The Gold Glove awards that were announced Tuesday may have failed to wipe away the entire stench of that NLCS defeat to the San Francisco Giants. However, the annual honors did yield yet another notch in Yadier Molina’s belt of trophies.
In winning his seventh consecutive Gold Glove, Molina becomes just the third catcher to capture at least seven in a row. (Pudge Rodriguez and Johnny Bench won 10 each.) A thumb injury limited him to only 110 games, his fewest since 2004, but he still paced NL catchers by gunning out 47 percent of would-be basestealers. From a strictly St. Louis perspective, the guy’s already the best to ever do it at his position. And he may well go down as the finest backstopper in the history of the game, period.
Having said that, time waits for no man. Molina is 32 years old. At a certain point, age will become an issue. The Cardinals, for the greater good of the organization, must protect themselves accordingly.
Enter several options on the free-agent market. No disrespect to Tony Cruz, but after seeing No. 48 get an extended amount of action during Molina’s summer absence, my confidence in him disappeared.
A.J. Pierzynski, at age 37, isn’t walking back through that door to be your backup catcher in 2015. It’s time to go outside the organization for a solution.
The available targets won’t necessarily come cheap, but they’ll make you a feel a lot better should something else sideline Molina. Let’s start with David Ross, who made $3.1 million last season. Despite a .184 batting average, he managed to jack seven homers in 152 at-bats for a woeful Boston team. Even more important, he is known for calling great games and working well with pitchers. Ross’ lone drawback, aside from advancing age: He could be mulling a full-time TV offer.
Keep it in the American League, then. Nick Hundley was invaluable to the Baltimore Orioles when Matt Wieters went down, batting .243 with six homers and 22 RBIs before bottoming out in the playoffs. He previously displayed some decent pop as a member of the San Diego Padres, too. Yet Hundley’s only 31, and some squad could emerge from the woodwork with the promise of regular starts.
Thankfully, you might have the luxury of an old friend to save the day. Gerald Laird is unlikely to return to the Braves, for whom he occasionally hit in the top half of the order last year. Before his recent stints with Atlanta and Detroit, though, Laird spent the 2011 campaign in the Gateway City. He played in just 37 contests, posting a .232 average and 12 RBIs, but the familiarity factor can’t be disregarded.
Will some or all of these guys somehow land starting gigs elsewhere? Doubtful, but not everyone is fated to be a high-end backup once the spring rolls around. If the Redbirds move soon, they’ll have addressed one of the few question marks on a club that seems custom-built for a deep run next October.