The St. Louis Cardinals and Yadier Molina are getting close to a tough decision to be made. Molina’s current contract ends after the 2017 season, however the two sides have a mutual option of $15 million for the 2018 season. With Carson Kelly quickly making a name for himself behind the plate, many are wondering if the Cardinals should offer a contract extension to Yadier Molina?
The simple answer is, no, but it’s not that simple.
Before you click that red x in the top right corner or return to your home screen on your mobile device, please let me explain to you why I believe this.
Yadier Molina has been one of the most important players to ever don the Birds on the Bat in the history of the franchise. I cannot put into numbers the value he has brought to this club. I believe he should be a Hall of Famer, even though his pure numbers may not indicate that. Molina had a pretty impressive season in 2016 as well, so he hasn’t hit his mid-30’s wall just yet.
Carson Kelly is (will be) ready
Yadier Molina is still under contract with the Cardinals for one season, plus I believe they will (and should) exercise the mutual option for 2018. This gives Carson Kelly two years to familiarize himself with Major League Baseball. Even though he has already been given a small cup of coffee, he will begin the 2017 season with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. He will likely see more MLB time later in 2017. 2018 should be the transition year where you start to see Kelly taking more starts from behind the plate, even if you think Yadi is still #1.
In my opinion, Carson Kelly will be an above average defensive catcher (not comparing him to Molina) and slightly above average on offense (comparable to Molina). Kelly is the heir apparent and Cards fans should not worry about a drop off from then 36-year old Yadier Molina to then 24-year old Carson Kelly.
Save the money
Say you want to extend Yadier Molina after the 2017 season for three years at $20 million as Dan Buffa of KSDK Sports suggested. Could the Cardinals afford to pay Yadi that much? Probably with the new television deal. My fear is that it would limit the amount of money they spend in other places, third base for example. After the 2017 season, the Cardinals lose Jhonny Peralta. This means you are stuck with Jedd Gyorko at third base in 2018. While he is a great fill-in starter, I don’t think Gyorko should be an everyday player. Save the $15 mil and get yourself a future third sacker as the minor league system lacks a MLB quality third baseman.
Would Matheny play him too much?
Let’s go back to Dan Buffa’s plan of a 3 year/ $60 million extension for 2018, 2019, and 2020. If you think Carson Kelly will be ready by 2018 and likely will be a better option than Molina in 2019 and 2020, would Manager Mike Matheny make the switch for the last two years of the extension? Judging by past history, I would say no. This worries me more than the money. You may have a hole behind the plate with a perfectly fine — see better — option backing up the future HOF’er.
It seems like General Manager John Mozeliak has made moves recently to limit the moves the manager can make, like trading Allen Craig or pushing Kolten Wong‘s name out there so much this off-season. A simple solution to this certain problem would be to not extend Molina.
History is not on his side
I decided to do some research on Hall of Fame catchers and when their career’s really started to tail off. Now, I understand that a lot of what Yadi brings to the table can’t be measured, but there has to be a point where the poor performance statistically weighs more than the intangibles.
Let’s first look at future HOF’er Ivan Rodriguez. From 1992 to 2006 Pudge had a fWAR above 2.0 every season. From 1993 to 2006 he had a wRC+ higher than 90. In 2007, Rodriguez had a 1.5 fWAR and an 82 wRC+. That was his age 35 season and the snowball keeps rolling from that point.
Current HOF’er Mike Piazza is a different beast as he kept hitting up until the end, but his defense went pretty quickly. Throughout his career, Piazza mostly had positive defensive ratings, that is up until 2004, his age 35 season.
The last catcher we will look at is another HOF’er, Gary Carter. Carter’s drop happened pretty drastically in 1987. He went from fWARs of 3.8, 6.7, and 7.1 the three years before to 1.4, 1.0, and -0.1 from ’87 on. Carter’s offense also went as he went from a wRC+ of 115 in 1986 to an 84 wRC+ in ’87. 1987 was his age 33 season.
Yadier Molina has caught more innings per season than the three catchers listed above and their declines started around age 35. Molina will turn 35 in July of upcoming season, meaning that 2018 would be his age 35 season, if we are using the same standard. With the extra mileage on his legs than those above, I would bet that we will see a sharp decline this season.
This will not be a popular move amongst Cardinal Nation, but it is a necessary move if the Cardinals want to compete with the rising Cubs. The Cardinals have shown a willingness to part with fan favorite Matt Holliday so there is precedent, although Holliday isn’t on Molina’s level.
How crazy am I? Let me know what you think by commenting below!