St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina enters 2017 on the last year of his current contract. According to reports, the team has entered preliminary extension talks with the 34-year old backstop.
He’s consistently led the league in throwing out potential basestealers. In addition, his offensive game has dramatically improved. In 2012, he finished fourth in the National League MVP balloting. In 2013, he finished third.
During the Spring of 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals signed Molina to a 5-year, $75-million contract extension. The last year of that contract is soon to begin. Yadi’s contract contains a mutual option for 2018 worth $15 million, should Molina and the team desire his return. Molina has stated on multiple occasions that he wishes to finish his career in St. Louis.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Cardinals are in preliminary talks with Molina and his agent about extending his contract sometime this Spring:
Molina will turn 35 this season. The Cardinals have the top catching prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, 22-year old Carson Kelly, set to begin the year at AAA Memphis. Kelly made his big-league debut last season as a September call-up, and recorded a double in his first career at-bat in Pittsburgh.
Kelly was drafted by St. Louis as a third-baseman in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. He was approached by the organization about a position change to catcher to help fill the void the team had at the position beyond the major league level.
Kelly has excelled behind the plate, taking home the Gold Glove award for all minor-league catchers in 2015. At the plate, he’s hit .248 in five minor-league seasons. His best offensive year by far was last season, where he hit .289 in 98 games between AA Springfield and Memphis.
He’s the heir apparent to Molina, but how soon will the changing of the guard occur? Molina still has a few seasons left in the tank. He hit .365 after the All-Star break last year. His receiving skills are still solid. His ability to guide a pitching staff remains second-to-none.
It’s a good problem to have. Kelly will soon be ready to take over the reigns from Molina, but how much value does Yadi still have? Is there merit in wanting to see #4 retire as a Redbird?
I think the Cardinals should absolutely extend Yadier Molina. He might have to accept a cut in his playing time in the future, but it’s in the team’s best interest anyway to keep Molina on the field fairly regularly to keep Kelly fresh early in his career.
It’s worth remembering that Carson is only 22, the age Molina was when he made his debut in 2004. Yadi has been the Cardinals’ primary catcher every year since 2005, and has missed time in seasons past due to knee problems.
If the St. Louis Cardinals extend Molina, say, through the 2020 season, Kelly will be just 26 at the beginning of the 2021 campaign. Yes, there is merit in wanting Kelly to adjust to the league quickly and the best way to do that is to be on the field, but if there’s any position where a timeshare would be least detrimental to a player’s development, it’s catcher.
Molina will be the first to tell you that his most important job is not done with a bat in his hand, but rather when he’s crouched behind the plate. The same goes for Kelly. If he’s the Cardinals’ next franchise backstop, it won’t be critically important for him to get 600 big-league at-bats per season in his early twenties.
Even when Kelly isn’t in the lineup, his development will benefit from having a former catcher as his manager, being able to better learn his pitchers by chatting with them in the dugout, and observing Molina on the field.
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Kelly will get his chance, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of Molina’s legacy with St. Louis. This doesn’t have to be an either-or dilemma. There’s room for both Carson Kelly and Yadier Molina on the St. Louis Cardinals roster the next few seasons.
Yes, baseball is a business, and the Cardinals’ front office has done an admirable job in not letting emotions override pragmatism when it comes to extending players in their thirties (see: Albert Pujols).
But the fact that the Cardinals are willing to engage in preliminary talks is encouraging. Hopefully they envision an immediate future where Kelly can benefit from sharing time with Yadi, and Yadi can get his wish of finishing his career in St. Louis without wasting away on the bench.
We all want to see Yadi finish wearing the Birds on the Bat. We want to see his #4 retired on the left field wall in Busch Stadium. We want to see him in a red jacket on Opening Day, greeting the future Cardinals. And we want to be able to give him a proper send-off in a few years. Think of how loud and how long that ovation will be.
Yadier Molina is still an exceptional major-league catcher.
It will be fascinating to watch in 2017 as Molina continues to lead St. Louis and Carson Kelly continues his development. The Cardinals have been in excellent hands at the catching position for years, and will continue to be in the foreseeable future.