This afternoon John Mozeliak announced that Yadier Molina will have surgery on a torn ligament in his right thumb tomorrow and will be out the next 8-12 weeks. Most likely that will mean that Molina is done for the season. Tony Cruz will become the Cardinals’ new starting catcher in the meantime with Audry Perez already in St. Louis to take Molina’s place on the roster as the team’s new backup catcher.
While I’ve chronicled on this blog that I’m not totally sold on Cruz’s ability to call a game or manage a staff (just looking at the differences in Catcher’s ERA between Molina and Cruz), I do think he has the ability to hit if given consistent playing time. Call it a gut feeling because last year when Molina made his trip to the disabled list, Cruz hit .205 as the primary catcher. And that totally doesn’t prove my point.
During the press conference, Mozeliak indicated that the organization has confidence in Cruz, but will look around to see if there is anyone that fits (read: cheap). From the sounds of it, they will give Cruz an opportunity to hold the job before beginning a serious search for a replacement.
If the Cardinals do want to make a move, there is A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck, and George Kottaras who have all been recently DFA’d by their teams. Potentially, those three will be available as free agents. Buck might be the team’s preference out of that list. But another option via trade would be to acquire Kurt Suzuki from Minnesota.
At 30 years old, Suzuki is on a one-year, $2.75 million deal in Minnesota. He his currently hitting .303/.358/.394, a career year, and the Twins are in last place. But what would he cost to acquire? Well, lucky for me, he’s been dealt at the deadline the last two years so we have a great look at the cost.
In 2012, he was dealt from the Athletics to the Nationals for David Freitas. Freitas, a 15th round pick, is a catcher who was hitting .271 with 5 HRs in 78 games in high A ball for the Nationals at the time of the trade. A year later, he was traded back to the Athletics in exchange for Dakota Bacus. Bacus, a 9th round pick, is a pitcher who had a 3.76 ERA over 79 innings and a 9-5 record in A ball when he was dealt.
So it isn’t going to take a top prospect to pull him away, but if he can continue hitting, perhaps could play the role of difference maker for the Cardinals behind the plate. If his cost is a solid A ball prospect, or a lottery ticket as I like to call them, that’s a price I could see the Cardinals paying.
But it appears that the Cardinals will give Cruz first shot at carrying the load as the team’s everyday catcher. As well they should.
Something to remember while searching the market is that, if you aren’t getting a clear improvement in return, the answer is to stand pat and let Tony Cruz get an extended audition behind the plate. Cruz will be arbitration eligible in November and will be paid more than the league minimum for the first time in his career. The Cardinals will have to consider whether to pay it or hand the job to Audry Perez, who is also up auditioning for a job as well.
An advantage for the Cardinals is that Molina hasn’t hit as well this year as he has in previous years. While the team is struggling for offense, it’s not like Molina has been an integral part of the offense as he has in years past. So the loss of Molina is not as impactful as it would have been the previous three years.