The St. Louis Cardinals have been without their primary catcher of the last 18 seasons since he landed on the Injured List June 17.
Certainly, two decades of squatting behind the plate tens of thousands of times per season will take its toll on a catcher’s knees, so it was understandable that Yadier Molina was placed on the IL with right knee inflammation by the Cardinals over a month ago. With the injury bothering him for the last couple of months – which might help explain his poor performance at the plate – and cortisone injections not providing the necessary remedy, Molina was given some time off to heal.
What’s unusual about this situation is that Molina didn’t remain in St. Louis to seek treatment, nor did he go to the franchise’s Florida spring training facilities or anywhere else within the team’s purview. Instead, he returned to his native Puerto Rico, with little information provided about his rehab process.
While his status was vague and his exact location undetermined, Molina made his presence known a few days ago when he kicked a ball in frustration during a basketball game involving the Vaqueros Bayamon, the Puerto Rican professional league team Molina owns. This led to speculation about why, if Molina was healthy enough to kick a basketball, he was not well enough to get back on the baseball field.
A recent tweet from The Athletic’s Katie Woo stated Molina would begin a rehab assignment the last week of July and return to the team the first week of August. If true, that is a promising development, since the Cardinals’ catching corps has been one of the weakest in the game this season.
Molina himself has hit a dreadful .213/.225/.294 (49 OPS+) in 138 plate appearances, while Andrew Knizner has an unproductive .207/.300/.260 (64 OPS+) line in 171 PA. Backups Ivan Herrera (.111/.190/.111, -10 OPS+ in 22 PA) and Austin Romine (.105/.190/.105, -11 OPS+ in 21 PA) somehow have managed to be even more horrendous.
At this point, the Cardinals are hoping Molina can return soon and produce anywhere close to the 85 OPS+ range he managed the previous three seasons. If he can, the team should feel more comfortable with this lineup spot. If he doesn’t come back on schedule, or if he struggles again like he did earlier this season, St. Louis will have a notable problem to deal with.
Everyone involved with the team, and every Cardinals fan everywhere, is hoping to have vintage Yadi back on the field. Time will tell how well those hopes are fulfilled.