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The St. Louis Cardinals should not extend Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina

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.

Conclusion

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!

John Nagel
@CardinalsFarm

 

John
Father, husband, teacher who currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Grew up in St. Louis and has been a huge Cards fan as long as I can remember.
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  • Jessica Gruver

    While it makes sense what you have said. I don’t want to even think about it

    • Yeah I agree with you Jessica.

      • Jessica Gruver

        Yadi is basically the lone player left out of the core I fell in love with. Don’t get me wrong I love my birds no matter what but the core that was will never be again. And the thought of Yadi not being on the team anymore is enough to depress me!

        • Montu Masters

          Baseball careers last about 10-12 years, on average. Personally, I have seen several turnovers with “Beloved Core Players”. Gibson, Brock, Flood, McCarver, Ankiel, Vina, Sanders, Eckstein, Mulder, Glaus, Edmonds……off the top of my head.

          Yes, I miss seeing them play, but excellent younger players came along and gave us “new core players”.

          Matt Carpenter is no kid, so if you want to look for a core player to lean on for the future….look at Diaz, Piscotty, Grichuk, C-Mart, Weaver…..and then players like Kelly, Reyes, and possibly Bader (jury still out on which way he goes, I think) or Sierra.

          I’m nor suggesting that we “toss Yadi aside” by any stretch of the imagination…..just that “players fade….and retire”, and that there ARE replacement studs in the system…..LOL

          • James Berry

            You included Vina, Glaus and Sanders but left out Simba and McGee??? You’re fired. lol

          • Montu Masters

            You got me there!!! (I did say “Off the Top of My Head…..lol)
            But you probably will agree with my “Main Point”…….Core Players “Come & Go”…..

  • Chris

    I don’t care I want Yadi a Cardinal for life. Even if he has to become an over paid back up. You don’t see players hardly anymore stay with a team their entire career and it’s fit ting as big as Molina has been to the organization that his last game behind the plate, the last game he ever plays as a professional is with the Birds on the Bat across his chest. The DeWitt’s havery the money and no better person to make sure Carson learns the right way than Yadi.

    • Montu Masters

      The writer talks about the dynamic in the dugout, if Yadi is extended for a ton of money (3 yrs/$60 mil). One of Nagel’s main points is that Matheny might not distribute time “properly”, and feel obligated to play Yadi too often, compromising the Cards ability to win games, and affecting the development of Kelly.

      I’ve watched too many Great Athletes “play too long”. I never want to think that with Yadi. If he’s willing to sign the mutual option in 2018 and agrees to something like a 50/50 timeshare with Kelly (for 2018), and he’ll sign a 1 year deal for 2019 (for a reasonable price) and is willing to be a backup (as James Berry laid out in another comment)…..then I think that offers the best option. Extend him each year, subject to his ability to pinch-hit and produce. 3/$60 million is Far Too Much to pay him at this point…….IMHO

  • wileyvet

    John Nagel; you are hereby convicted of High Treason to the Cardinal Nation. Kelly has accomplished nothing in the majors yet. He will surely benefit from the tutelage of Molina as he integrates into the majors. Yadier is one of the greats of his generation. You don’t just drop him, unless you’re Larussa. Ozzie Smith earned the right to go out on his terms and so has Molina. The Molina brothers have all been tough SOB’s with great endurance. Yadi’s body will break down at some point, but the man has great pride and he’s smart enough to know when to say ‘when’. He stays! Carson Kelly’s playing time will increase over time, but not until he has proven beyond doubt that its a better contribution then what Yadier can provide. Yadier Molina is one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. He has been a terrific mentor to other Cardinal hitters and pitchers. In fact, he has been the best unofficial pitching coach in baseball for a decade and you’d be hard-pressed to find any former/current Cardinal pitcher who would say otherwise. He is the ‘General’ on the field, he controls his own team’s performance and that of the opposition in a way few others could imagine and without the steroid help that Piazza and Rodriguez required. Carson Kelly may be the Steve Young to our Joe Montana, but not until Yadier Molina says its time and he’s earned that right.
    Kudos to you though Mr. Nagel for having the guts to stand in front of a firing squad and telling them they ‘at their age, they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn door.’

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  • James Berry

    It’s a brave stance you’ve taken.

    I also have that stance. I’m a big fan of Yadi, every bit as much as most every other Cards fan. But there has to be an end point. One that neither hamstrings the team nor keeps Yadi around to where he is a mere shadow of himself. I, of course, am also of the belief that he is HoF worthy at this point and time. It will be sad when Yadi has played his last game, but it will happen. I’d much rather that happen while his skills are still relatively good, as opposed to watching yet another beloved player take the field highly eroded.

    My suggestion is, pick up the option for 2018 and sign Yadi to a 1 year extension for 2019…on the premises that he understands there is a changing of the guard.Let him know and understand that in 2018 playing time will be basically a 50/50 arrangement with Kelly. Also, if things continue as planned, Kelly will be the #1 catcher in 2019 with Yadi serving as a true back up. Which means, Matheny, or whoever is the manager at that time, use him as a true back up by getting him 40 or so games behind the plate. Over these years, he can absolutely spot start at 1st as well.

    • Travis Branson

      I agree with you James…that’s how I see it…If Yadi can handle it then he can eventually become the back up and spot start at first…at this point he might actually become the first baseman lol but that is what I am hoping…a fairy tale ending with him becoming the pitching coach

      • James Berry

        I’m undecided if i’d rather see him as the PC at St. Louis, or the man in charge of pitching and catching throughout the organization.

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  • Kenneth

    Couple things
    If we do happen to extend Yadi, I don’t think it’ll be anywhere close to 20M a year. His last contract he signed was back in 2013 for 5 years, 75M when he was just coming off an MVP caliber season.
    Going by Fangraphs’ WAR converted to a $$$ scale system he’s been worth around 30M the past two years combined which obviously averages 15M a year so he’s obviously well worth what he’s being paid now but I think he’d get like 9-10M if he were on the open market today and I think he’s the type of guy who would be willing to give a hometown discount.
    If he wants 20M a year, which I don’t think is good value nor do I think that is realistic, I don’t want to extend him.
    If he wants what I think is more realistic, 7M-12M, then yes I would take him back and extend him.

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