St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals Need To Keep Yadier Molina
By Zach Gifford
There is room in the St. Louis Cardinals budget to ensure Yadier Molina retires a Cardinal.
Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal discussed what will be a tricky negotiation between Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals. Molina’s contract has a mutual option after this season, which makes it a near certainty that either he or the club will opt out.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a recent, ugly history when it comes to bringing back franchise players. Albert Pujols chose the allure of more money over staying with the Cardinals. Jason Heyward spurned St. Louis for the rival Cubs. The front office just let Matt Holliday walk.
This is starting to look like a troubling pattern. The front office appears hesitant to overspend to keep even its most popular players. In some ways this makes sense, and it might be characterized as shrewd management.
I, for one, have generally taken the side of letting the players walk instead of overpaying. I recently argued for letting Molina walk after this year if he hits free agency, and that might have gotten me blocked by Adam Wainwright on Twitter.
However, while many have justified letting Pujols and Holliday go, the rest of the fan base won’t be so lenient when it comes to Yadi. The longer I think about it, the more this situation worries me. After multiple discussions over the last two months on the possibility for a Molina extension, I’ve convinced myself that I want Yadi to retire a Cardinal. I want team management to get a deal done.
My initial position to let Molina walk rested on the idea that I wanted to avoid a bad contract. Ken Rosenthal suggested it would take a three year, $50 million deal in his article. Molina is entering his age-34 season and has caught more than 13,000 innings. Committing $50M and three years to an old catcher is a huge risk.
Additionally, Carson Kelly is coming up the ranks behind Molina, and might look MLB ready soon. If Yadi shows much decline in offensive or defensive ability, Kelly might become the better option. At that point, the St. Louis Cardinals could be paying a backup catcher more than $16M per year.
However, I then remembered my look into the St. Louis Cardinals payroll a few weeks ago. Then, I had slotted Molina to make $10M per year starting in 2019, based on an aging curve and $/WAR projections. Even with that extension, I estimated the Cardinals would have about $50 million available next season and $70 million in 2019.
Obviously, free agent signings will cut into that number. However, it does appear that the St. Louis Cardinals have room to fill any needs through free agency and still have plenty to spare.
I was always comfortable bringing Molina back for three or four years at an AAV of $10-12M. I just didn’t think that would happen, and it doesn’t look like it will now. However, after taking a deeper look, I believe that the Cardinals can afford to pay him an extra $6 to $8 million without stressing the payroll or roster.
None of us want to see that happen. None of us want to see Yadier Molina in another uniform. There are plenty of reasons to let Yadier Molina walk. The argument to keep him might not make sense quantitatively, but Yadier Molina’s impact has always been underestimated by the numbers.
This is about honoring an all-time St. Louis Cardinals favorite. Even if a Molina extension turned out to be a total bust, he’d be off the books and retired in three years. He could be properly honored in his final games at Busch Stadium, while still providing value as a mentor to Carson Kelly and the pitching staff.
In the era of free agency, players to spend an entire successful career with one team are rare. Let’s hope that General Manager John Mozeliak keeps Yadi wearing the Birds on the Bat.
Next: Nathan's Case To Keep Yadi
Credit to Scott @TexasCardsFan1 for the photo inspiration and Brooke Benoit for the edit. Originals from Concord Monitor and Steve Mitchell of USA Today Sports.