Molina signs 5-year extension

This afternoon the St. Louis Cardinals officially announced that their catcher, Yadier Molina, has finalized a 5-year extension with the team. The deal, which is worth $75 million from 2013-2017, includes a $15 million option for 2018 for a maximum value near $88 million according to sources. He is already under contract for 2012 on a $7 million option from his previous contract signed before the 2008 season.

Many fans questioned the team’s loyalty to the stars of their last two World Series’ runs after they failed to match the Angels’ $240 million, 10 year offer for Albert Pujols in the offseason. Since Pujols left, the team has spent money to bring in Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran and began their talks for an extension with Molina. It’s fair to say that if Pujols had stayed, none of this would have happened.

At 29, Molina enjoyed his most successful major league season to date in 2011, leading the team in batting average at .305. He also posted career highes in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage. He was an All Star and picked up his fourth consecutive Gold Glove at catcher. He also enjoys the reputation of being the best defensive catcher in baseball with excellent pitching staff handling skills. His bat is just a bonus, though inconsistent.

The big question was just how much he would fetch in his next contract. I believed $40 million over 4 years with an option would be where he ended up. Boy was I wrong! $75 million total value gives him the third largest contract for a catcher ever, behind Joe Mauer in Minnesota and Mike Piazza‘s deal from back in 1999. However, it is the second highest contract by Average Annual Value (or AAV) at $15 million per year, behind just Mauer’s $23 million deal.

At the press conference, Molina said that it was his first choice to stay in St. Louis and that he’s glad they did the extension. There were reports a couple of weeks ago that talks had broken down between the Cardinals and Molina’s agent, but they resumed after players began reporting to Spring Training. Then during the last week rumors have swirled that they were close to a deal and would announce it before the week was out. It happened this afternoon.

During my catcher preview I already said that Molina would be interesting to watch this season. His best friend on the team, Albert Pujols, departed for sunny California. Would he stay and flourish or would he wait out a year and depart as quickly as possible? Molina, who wanted to get something done as soon as possible, kept his agents working on a deal with the Cardinals during Spring Training, something his friend Pujols didn’t do. It resulted in a deal that will keep him in Cardinal red at least through 2017.

Which is a very important piece for the Cardinals. The Cardinals want to make strides towards going with younger pitchers. With guys like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and company on their way through the system and destined for arrival in the big leagues over the next few years, I felt it was critical to have a veteran catcher behind the plate. It should make them that much better. That’s the only reason I’m comfortable paying Molina $15 million a year, what I consider vastly beyond his true value. He should provide added value to the players he’s managing on the mound. If the Cardinals had a more veteran pitching staff, I’d be okay going with a younger guy to get the cost savings.

He’s a critical part of the Cardinals. It’s interesting, as I watched Jason Varitek announce his retirement earlier this week and then Molina sign a deal that keeps him a Cardinal until he’s 35, I just see a lot of similarities. Molina sort of fills the same role for the Cardinals.

At $15 million for Molina, the Cardinals now have roughly $83 million committed to 9 players for 2013 with another 5 players in the salary arbitration phase of their careers. They are likely looking at having around $15 million to spend going into that 2013 season if they retain the $110 million payroll budget.

All-in-all though. Great signing for the Cardinals to bring Molina back. Very pleased.

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