The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have signed catcher Yadier Molina to a 3 year, $60 million extension that will keep him in their uniform through the 2020 season. The new deal will replace his option year next season. While rumors of the deal being finalized spread on Thursday night, both sides maintained that the deal was not yet done prompting quite a bit of hand-wringing as the weekend played out and the Opening Day deadline loomed.
It was a good move for the Cardinals who get to lock up one of their franchise icons and likely enable him to finish his career having spent the entirety of it with the Cardinals.
“I can’t be more happy than I am right now,” said Molina in the press conference on Sunday afternoon. “This is a dream come true. I have always wanted to be here.”
The deal had many moving parts to consider.
At 34 years old, Molina will now be 38 when his contract comes to an end, well past the traditional useful life for a catcher. But Molina has proven anything but traditional at catcher.
The organization also seems to have his heir apparent in Carson Kelly, a consensus top-100 prospect and the best catching prospect in baseball. Kelly will start the season in Triple-A and his advancement is closely tied to Molina’s future.
But the organization has also talked about it’s desire to keep some of it’s core players so that they can finish their careers in St. Louis. It didn’t happen with Albert Pujols. It didn’t happen with Matt Holliday. It seems like it will happen for Yadier Molina. And if I had to choose one of the three, I think the Cardinals got it right.
The deal makes Molina not just the highest paid catcher in baseball, with his $20 million average annual value, but the highest paid Cardinal ever, surpassing Adam Wainwright’s $19.5 million mark from his extension signed before the 2014 season.
As I’ve said while discussing the potential of this deal before, I like the extension even if Molina fails to maintain his offensive production because of the other skills he brings to table that won’t decline. His work ethic, his drive, his ability to read batters and create a game plan. With those, he has a good chance of providing a solid value to the organization through those years.
And if he struggles or succumbs to injury, they have Kelly waiting for an opportunity. Hopefully Molina is pragmatic enough to understand when his backup playing, may be better for the team. I thought it was telling that Mike Matheny mentioned during the press conference a disabled list trip he took in 2004 while Molina was serving as his backup catcher and realized that he opened the door and there was no going back.
As I considered this deal and what it will mean to have Molina potentially finish his career as a Cardinal, I often thought back to five years ago and the negotiations around Albert Pujols’ departure. Because I never legitimately thought that Molina was going to leave. Not just because I feel like Molina is more legacy minded and that his and the Cardinals’ contract wants lined up better, but because the organization is on much steadier footing than it was five years ago. Molina’s deal is a testament that the organization believes that too.
Consider that after the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, Pujols was headed for free agency and a Hall of Fame manager was riding off into retirement. Their top-3 offensive contributors were Lance Berkman (35), Matt Holliday (31), and Albert Pujols (Also 31). Their two best starting pitchers were Kyle Lohse (32) and Chris Carpenter (36) and their closer was Jason Motte (29). All told, that’s an average age of 32 for those key contributors.
Their top-20 prospects list included a number of Cardinals who would go on to provide contributions at the big league level. Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, and Oscar Taveras were all on that list, but they weren’t due for a couple more years. Over the short-term, you could say that the future and the odds of the Cardinals’ returning to the playoffs was bleak.
Compare that to where the Cardinals stand now. Las year their top-3 offensive contributors were Matt Carpenter (30), Aledmys Diaz (25), and Stephen Piscotty (also 25). Their top-2 starting pitchers were Carlos Martinez (24) and Adam Wainwright (33). Their closer was Seung-hwan Oh (33). That’s an average age of 28 for those players.
Their top-20 prospects list is also littered with guys with big league potential. And while you can’t bet on particular prospects, you can bet on depth as there would have to be a lot to go wrong for this current crop of prospects to come up empty in big league contributions.
The future has much more hope in 2017 than it did going into 2012.
After the 2011 World Series, Mozeliak faced a roster and organization in flux. Unlike the Cubs this winter whose offseason strategy was basically: “Don’t break it.”
I think if Mozeliak was honest, the 2012 and the years that followed worked out better than expected. The last thing the organization needed to do was give a franchise record $250 million contract to a 32 year old player coming off three seasons of decline and the worst season of his career. Many owners would have give Pujols whatever he wanted simply out of fear. But they stuck to their guns and in the end, someone else paid up.
In hindsight, that Pujols deal ended up being good for the Cardinals. Many of the nagging injuries that he has struggled with have taken their toll and he can no longer play the field every day like he would have needed to in St. Louis. He is still a contributor on offense, but not in the same way he once was. In a way, both sides have benefited from it.
The fear with this deal is that we will see that same fate with Molina as we watch him get old right in front of our eyes. And while that may be, I’m glad to know the team feels like they have stable footing to offer a deal like that to a player like Molina. (And that they aren’t afraid to spend some cash.)