ST. LOUIS — A few years ago, in front of a crowded room of reporters at the Winter Warm-Up, Yadier Molina said that the current three-year contract would be his last and he would retire when it was complete.
This past January, he had changed his tune. If the Cardinals were open to bringing him back for another year or two, he would be more than willing to remain a Cardinal. But he made one true statement that day: If it weren't the Cardinals, he'd call it a career.
Then, the coronavirus happened, COVID_19 has taken its toll, and Molina is now singing a different tune. According to Marly Rivera of ESPN, Molina will consider free agency at the end of the 2020 (?) season. His contract will be up, one that is paying him $20 million this final season.
In a phone interview, Molina had this to say to ESPN:
"I previously said that, if it wasn't with St. Louis, that I would go home. If we were unable to come to an extension agreement, that I would retire. But the situation with this pandemic has changed everything. Right now, I'm thinking of playing two more years."
Molina's mindset has changed due to the pandemic, and now he wants to play. He noted in the ESPN article that the chances of him playing beyond 2020 were 50/50, but that's different now. There are multiple occasions in the article where Molina reaffirms that he wants to reach an extension in St. Louis but then follows it up with the assertion that he's ready to try free agency.
Molina talks about the health of others and the world being #1 on importance but once it clears and baseball comes back, the business has to be discussed. He adds that players are lying if they aren't worried about a short season and how it affects their futures. At 37 years old closing in on 38, Molina knows that his days are numbered. So he has made the decision to play two more seasons and do that however it must be done, whether in St. Louis or not.
Ladies and gents, this is big news. Potentially earth-shaking news for the Cardinals. We saw this play out in 1996 with Ozzie Smith, who was nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career and didn't want to give way to Royce Clayton. We saw it in 2011 with Albert Pujols, who wanted a long term contract even as he was over the 30-year-old mark. Both of those situations didn't end quietly or nicely. Smith distanced himself from the team while Tony La Russa was the manager, and Pujols and his family went very public with the supposed low ball offer from the Cardinals.
Here's the thing. The Cardinals can't allow this to happen with Molina. Pardon me when I tell you that making sure Molina remains a Cardinal is vital to this franchise and their fans. He's not slowing down and if he can avoid fastballs to the private region and keep his thumbs healthy, the man can still win Gold Gloves and perform well at the plate. He's still revered by the league and can throw guys out. His impact on pitchers like Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson is paramount to this team's success. If John Mozeliak and the Cardinals don't want to spring for Bryce Harper and big bats, they need to keep their true superpower-starting pitching, homegrown-intact and protected.
You protect that by keeping Molina around. There's money for that. One thing Molina didn't say in the ESPN piece was, "please, pay me all the money or I go play for the Mets." He simply said he wants to keep playing and would like to do it here. The man doesn't want to hang them up if his knees are still willing. A shortened or potentially canceled 2020 season only gives those knees and overall body more rest.
You aren't changing Molina's mind. Mozeliak can't go in there with his businessman Gordon Gekko vibe and change it. That's how he lost Pujols, which probably ended up being a wise move on the Cardinals' part. Molina isn't asking for 8-10 years. He's asking for two more seasons. If there's anyone who can remain healthy and effective, it's Yadier Molina. By now, we can all agree he is something else. Doubting him would be futile.
I don't think this is going to be an issue. As much as I like Andrew Knizner, he can't do what Molina can do right now. And if Molina is in the game with the contract he will deserve, I doubt he is going to want to split time, at least not in 2020 or 2021.
You give him the two years, but at a lower annual average value. You could overpay for 2021 and pack the 2022 year with incentives. If the Cardinals show initiative right now in getting something done, Molina will be more apt to take less money. Waiting wouldn't be a wise deal. You don't want to mess with one of the best catchers of all time. I simply don't think Knizner or anyone else you can prop up is worth the trouble.
Molina has proved there's still power in his bat and juice in his knees. He noted in the piece that there's unfinished business in the game for him. In other words, he wants a third World Series title. Two simply isn't enough. If there's one thing Molina has in spades, it's a fiery will to win and that is infectious with a team like the Cardinals.
A two year deal with Molina means him, Dexter Fowler, and Matt Carpenter will go off the books at the same time. The Cardinals can start fresh and bring in some new weapons. But remember, out of all three of those players, Molina is the most important. You won't check his last few seasons and see one year he'd like to forget.
What happened today? Molina changed his mind. He wants to keep playing. I could have guessed that back in January. His words were one street, but Molina's attitude and mood were always set in stone: he isn't going to walk away from baseball until he feels his time is complete. If he can still play with the best of them, he will play.
St. Louis needs to do what it takes to keep him around. This isn't just a semi-important player. Molina is a Cardinal legend and you don't want to mishandle those.
Pay the man his money, Mr. DeWitt Jr.