St. Louis Cardinals: Are the Cardinals going to be Yadi-less in 2021?

JUPITER, FLORIDA - MARCH 12: A detailed view of the Nike Air Jordan catcher's gear worn by Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals during the spring training game against the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on March 12, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FLORIDA - MARCH 12: A detailed view of the Nike Air Jordan catcher's gear worn by Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals during the spring training game against the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on March 12, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

As negotiations drag out between the St. Louis Cardinals and Yadi Molina, are we getting closer to a Yadi-less Cardinal team in 2021? If we are, will be the team be better, worse, or the same?

It’s hard to imagine a St. Louis Cardinals team without Yadier Molina behind the plate. But recent reports have indicated this could be a real possibility.

Redbird Rants co-site expert, Robert Murray, has recently written about the Washington Nationals entering the picture. Murray has also written about the interest of the Angels, Padres,  Mets, and the Yankees as well.

Mark Saxon, the Cardinal beat writer for The Athletic, recently wrote how slowly the negotiations between Molina and Cardinals have progressed. Apparently, Yadi’s side has even called the Cardinals offer ‘ridiculous’.

To add fuel to the fire, Bengie Molina, Yadi’s brother, said on 101 ESPN’s ‘The Fast Lane,’ Molina is fielding ‘6 or 7’ offers from other teams. Bengie also said, Yadi is finding out how ‘valuable’ he is to these other teams, and feeling valued is important to the nine-time Gold Glove winner.

Yadier Molina, arguably, has been one of the two most popular Cardinals since Albert Pujols departed for the Angels after the 2011 season. The 39-year old signal-caller has also been often called the most indispensable player on the roster by both management and the coaching staff.

So if Molina leaves the friendly confines of Busch Stadium, will it be the end of the world for the St. Louis Cardinals? Will the organization collapse?

Let’s not overreact about it….of course not.

But would the Cardinals be as good in 2021 without Yadi Molina behind the plate?

Likely not.

Even though he is past his Gold Glove-winning years, and his skills have obviously declined, he is still considered an above-average catcher per most sabermetrics. For example, his caught stealing percentage was 45% vs the 24% league average in 2020. In 2019, those same metrics were 27% vs 26%.

Additionally, Molina’s fielding percentage was tops in the league for catchers in 2019 at .999, but fell to .985 in 2020. The league fielding percentage in 2019 and 2020 was .993 and 994 respectfully.

However, Molina’s value to the franchise moves past his current sabermetrics to his leadership and play-calling ability during games. This is one not easily measured by sabermetrics but has always been identified by the pitchers and coaching staff.

Even though Molina is not what he use to be, there is not an established replacement ready to keep up his level of play.

Beyond Molina

The two catchers currently on the Cardinals 40-man roster are Andrew Knizner and, one of the Cardinals’ top minor league prospects, Ivan Herrera. The 20-year old Herrera was put on the roster to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 Draft and is still a couple of years away from the major league.

Currently, Knizner is considered the Cardinals’ heir apparent to Yadi Molina’s throne. The 25-year old has played a total of 23 games at catcher in the last two years. His limited sabermetrics don’t look bad, throwing out 71% of runners trying to steal, and a .989 fielding percentage. But with such a limited sample, it’s impossible to say Knizner is ready to step into Molina’s shoes.

The only other catcher in the Cardinal system who could be realistically added to the roster is Tyler Heineman, who was signed to a minor-league deal in November. Even so, Heineman is not the answer for a Molina-less Cardinals and would have to be considered, at best, a platoon situation with Knizner.

Beyond the Organization

The Cardinals do have some free agent options outside the organization in case of Molina’s exit. But let’s be honest, the Cardinals are not going to spend money on a big free agent for 2021. So let’s forget about the best one available, J.T. Realmuto, and move on.

I also think 30-year old former White Sox, James McCann will have too many suitors and not be in the Cardinals budget for 2021. However, 29-year old Mike Zunino, formerly of the Rays, and 33-year old Wilson Ramos, formerly with the Mets, could be affordable options for the Cardinals.

Zunino and Ramos have both struggled with the bat in recent years, but are defensively solid catchers. Both are needing a rebound year to entice potential suitors after 2021 and might find a Cardinal offer of a one-year deal with incentives attractive.

So what does a Yadi-less Cardinals mean?

It means a team not as good in 2021, but as I said earlier in this post, it’s not the end of the world. It would mean is starting a new era for the Cardinals. An era without Yadier Molina at the helm.

Sooner or later, the Cardinals are going to have to find out what life is like without Yadi Molina behind the plate. Even though there is no proven successor to Yadi, 2021 could be a good time to start building that bridge to the future.

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If you listen to this front office at all, they are trying to tell fans they won’t be committing money to long term contracts. It’s about working money off the books and looking beyond 2021.

If this is the plan, then it’s time to use 2021 to see what the organization has in Andrew Knizner. It’s what they’re doing in the outfield and third base, so why not catcher position?

If Yadi Molina would be willing to come back on a one-year incentive-based contract, I think the Cardinals would sign him in a minute. However, I don’t see Molina accepting that type of contract.

Still, as most Cardinal fans. I would like to see Yadi Molina finish his career in St. Louis and go into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Cardinal. Hopefully, the Cardinals and Yadi can come to an acceptable compromise.

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Nevertheless, if they can’t, then let’s accept it. Maybe 2021 is a good time to move on.