Other catching options for the Cardinals
It remains possible that the Cardinals will turn to a catcher who is not currently on the 40-man roster. The Cardinals boast impressive organizational depth at the catching position. A veteran like Tres Barrera stands a chance of remaining with the club in a depth role for 2024. He made a brief cameo in May of 2023, but failed to impress. Barrera, even if called upon, is unlikely to receive much of an opportunity given his age and low ceiling.
Pedro Pages probably has the best chance to make his MLB debut at the catcher position for the 2024 Cardinals. He offers some offensive upside and has already reached AAA. This year, Pages has performed strongly at Springfield, hitting a .796 OPS. He has begun to tap into his power more regularly, significantly raising his stock. Pages almost certainly has a higher ceiling than Barrera and is thus much more likely to remain with the club over the offseason, though at 24 years old, he may not have much time left.
Perhaps Leonardo Bernal offers the player profile most similar to that of Molina. Bernal is already a plus defender with the potential for a strong bat. Bernal, at just 19, is currently playing in A ball with Palm Beach. Barring a shockingly aggressive promotion from the Cardinals, Bernal is unlikely to debut before 2025.
Another interesting option in the lower levels is Jimmy Crooks III. Crooks, at 21, is a bit older but is currently playing at A+ ball. He has more upside offensively than defensively but still has a chance to be an MLB regular.
And that largely details the Cardinals' options at the catcher position. Though there are many, it remains unlikely that one separates himself from the rest of them. If Contreras, Herrera, or Knizner is dealt at the upcoming deadline, it becomes possible that the Cardinals go off the board entirely and acquire another catcher. Though unlikely, this too is a possibility worth monitoring moving forward.
So where does this leave the Cardinals?
Cardinals fans should expect a timeshare in 2024. Entering 2023, the Cardinals hoped that Contreras would catch roughly 115 games. Nobody is likely to catch that many games in 2024. In fact, if nobody is dealt, it is unlikely that anyone even reaches 85 games caught. The most likely scenario is a timeshare between Contreras and Herrera, with Knizner mixing in occasionally.
However, even if all three catchers remain with the organization through the deadline, one or more of them could also be moved over the offseason. If this occurs, the remaining catcher(s) would obviously receive more opportunities.
The most likely to be traded at this point is Knizner. His departure would vacate some starts for Herrera, and could ultimately allow Herrera to emerge as the team's primary catcher. His all-around profile makes him the most likely of the three to someday emerge as the primary catcher and start 110 games at the catcher position. In this case, Contreras would shift to a DH and potentially OF role.