Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado immediately come to mind as players that the St. Louis Cardinals cannot afford to lose. But there is perhaps no player more valuable than Yadier Molina.
Molina exited Friday’s game with right foot soreness and will receive tests to determine the extent of the injury. Backup catcher Andrew Knizner will fill in for him in the meantime, but any extended absence for Molina would be a crippling blow to the Cardinals.
It’s a question that the Cardinals faced plenty this offseason, as they attempted to re-sign Molina as he negotiated with other teams. There was a thought at one point that Molina would sign elsewhere but the Cardinals determined that he was too valuable of a player to let get away, citing his long-term ties to the organization, his leadership and ability to work with the pitching staff.
Now, the Cardinals may have to experience life without Molina as he recovers from the foot injury. Knizner is an OK backup, of course, but he represents a significant dropoff both offensively and defensively, as Molina was putting up some of his best numbers of his career in his age-38 season.
In his first 68 plate appearances, Molina is hitting .339/.382/.661 with five home runs and a 180 OPS+ that ranks tied for 14th among all qualified batters in baseball. There was no way that pace was sustainable, but it is encouraging that he was able to remain such a productive player at this stage of his career.
The Cardinals will now wait to see how bad Molina’s injury is. But for a short period of time, they will see what baseball without their star catcher is like, which should only further validate their decision to bring him back for a 19th season in St. Louis.