Franchise icon Yadier Molina is hoping to work out a contract extension with the Cardinals that keeps him in St. Louis for 2022, he tells Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Molina’s representatives at MDR Sports Management are expected to be in contact with the team relatively soon, Goold reports.
Molina, who is scheduled to reach free agency at the end of the season, tells Goold he’s hoping to play one more year with the Cardinals. The 39-year-old didn’t explicitly say he’d only play for St. Louis, although he did note he considered retirement last offseason amidst some uncertainty about his future with the organization. Molina remained on the open market until early February, fielding some offers from other clubs before returning to the Cardinals on a one-year, $9MM deal. He’s clearly hoping to avoid duplicating that scenario, calling his free agent stay “a tough time” and saying it would be “awesome … to get something done early” this time around.
It seems likely the Cardinals would have interest in brining Molina back. He’s the longest-tenured active MLB player with his current team, having debuted with the Cardinals in June 2004. Molina’s one of the greatest players in franchise history and looks likely to wind up in the Hall of Fame. As with starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, who re-signed for a sixteenth season with St. Louis last offseason, Molina has earned himself a sort of legendary status in the organization. That no doubt plays into the front office’s willingness to keep bringing Molina back, but that’s not to diminish his continued on-field contributions.
Obviously, the ten-time All-Star is no longer the caliber of player he was at his peak. Molina has remained reasonably productive, though, even at his advanced age. The right-handed hitter has put up a .254/.295/.381 line with eight home runs in 319 plate appearances this season, not far off the league average .227/.307/.390 mark for catchers around the league. Despite some nagging health concerns, he’s started 80 of the club’s 107 games behind the plate and ranks sixth leaguewide in plate appearances as a catcher.
It’s a similar story behind the plate. Molina has long been regarded as the sport’s preeminent defensive catcher. Pitch framing metrics suggest he’s now closer to average in that regard, but Molina has cut down a whopping 42.1% of attempted base stealers. By measure of Defensive Runs Saved, he’s been estimated as three runs above average — before accounting for his long-lauded but unquantifiable game calling and leadership acumen.
Should Molina ultimately re-sign, he’d figure to again assume the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate. The Cardinals have Andrew Knizner and Ali Sánchez on the 40-man roster as potential backup options. Top prospect Iván Herrera is also on the 40-man and has picked up his first extended playing time at Double-A this season. Herrera could be a factor at some point in 2022 but he’s been more decent than great in the minors this year (.221/.351/.361 over 302 plate appearances). The organization could prefer to give Herrera, who turned 21 in June, extended playing time at Triple-A Memphis next season before breaking him into the majors later in the year in hopes of his assuming the #1 job by 2023.
Regardless of the long-term succession plan, it seems there’ll be mutual interest between the Cardinals and Molina in moving relatively quickly on an extension to avoid a repeat of last winter’s stalemate. Getting a deal done this summer would solidify the Cards’ catching situation for 2022 while guaranteeing a beloved player returns for his nineteenth — and likely final — season in St. Louis.