Can Molina last: Pondering the effect of the $75 million man -

Can Molina last: Pondering the effect of the $75 million man

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

(Baseball StL) -- While Monday marked the beginning of a new season for the Cardinals, perhaps the most intriguing storyline has slipped through the cracks all spring. 

Yadier Molina started the first season of his monster five-year, $75 million extension when he got off the plane in Arizona, and from the first pitch on, all eyes should be on the star catcher's durability. 

Molina has appeared in a major-league-leading 553 games in the past four seasons. His lowest season total in that stretch was 136 games 2010. 

There's no question he has the talent; but at 30 years old, a catcher playing that many games- especially in the grueling Missouri summer heat- is bound to wear down. 

If Molina can't keep up his 135+ appearances, one has to wonder what it means for an already unsure team. Tony Cruz, while a serviceable backup, represents a major drop off in both defensive stability and offensive production from behind the plate. 

Beyond the numbers, the four-time All-Star is a steady presence on the field. With a (relatively) green rotation and an even more unproven bullpen, losing the senior leader of the squad would make for a rocky road for the pitching staff. 

The Cards were already battered by injury in 2012, and 2013 has started off in the same vein with Carpenter, Furcal, Motte and Freese all scratched before opening day. 

Furcal and Carp are done for the year (Carp seemingly finished for his career) and Motte is a question mark who could be absent anywhere from a few weeks to most of the season depending on how his elbow responds.   

Molina not only carries the burden of leadership in Carpenter's absence, he also carries the weight of that extension along with his gear into the hot St. Louis sun. 

All this could be worrying for worrying's sake, but with that much money on the table and that many question marks, it's certainly worth consideration. 

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