When reports began to surface late yesterday afternoon that the St. Louis Cardinals are set to open their wallets for catcher Yadier Molina in an effort to avoid his departure, you and other fans across Cardinal Nation took to Twitter and comment boards to sound off with overwhelming enthusiasm about the soon to be finalized extension. You deserve to be happy; this is a good thing for the Cardinals now. Will it be in 2016/2017?
Word is the extension is for five-years and in the range of $70 – $75 million. As of now, we are uncertain if his current deal is going to be shredded or if the new deal is on top of this season’s. Regardless, this structure would make Molina the second highest paid catcher in terms of average annual value, ever. I’m not about to get into whether he is worth this kind of money now, because all the factors are still very much up in the air. When the contract terms are made official, I will complete a full analysis.
That being said, I have been a proponent of an extension for Molina for several reasons. First, the Cardinals minor league system is sparse in MLB ready catchers. There are plenty of players who can be a MLB back-up, but none in my opinion can shoulder the load as a full-time player. Next, there are only a handful of players the Cardinals may consider to replace Molina from the free agent market in 2013. Third, Molina is certainly a special player. He is undoubtedly one of the best defensive catchers in the game and he is roundly praised by the Cardinals’ pitchers. Last season he added a potent bat to the mix and that may have sealed the deal in the Cardinals’ eyes.
So, don’t take what I am about to say as a knock on Molina. I really don’t have anything negative to say about him. I’m only offering a warning to Cardinals fans. While this contract makes you happy now and rightfully so, is it because losing Molina would be detrimental to the Cardinals future? Or is it more a feeling of relief that the Cardinals were able to avoid another important player from leaving the team? Is it a combination of the two?
Also, fans be joyful now, but don’t be hypocritical in four or five years when he is making at least $14 million and playing 100 games and is a shell of his current self. Please don’t jump on the same message boards and Twitter (or whatever social media tool is the flavor of 2016) and sound off on ways to get rid of him. Don’t point the same force of venom on general manager John Mozeliak (or whoever is the GM at the time) in 2016/17 as you’re laying praises on him today, because Molina is regressing in all facets of the game.
Catchers just don’t age well. There are outliers, Ivan Rodriguez comes to mind, but please take a look at his numbers at 30 and then again at 34/35. Even he began to slow down and he had some monster seasons in his 20’s. Just because he was able to get behind the plate, doesn’t mean he was the best option around at 34/35.
I’m hoping for the Cardinals’ sake that the contract is set up to pay more up front than in the end of the deal. It is better for the team to get the maximized value of Molina’s services while he is still on the younger side of 30. This is not a 26 year-old can’t miss catcher. This is a player who turns 30 in the middle of July and finally figured out how to be completely successful at the plate. He has also played a ton of innings over his last few seasons. Catchers age differently. The number of innings they play tells more than their age does.
The New York Yankees used this type of structure with Alex Rodriguez‘s ridiculous ten-year $275 million contract extension. Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, A-Rod is set to make $29 million this year. The contract peaked in annual value in 2010 & 2011, each at $32 million. When the contract finally ends in 2017, A-Rod will be making $20 million. This may still be way more than he is worth at age 42, but at least it is not the other way around, were it to peak at the end of the contract.
Fans should not be shocked if Molina regresses at the plate this season. Mind you, a regression can take place and it could still be a good season as a hitter for Molina. There is very little in his make-up that suggests he will improve on the offensive stats he put up last season. The Cardinals would be happy with a comparable season. I cannot take anything away from what he accomplished last season, but I am not willing to suggest that he is now going to hit like Brian McCann or Mike Napoli.
On the flip side those guys are poor defensive catchers as I am sure many of you thought as soon as you read their names. But be careful. Those of you who are enamored with Molina’s ability to gun down runners should take note. This may not be the best time to bring it up, but he threw out only 29.2% of runners challenging him last season. That is his lowest in his career. Of course, not many players bothered trying to run on him (MLB low 65 chances), but that was always the case and he threw out 49.5% in 2010. Miguel Montero, another comparable player to Molina, threw out 40% of attempted base stealers in 2011 and has a slightly bigger bat than Molina. Let’s just say that Molina’s contract is going to be market establishing for several players including McCann, Montero and Napoli.
The long and short of it is this. Signing Molina to an extension was the right thing to do. I’ll make a judgment on the terms of the contract once their released. I hope it is five years starting with 2012. I hope it is on the lower end of the $70 – $75 million range, and I hope the slope of the guaranteed money starts at the peak and doesn’t end with it. All I suggest is that fans be ready when the contract is nearing an end for a different Yadier Molina from the one who signs the contract. He’ll likely have the same mindset, same work ethic and competitiveness. But, he will unlikely hit as well, move as nimbly behind the plate and teams will begin to run on him. Remember how happy you were when word got out that he was staying and don’t turn sour on this contract in 2016 or thereabouts when its no longer paying off.