St. Louis Cardinals: Is Yadier Molina exhibiting bad leadership?

Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a fly ball against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning of Game Three of the National League Wild Card Series at PETCO Park on October 02, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a fly ball against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning of Game Three of the National League Wild Card Series at PETCO Park on October 02, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

For nostalgia reasons, I don’t think there is a St. Louis Cardinals fan who wants to see Yadier Molina in another jersey. But is he being a bad leader in his approach to free agency?

It is no secret how important Yadier Molina has been to the St. Louis Cardinals organization over the past 17 seasons. Molina has led the team to four total World Series and has two rings on his fingers.

With nine All-Star games, nine Gold Gloves, two top-five MVP finishes, and over 40 bWAR accumulated, Molina is probably a lock for the Hall of Fame at this point. After the shortened COVID-19 season, he wants to keep playing for two more years.

Unsurprisingly, Molina looks to be a popular commodity in free agency and his market might be heating up.

Molina has said many times that his first priority is to come back to the Cardinals, but there are things that continue to give me pause about handing out a two-year contract to Molina.

The first is in regards to Molina’s role. Back in February when it came out that Molina wanted to play for two more years, he said that he was open to a backup role in the second year of that contract. On the surface, that seems fine, but here is where we get into the conundrum. The Cardinals can’t allow Andrew Knizner to spend another year at AAA or on the MLB bench playing once every two weeks.

At the age of 26 by the time the 2021 season starts, Knizner is ready to play a large share of the games at catcher. The problem is, Molina has shown time and time again that if he is healthy, he is going to play as much as he decides. Manager Mike Shildt has not told the Cardinal legend no and there is no sign that it would change should Molina return in 2021.

Molina playing every day would be fine as well if his production hadn’t been falling off of a cliff for the past two seasons.

At this point in his career, Molina doesn’t hit for power and he doesn’t take walks. He doesn’t strike out and he is still clutch, but there isn’t much more to like there in terms of offense. 2019 and 2020 also saw Molina’s defense fall off. No longer is he a top-five defensive catcher in terms of framing, blocking, or DRS. The stats don’t lie.

Yet, when Molina was not included on the list of finalists for the Gold Glove this year, he went on Instagram to bash the committee for not including him. However, this year the committee didn’t pick the finalists or the winner, it was done strictly by statistics.

When you look at it from 30,000 ft, it seems like Molina doesn’t have the self-awareness to know when it is time to step back. This ego issue is bad leadership.

I don’t think there is a better game caller or better leader in baseball right now on the field than Yadier Molina. There aren’t stats to measure it, but every pitcher who throws to Yadi raves about what it is like to have him as a lighthouse behind home plate. For the first time in his career though, Molina could be making a bad leadership choice.

I have no gripes with Molina asking for two more years. Professional athletes have a very limited time in their lives to make the kind of money that they do in the MLB. However, a good leader wants what is best for the team. With Molina back in 2021, Knizner won’t have time to work through the issues that all young catchers go through, nor will he have time to stay sharp at the plate.

When Molina would step into the backup role in 2022 when the team is much better suited for winning, the lack of experience for Knizner could serve as a hindrance to the team.

We all know that Molina still believes he is the best in the business behind the plate. For any athlete to get to an elite level, they have to believe at least a little of that. But now that ego could bite the Cardinals in the back.

It would hurt to see Yadier Molina in any other uniform, but if he is going to demand to play 140+ games in 2021, there is no question that the Cardinals would be worse down the line because of it.

Again, it is fine that Molina wants to play for two more years, but the right leadership move here is to say that he’ll be happy in whatever role the team needs him in most. Sing that tune, and I would gladly welcome back Molina for two more years. With his current dialogue, I don’t think I can say I’d be happy with him returning for two years.

A lack of self-awareness and a large ego is bad leadership, especially when the on-field performance doesn’t exactly back it up anymore. Molina’s public statements about his expectations of playing time might hurt his market this winter too.

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He could just be posturing to try and anchor his price and years as high as possible, but if Yadi is truly unwilling to accept less than a two-year deal where he has full reign over his playing time in the first year, I don’t think many teams would be willing to do that. At this point, I hope the Cardinals wouldn’t be willing to do that.

This entire situation could completely change though. The Cardinals could trade away Andrew Knizner this winter, then bring back Yadi and Waino for 2021 and let there be one final ride with Yadi, Waino, Matt Carpenter, and Dexter Fowler. If Bill DeWitt Jr. wants to go on a nostalgia tour, be my guest. However, don’t expect to be that competitive in 2021 and expect to be worse off down the line. Some would argue that this team is already not built to win in 2021 (it isn’t).

Like many fans, Yadier Molina has been one of my favorite players for the majority of my life. His competitive fire is admirable, it is just leading towards an ugly breakup in the end. Right now, his demands are a form of bad leadership, but it may work out for him. I just wish he was singing a different tune.

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I still expect Molina back for 2021 at least. I just wish someone in the dugout or the front office would stand up to him and tell him (without causing a huge mess) that he can’t dictate his playing time anymore. If Knizner is the future behind the plate in St. Louis, he needs to play the majority of the games in 2021. To be the best leader he can be for this team, Yadi needs to acknowledge that.