ST. LOUIS — Assembling a Cardinals team without Yadier Molina or Adam Wainwright seems almost blasphemous, right? Sheesh, I've only been alive for nine seasons of Cardinals baseball that didn't include at least one of these future team Hall of Famers. It doesn't seem right.
However, that could be a very real reality in 2021.
They are both officially free agents, and while both Molina and Wainwright as well as the organization have said all the right things about coming back up to now, it's starting to get more and more real that one or perhaps both may be gone.
Just in the past week we've heard that three teams aside from the Cardinals have reached out to Yadier Molina and that his hometown Braves were interested in Adam Wainwright.
We've also heard from the Cardinals front office, and the outlook doesn't seem too cheery if you were hoping for high - or even reasonably priced- reinforcements for the 2021 club. Or heck, even keeping the same team they had last season.
The Cardinals have made it clear they're interested in shrinking payroll during the ongoing pandemic. The team already declined a $12.5 million option on one of their best players, Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong, citing financial uncertainty.
Now you can be as cynical as you want when it comes to blaming the likely lack of spending this winter in baseball on the pandemic, but I don't think the owners are bluffing. It has the looks of an icy offseason for free agents not just from a Cardinals perspective, but around baseball as a whole.
It's going to be a slow slog towards spring training.
As for Molina and Wainwright, there's no doubt about their place in Cardinals history, and how it would be elevated even more if they spend their entire careers in St. Louis.
They've said over and over again how much they want that to happen. But at a certain point, I think the other options have to start making a lot of sense to them.
For one, this pair wants to keep playing for one reason above all the rest. They want to win another World Series. And do the Cardinals really offer them the best chance at that?
Yes, the team has made the playoffs two years in a row and shown some real grit to take them further than a lot of people expected. But as it is currently assembled, is this a team you could picture faring well against the Dodgers? How about the Braves or Padres again? Or if you get to a World Series, against the Yankees, Rays or even the White Sox going forward? I don't think so.
And with the team seemingly in a spending freeze, they're counting on internal options, some of which we've seen time and again not be enough, to magically make it happen.
Do Molina and Wainwright think that's their best chance at another title?
There's no room to question loyalty here. Molina and Wainwright have given good chunks of their lives to the Cardinals. They don't owe them, or us fans anything. If the team decides not to pay them what they think they're worth and also not improve the team around them, I'm on board with them looking around at other options, and there are quite a few.
You know new White Sox manager Tony La Russa probably has his eye on both of his former players, especially Molina, to join him and try again at a title with a young, upstart contender. The Yankees have come within the cusp of the World Series, and a veteran backstop like Molina could be the piece that gets them even closer.
Adam Wainwright was probably the Cardinals' team MVP in 2020 as the oldest player in the National League. You don't think there are a number of teams in better shape to contend than the Cardinals that would love him as a veteran no. 4 or 5 starter?
Listen, like the rest of St. Louis, I don't want to see either of these guys go. If the front office isn't going to try to get better by spending big money, they could at least keep the two fan favorites here to retire as Cardinals. That doesn't seem like a whole lot to ask. And yes, they can afford to keep both Molina and Wainwright.
But if the Cardinals aren't offering what either of them wants and there are other bidders out there that can give them a better shot at one last championship, more power to them.
And it's not like they're going to be looked at like some abandoners in St. Louis. They will still be first ballot Cardinals Hall of Famers and revered for decades to come. Sure, staying would enhance their legacies here, but I don't think in this situation that leaving would be that big of a mark on how they're thought of in Cardinals history.
Molina and Wainwright have given Cardinals fans so much over the years. I don't blame them at all if they try to squeeze out the last bit of baseball they have left in them elsewhere while trying to win one final title.