If the situation with Albert Pujols showed us as fans anything, it’s that the longer you wait to extend a player the closer they get to the potential payday free agency. If a player negotiates with one team, it’s pretty cut and dry. The team offers x amount of money, the player wants y amount of money, and they figure out a number that works for both of them. When other teams come into play, however, it complicates things by adding more potential figures into the mix. That is why I strongly feel that now is the time the Cardinals need to focus on extending Yadier Molina. What will it take?
This offseason is the ideal time to look into a contract extension for our all star catcher. He is in the last year of his current deal, the Cardinals don’t have any impact catchers ready in the farm system, the 2013 free agent class for catchers is thin aside from Mike Napoli and Miguel Montero, and if Yadi adds another gold glove, all star appearance, or even silver slugger to his resume he only stands to become more expensive. The tricky question is to figure out his value.
To get a general idea of his value, we can use the Oliver projections again as they have a six year forecast. Obviously this isn’t an exact science since players can break out or break down at any point. Oliver has Yadier putting up WAR values of 2.2, 2.1, 1.9, 1.7, 1.6, and 1.4 for the next six seasons. If contracts were based solely on projections, we could just multiply those values by the 4.5 million dollars a win is valued at and get a contract but it isn’t that easy. We also need to look at players similar to Yadi to get an idea of a comparable contract.
Due to the physical nature of the job, catchers don’t generally get the huge paydays other position players do. Since the grind of being a catcher takes it toll on the body, most teams have been handing out 3-4 years deal maximum with not very large salaries. Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez are the exceptions, but they were both more accomplished than Yadier offensively at the time of their contract signing and are in the AL where their offensive production can slot over to the DH position. Beyond those two, the three highest paid catchers based on average annual value are John Buck, Brian McCann, and Kurt Suzuki. All three of those catchers achieve most of their value with the bat, so it appears the only catchers earning big paydays are guys that can get it done at the plate. Yadier has improved each year, but is still not an offensive force. I think based on comparable contracts, Yadi’s value has to be looked at as being in the 5-7 million dollar range.
So according to his WAR projection, Yadi should be worth $9,450,000, $8,550,000, $7,650,000, and $7,200,000 in each of the next four years. According to the going rate for defensive-minded catchers, he’s worth about 5-7 million annually. I think the Cardinals could split the difference on that value and offer Yadi a four year deal worth six million annually and still come out ahead. If they are unsure of his production, they could start negotiations with the fourth year being an option. This appears to be a harmless deal, but one that locks up the best defensive catcher in the game through the end of his prime. The window for exclusive negotiation is closing, so the time is now!
What are your thoughts? What kind of deal would you present to Yadi? Would you prevent a deal at all? Is there another target or prospect you think is a better fit?