St. Louis Cardinals: Breaking down Yadier Molina’s free agency decision

St. Louis Cardinals icon Yadier Molina is now a free agent. Here are the biggest aspects that might factor into his decision.

It’s hard to imagine Yadier Molina not playing baseball in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. Since his MLB debut in 2004, he has accumulated over sixteen years of service time, all with the Cardinals. But now he is a free agent and on the market for any team to sign.

If you would have asked me even a month ago I would have said my prediction would be that Molina would almost certainly be back with the Cardinals. However, my opinion has changed.

There is a real possibility that Yadier Molina has played his last game in a Redbird uniform. There are a few big reasons why. Let’s take a look at them.

Money

The St. Louis Cardinals have more or less made known their intent to cut payroll for 2021 due to the lost revenue from having no fans in 2020. They likely won’t be the only team doing that. Molina’s contract, which just expired, was paying him $20 million per season. Would the Cardinals be accommodating to offer up half of that average annual value at around $10 million? Would Molina accept that?

Even a 50% reduction in salary would save the team some money. This aspect of Molina’s decision making is one in which I am slightly confident that the Cardinals will find a way to make it work with their franchise catcher.

Playing Time

Now it gets tricky. Molina is going to want to play, and play a lot. The Cardinals have Andrew Knizner who they likely want to get a good look at. Where is the balance? Would Molina sign with the Cardinals knowing his playing time will be reduced? If another team offers him his desired length of contract and money and also a prominent role, does he leave the Cardinals? To me, this could be what makes up his mind for him.

If the Cardinals are persistent in letting Knizner play and develop, Molina might walk. He’s going to want to play. I think retiring as a St. Louis Cardinals player and being with one team for his whole career would probably be very appealing to him, but would he be fine with a 50/50 timeshare or something close to it?

Competitive State

Lastly, Molina will probably want to play for a winner. If he wants to play for two more years, his time to win another championship is dwindling. Do the Cardinals project as anything close to a World Series caliber team right now? Don’t be silly, of course not.

The Cardinals need at least one bat, and probably two if they want to get the offense to a good enough place. For a team cutting payroll, their ability to get a few bats might be hampered a bit if they sign Molina. There are always trade opportunities and other ways for them to get creative and try to clear payroll, but you can see the give and take here. Let’s say a team like the Yankees come calling. Or the Dodgers. If a team with a strong chance to win the World Series express interest in Molina and make him an offer to his liking, I think he walks.

It could come down to legacy. Molina is a fan favorite and a legendary St. Louis Cardinals player. All things considered, it makes the most sense for a reunion to happen. But this 2020 offseason could be full of difficult choices and significant roster upheaval. Does Molina take on a reduced role for a team that might not be a serious championship contender so he can retire as a Cardinal? Does he seriously explore other teams to see what possibilities are there for him?

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It is shaping up to be a hard decision, and I think fans should be prepared for the real possibility Yadier Molina leaves as a free agent. If he does, or if he stays, these reasons listed above will likely be some important reasons that factored into the decision.