Over the course of the last week, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and his brother Bengie have said, among other things, that; 1) Yadier wants to end his career as a Cardinal, 2) wants a four-year contract, 3) wants to be the highest paid catcher in baseball, 4) and isn’t afraid of testing free agency.
And, Yadi added over the weekend, if he isn’t signed by opening day on April 2, he isn’t going to negotiate anymore and will test free agency for the first time.
The first three items are fair and reasonable. If the first one isn’t attainable, then the fourth one is reasonable, too. And if he REALLY wants to end his career as a Cardinal, then the last one is ridiculous.
The last time the Cardinals had a Hall of Fame quality player start and end his career wearing the Birds on the Bat was 42 years ago, when Bob Gibson retired in 1975. Lou Brock and Bruce Sutter both started with the Cubs, with Sutter finishing up in Atlanta. Ozzie Smith started out with the Padres. Whitey Herzog and Tony LaRussa both managed elsewhere before St. Louis. Red Schoendienst wore another uniform. Heck, Albert Pujols left, too. Gibson and Stan Musial are the only Cardinal Hall of Famers that have never worn another MLB jersey, so Molina doing so would be a huge sentimental boost for the franchise and its fans.
Molina turns 35 on July 13, and I don’t know what context he has for a four-year contract. If he wants the Cardinals to tear up his current deal and provide a four-year contract that runs through 2020, in my mind that shouldn’t be a problem. Now, if he wants a four-year deal that starts NEXT year, that’s different.
The reality of this situation is that the Cards have the number one catching prospect in baseball in Carson Kelly, a guy a lot of observers think should be catching in the majors in 2017. But if Molina gets a four-year deal and is the number one catcher this year, and then gradually cedes time to Kelly over the final three years of his deal, that would be ideal for the club. Holding back Kelly for five years, to me, is a little too long.
Is Molina going to be willing to eventually take a back seat to his successor? That’s a question that chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and General Manager John Mozeliak must get answered before they can move forward. IF Molina is amenable to a four-year deal that starts this season and is OK with the idea of mentoring Kelly, another box is checked.
Bengie Molina said last week in The Fast Lane on 101 ESPN that Yadier definitely wants to be the highest paid catcher in the game, and wants to be paid for what he has done for the club rather than what he’s going to do. Neither of those are unreasonable requests. For several years in the past, Molina has been the best catcher in the game but wasn’t the highest paid.
Buster Posey of San Francisco is scheduled to make $21.4 million a year through 2021. Russell Martin of Toronto is due $20 million in each of the next three seasons. Houston’s Brian McCann is signed for $17 million in ’17 and ’18. Could the Cardinals give Molina a deal that provides him $22 million in each of the next two years, and then $11 million in the final two years, when he turns 37 and 38 and has already agreed to less playing time? Absolutely. A four year, $66 million deal is worthy of a future Hall of Famer that can do and has done what Yadi can and has.
The Cardinals can’t answer whether or not Molina desperately wants to test free agency. He never has, and this will be his only opportunity to do so. Derek Jeter went into free agency near the end of his career in 2010 at the age of 36, and wound up with a three year, $51 million contract to stay with the Yankees. Catcher Jorge Posada hit free agency in 2007 at 35 and returned to the Yankees on a four year, $52.4 million deal. Tony Gwynn became a free agent in 2000 and returned to the Padres, and Cal Ripken never made it to free agency. It’s Molina’s right to see what the interest and his value is. As he has said, its business. I would hope that there’s no bitterness if he decides to move on, because he’s right, it’s just business.
Molina’s approach may have changed during the current five year, $75 million contract he signed in 2013, but he did agree to this mutual option after this season. If he REALLY wants to end his career with the Cardinals…with a deal of this magnitude…he should give them a chance to sign him during the season. Jim Edmonds signed a contract during the season. Ozzie did. Mark McGwire did. If he wants to stay in St. Louis, then he should give the Cardinals an honest opportunity to sign him. And if he wants to test free agency, that’s cool too. Just be honest about it.
It behooves the Cardinals to sign Molina. It makes on-field sense…especially with all of the young pitching they have coming through their system along with Kelly…and it makes off-field sense, as we’ve noted above. But there’s only so much the club can do. They need a partner to work out a deal. If Molina wants to be a Cardinal, he probably can. But it’s up to him to be reasonable in remaining one.