The Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are in talks on a one-year extension that would cover the 2022 season, per Katie Woo and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). Molina is earning $9MM on his current one-year contract and is eyeing a guarantee of at least that same amount for next season.
Molina has spoken in the past of playing through his age-40 season, which would be the 2022 campaign. Re-signing him for the 2022 campaign would allow the Cards to use Molina and Andrew Knizner as bridges to catching prospect Ivan Herrera, who’s playing in Double-A as a 21-year-old this season.
Of course, a Molina extension would mean another year of rather sparse usage for the 26-year-old Knizner, who was a fairly well-regarded prospect himself but hasn’t had much of a look in the big leagues thanks to Molina’s heavy workload. Knizner is hitting .177/.295/.257 in 132 plate appearances this year and has just 207 total plate appearances since debuting in 2019.
The 39-year-old Molina, meanwhile, has racked up 353 plate appearances on the season and turned in a .256/.303/.378 batting line with eight home runs and 16 doubles, and he’s even gone 3-for-3 in stolen-base attempts — his first steals since the 2019 campaign. It’s a far cry from his peak production back in 2012, when he turned in an outstanding .315/.373/.501 slash and a career-high 22 home runs in 563 plate appearances, but this year’s production is more or less in line with Molina’s output in 2019-20. Molina’s 86 wRC+ indicates he’s been about 14 percent worse than a league-average hitter over that period of two-plus seasons, but his production is about in line with that of an average Major League catcher.
As usual, Molina has drawn standout marks for his defensive work this season. His 43 percent caught-stealing rate is 17 percent better than the 26 percent league average, and Defensive Runs Saved values him at plus-5 overall. Statcast and FanGraphs feel his framing work has dipped below average, but Molina rates about average in that category over at Baseball Prospectus and has a long track record of excellence in that regard.
Moreover, the Cardinals would surely value Molina’s influence over what can only be a younger pitching staff in 2022. The Cards have relied on a cast of mid- or late-30s starters this summer, due in part to injuries, but next year’s rotation ought to include Jack Flaherty, a returning Dakota Hudson (who’s been out all year after Tommy John surgery) and perhaps touted young arms like Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson. Molina’s experience and general receiving skills would be an obvious bonus to any collection of young arms.
From a payroll vantage point, a contract worth $9MM-plus for Molina shouldn’t hamper the Cards’ ability to add this offseason. They currently have about $90MM in guaranteed contracts on the books, which is nearly $80MM shy of their current payroll. That mark doesn’t include forthcoming arbitration raises for Jack Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler O’Neill or the aforementioned Hudson, but even with those salary boosts the Cardinals will have tens of million in separation from their current payroll level.
It stands to reason that if the Cardinals are serious about hammering out another one-year deal with one franchise cornerstone, they’ll look to do so with the other franchise icon currently on the roster: Adam Wainwright. The 39-year-old right-hander is in the midst of a brilliant season and seemingly showing no signs of slowing down. If he wants to continue his career beyond the current season, the front office will surely explore the possibility of keeping him a lifelong Cardinal.