JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- If there were any questions about where the Cardinals and Yadier Molina stood on the issue of a contract extension, they were answered Saturday.
The longtime backstop and eight-time Gold Glove winner laid everything bare in his first conversations since returning to camp from the World Baseball Classic. He feels like too many catchers make more money than he does. He’d love to stay a Cardinal. He’s also not scared in the least to test his value on the open market should it come to that. Most importantly he wants this settled soon. When asked if he would be willing to negotiate an extension during the season, he was clear.
“No,” he told reporters. “I want to concentrate on my game. I want to help their team, my team, to win a championship.”
Molina is the fourth-highest paid catcher going into 2017. He will make $14.2 million this season, just $200,000 more than Miguel Montero of the Cubs. Buster Posey, who beat him out for the Gold Glove last season, makes $22.2 million and is the highest paid at the position.
The next two richest catchers are Russell Martin ($20M) and Brian McCann ($17M). While Martin and McCann bring substantial offensive upside, Molina is closer to Posey in terms of having an all-encompassing skill set.
Both men are gifted receivers with throwing arms that neutralize opposing running games. Both have hit for robust averages. Posey has more power in his bat, but Molina is considered the best defensive catcher in the game, and especially good at shepherding pitching staffs.
So it’s fair to say Molina wants something close to what his closest comp is earning.
“Certainly you can understand why he has a feeling of that. He's been an elite catcher for a long time,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Saturday.
Molina has expressed his desire to finish his career in St. Louis many times. At the Winter Warm-up, he talked about the rarity of players getting the opportunity to play every game in the same uniform. Saturday he had the same refrain.
“It would be cool. It would be awesome for me and my family. That would be great. But it’s not in my hands,” he told media members.
Sure, Molina could take a discount. Accepting a lesser offer to stay in St. Louis is, technically, in his hands. Expecting him to do so is outlandish. This will be his last contract and he’s seeking every dollar of what he believes his market value is. If the Cardinals don’t feel comfortable with the ask, he’s willing to bet one of the other 29 teams do.
This puts the Cardinals in tricky spot, as Molina has tremendous value to the franchise. He’s been a part of two World Series championships and, along with Adam Wainwright, is the face of St. Louis’ biggest sports entity.
Molina is not only one of the most gifted catchers of his generation, he’s a fan favorite. He sells tickets and moves jerseys. He’s a gift shop goldmine. Few players have such supplementary value to their franchise and the Cardinals are certainly aware of the effect Molina wearing another team’s uniform could have on the fan base.
Loyalty between employer and employee rarely supersedes financial self-preservation, but this may be an exception. Perhaps that’s why, despite a bit of brinksmanship on the part of Molina, Mozeliak was settled Saturday.
“I've known Yadi's agent for a long time. We've talked for years over things. I think I'm not worried about the deadline,” the GM said. “If we want to get something done, we have time.”
Molina said he hasn’t demanded a certain amount of years on the deal, which indicates his primary concern is likely a higher AAV. That’s a pool the Cardinals are comfortable wading in, given their history of paying more money for less years.
They also aren’t paying solely for the name. Molina’s recent WBC run caught the eye of many, but his 2016 is still ringing in the front office’s ears. After trending downward in 2014 and 2015 while fighting injuries, Molina rebounded with a .307/.360/.427 slash line while catching 1,218 innings, the most in the majors by a wide margin. He appears to have staved off the decline that awaits most catchers in their mid-30s.
“We wouldn't be having these discussions if we didn’t think he could play catcher,” Mozeliak said.
Molina believes he has many years left in the tank. All recent examples paint a similar picture, which is partly why he wants this settled before the season begins. Every game played in the regular season is a risk- either in the form of injury or underperformance.
The Cardinals have the game’s top catching prospect, Carson Kelly, in Memphis. But prospects are just that, and despite his quick rise over the last two seasons, Kelly is not yet ready for everyday MLB playing time. His bat is still developing and he didn’t become a catcher until after he was drafted. He needs reps.
The Cardinals can’t bank on him being ready for full-time deployment should Molina have another strong campaign and push his value past their price range.
This window, whether it’s set in stone or not, is the cleanest opportunity for both sides to get ink on paper.
“Clearly the clock is ticking. I get that,” Mozeliak said. “I will make sure I get with his agent in the next day or two and get a sense of if there's a possibility.”
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