St. Louis Cardinals: It’s almost time for a big decision

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright aren’t looking to end their careers yet, and the front office will soon be faced with an unenviable choice.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ battery of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina has helped power the team since 2006, and either one of them departing is hard to fathom. But 2020 is the final year of both of their contracts, and with a shakeup the baseball world has never experienced, all plans have gone awry.

While Wainwright has never wavered from his hope to end his career with the Cardinals, it wasn’t long ago that he was ready to hang up his spikes. But with his recent statement that he’d like to return for 2021, the Cardinals will have to decide if he’s worth the price.

Molina has changed his tune about retirement as well. While his former plan was to retire after his contract was up in 2020, the abridged season caused by COVID-19 has led to a desire to play past this year. But unlike Wainwright, Molina has expressed a willingness to test the free agent market.

The Cardinals are now approaching a dilemma about whom to keep and whom to let walk. Whether its best to keep both of them, one of them or none of them is a matter of personal preference, and I will give my take on the pros and cons of each scenario.

Option 1: Re-sign both of them

If the Cardinals decide to dish out the dough and ink Wainwright and Molina to new deals, they will likely be one-year contracts given the players’ ages. This scenario would satisfy fans who want to see a couple of Cardinals legends continue to play for their favorite franchise, hopefully until the end of their careers. The two also have a significant rapport, and they likely make each other better on the field.

The obvious negative in this is the money the front office would have to spend to retain them both, and it would have to weigh the players’ current skill sets with fans’ nostalgia and attachment to the players. Shelling out that money would also likely prevent the Cardinals from going after any big free agents.

Option 2: Re-sign Molina, let Wainwright walk

While Molina is not the player he was in his prime, he remains solid at the plate and behind it. Players have always raved about his intangibles, and he is the face of the franchise. While his arm is no longer a cannon, opponents still attempt very few stolen bases because of his reputation. As spectators, it’s hard to tell just how much value Molina has regarding calling games and working with pitchers, but it is clearly a significant benefit.

However, Molina will almost certainly command a larger salary than Wainwright, and keeping him will mean more lost development time for backup catcher Andrew Knizner. Carson Kelly had to get out of St. Louis to receive any meaningful playing time, and if Molina stays put, the same may happen with Knizner.

It is possible that manager Mike Shildt gives Molina a reduced role, but I feel Molina wouldn’t take too kindly to that. It has been said numerous times that he wants to play every day, and that could very well be a detriment to Knizner.

Option 3: Re-sign Wainwright, let Molina walk

Keeping Wainwright likely wouldn’t be too difficult. He has said that he loves the Cardinals and St. Louis, and I think it is quite likely that he would be willing to take a pay cut to remain with the team. He also had a solid bounce-back year in 2019, and his ability to serve as a mentor to other pitchers is incredibly valuable.

While there is a glut of potential starting pitchers waiting in the wings, I feel Wainwright would be more amenable to switching to a bullpen role than Molina would be to taking a backup job. Wainwright has said he would be willing to serve in any capacity to help his team win, and it’s that kind of selflessness that endears players to teams.

But while Molina has stayed pretty consistent throughout his career, we have seen Wainwright struggle a lot. 2016 and 2017 were not kind to him, and while 2019 was better, the fact is that he could become a liability again at any time.

Option 4: Let both of them walk

While this decision would cause massive heartache to most fans, Molina and Wainwright could very well both be on the move if the front office deems neither of them worth keeping. The team’s lost revenue from the shortened season has made this more likely than it would be in a normal situation. Seeing these two on different teams would be hard to watch.

The Cardinals would have more money to use on positions of need, however. The universal designated hitter is expected to be announced for the 2020 season, and it’s very easy to see that continuing past this season. The current DH options are underwhelming, and the team would more easily be able to sign a masher if Wainwright and Molina leave. Knizner would also finally have ample time to see major league action behind the plate.

Next: A preview of the potential regional divisions

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I honestly couldn’t tell you which of these situations I’d prefer. But what I know is that fans should savor what season we do have in 2020, not just because the season will be something we’ve never seen, but because it’s quite possible it will be the final time these two brandish our beloved birds on the bat.