In St. Louis, we’ve spent much of the last two major league seasons espousing the virtues of Yadier Molina’s ability. If he wasn’t the best catcher in baseball, he certainly was in the top two with Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.
Well, now Yadi’s greatness has gone national. In the Sunday Boston Globe, national baseball writer Nick Cafardo wrote a story with the headline “Yadier Molina is a player to build around.” In the story, Cafardo interviewed 30 MLB front-office people, asking them, “Which player would you build your team around, regardless of age or experience?” The majority selected Molina as the guy if they were starting a team.
In Cafardo’s poll of 30 owners, general managers, scouts, players and coaches, 14 selected Molina, five took Posey, and the rest of the votes were split. Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado got two, as did Mike Trout of the Angels and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. Getting one vote each were Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and Baltimore’s Manny Machado, and starters Justin Verlander of the Tigers, Matt Harvey of the Mets and Felix Hernandez of Seattle.
There are a couple of remarkable aspects to Molina being the choice. First, of course, is how far he’s come offensively. When he arrived in 2004, Molina was already superb defensively, and has gotten better. In his first three seasons, Molina hit .238 with 16 homers and 113 RBIs in 937 at-bats. In those years, he never had an on-base percentage above .300. Since then, he’s hit .299 with nearly 10 homers and 56 RBI per season. As importantly, Molina has cut way down on the number of outs he makes. After having on-base percentages of .329, .295 and .274 in his first three years, he’s had OBPs of .340, .349, .366, .329, .349, .373 last year and .403 this season. His patience at the plate has risen dramatically. His ascent offensively has been superb.
For most of Molina’s career when polls like these were taken, he wouldn’t have even been voted the best player on his own team. Of course, Albert Pujols owned that distinction, and rightfully so. But in Cafardo’s poll, up-the-middle defenders seem to have seized the day. Of the seven position players that received first-place votes, four were middle-of-the-field defenders, with Machado an eventual shortstop and Trout an eventual center fielder. So of the seven players receiving votes, only Triple Crown winner Cabrera is a long-term corner player.
Catcher is clearly the most important defensive position on the field, because a guy like Molina controls the pitching staff and touches the ball on every play. And Molina is acclaimed as the best defensive catcher of his generation, let alone as the best ever by the likes of Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan.
This is another amazing aspect to being a fan of Cardinal baseball. Think about the last 70-plus years. From 1941 until 1963, Stan Musial was one of the three or four best players in the game. He played with Hall of Famers like Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter. In 1958, Bob Gibson arrived to start his HOF career, and the year after Stan retired, Lou Brock arrived on the scene. Along with Brock and Gibson, Cards fans got to watch Ken Boyer and Orlando Cepeda win MVPs. Then it was Keith Hernandez, Bruce Sutter and Ozzie Smith, and on to Mark McGwire and Pujols. If you’ve been a Cardinal fan, you’ve always had the opportunity to watch some of the best players in baseball.
Yadier Molina continues that storied tradition, and deservedly is thought of as the best player in the game right now. It’s great that the rest of baseball is noticing.