinals fans and Molina both deserve to have the farewell that's been earned.
So Molina has proved he can still play and he's more valuable in St. Louis than anywhere else. Slam dunk right?
It should be. I don't think Molina will overvalue himself at the negotiating table. At this point I expect it to be more about milking the last baseball he has left in him and less about the dollars at play.
Now if his production does drop off a cliff during a new contract, a difficult conversation is going to be necessary. Andrew Knizner has potential to be the real deal, but hasn't gotten a shot yet. Hopefully the Cardinals will be able to cultivate Knizner with Molina still in the fold.
But bottom line, this offseason the Cardinals need to do what it takes to make sure the only other uniform Yadier Molina puts on is the ceremonial one he gets when he's elected to Cooperstown.
He means too much to this town and this franchise. It shouldn't break the bank and makes sense. So get it done.