St. Louis Cardinals: If Yadier Molina Gets More Rest, What Happens Next?

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly been talking about giving catcher Yadier Molina more rest this season but if that happens, what are the Cardinals’ plans?

The idea of the St. Louis Cardinals resting star catcher Yadier Molina comes as no surprise.  Molina is going to be 35 this year, which is concerning for a guy who has been squatting behind home plate for the past 13 years. However, last season he played a career high of 147 games, where he slashed .309/.360/.427 but that kind of consistency and durability can’t be relied upon again. Although he did have one of the best seasons of his career, the decline is on the way.

That being said, if he can keep up a level of offensive production close to where he was in 2016, there needs to be a place for his bat in the lineup. A .307 batting average is clearly the kind of batting average to make room for, but where?

Well, the natural thought would be to stick him at first, which he has 80 innings of experience at and a .980 fielding percentage. That could be an option to take some of the pressure off his knees and extend the inevitable decline. The versatility of Matt Carpenter to play second or third will come in handy but it will ultimately depend on the supporting cast’s production or lack there of, whether that be Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta, or Jedd Gyorko.

With such little experience playing first, it would need to be another standout season at the plate for Molina to get any serious time there. If he is not quite getting it done at the plate then his playing time will probably decline, as it should. Yadi is one of the best and most loved Cardinals ever, but to make it to the playoffs there needs to be production in the lineup.

There have even been theories of Molina playing third. While some of that article may make sense, putting him there in an actual game would not. He has not recorded a single inning playing the hot corner and trying him out there during his 35-year old season hardly seems like the right time.

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Allowing Molina to catch only part of the season, whether it be because of a move to first or third base or just letting the aging catcher rest, would allow prospect Carson Kelly to gain valuable experience. It may be rushing him considering Kelly played in only 32 games at Triple-A last year, and added 13 at-bats in the Majors where he collected two hits.

Kelly is the number 39 ranked prospect according to the MLB. The experience from last season is very important. Even though many think he would benefit from playing everyday in Triple-A, he could get plenty of time giving Molina some off days while also receiving the added benefit of Yadi’s leadership and guidance similar to how Molina was Mike Matheny’s backup.

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That Major League experience could be huge for Kelly moving forward because Molina is still waiting on his extension. Molina is only under contract for this season but has a mutual option for 2018. However, that bridge will be crossed when they get there. In the mean time, a Molina extension will be the biggest indicator of when the expect Kelly.

While Kelly is the future, Eric Fryer is more likely to take on the role of the number two catcher now. He was part of the Cardinals roster early in 2016 but was picked up off waivers by the Pirates, then resigned in December. Before heading to Pittsburgh, Fryer hit .368 in 38 at bats and showed that he was more than capable of filling the backup role. This would also allow Kelly to get more experience playing everyday in Memphis.

Manager Mike Matheny has said only that he will watch to see how Molina plays. He doesn’t anticipate are extra rest coming unless there is a clear decline in physical skill. Based on last year that doesn’t seem to be a chief concern at the moment.

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The one thing that is certain is that Molina’s playing time is entirely in his hands. If that, plus an extension, motivates him then he may try to play as much as possible. If that is the case, Kelly will be able to continue development while the Cardinals keep a key bat in the lineup on their quest back to the playoffs.