There have been rumors that the St. Louis Cardinals and Yadier Molina are working on a contract extension that will keep the 39-year-old under contract through the 2022 season at least. Given Molina’s attitude, Mike Shildt’s willingness to put him in the lineup nearly every day, and John Mozeliak’s statement that Ivan Herrera is the long-term future at catcher, it is not surprising that the Cardinals are looking to extend Molina. Given his performance, though, it is unclear how much more Molina has left in the tank.
If Molina is adamant on playing in 2022, then the Cardinals will likely try to work something out with him as it is highly unlikely that the organization will allow him to play for any team besides St. Louis. Additionally, the Cardinals will want to have any long term money tied down at the catcher position with Ivan Herrera likely being ready to make his MLB debut in 2023. As a result, it will be difficult for the Cardinals to attract a starting caliber catcher in the offseason.
The team will still need someone to suit up behind the plate in 2022 while Herrera develops further in the minor leagues. Due to this, a contract extension for Molina is not a bad idea, despite his relative ineffectiveness this season.
However, if he is brought back for the 2022 season, then his role must diminish. The 39-year-old got off to a hot start but then posted a 42 wRC+ in June and a 52 wRC+ in July. He has done better in five games so far in August, but it is still early in the month.
It seems more likely that Molina would play better with more days off. Additionally, at this point in his career, he may be better served as someone who splits time with another catcher. If he comes back next season then this is what should happen with him and Andrew Knizner.
It is true that Andrew Knizner has struggled this season as the 26-year is batting just .190 with a 69 wRC+. Despite his struggles at the plate, he has not been overmatched at the big league level as Knizner has struck out in just 19.4% of his plate appearances. This is an increase from the minor leagues when he typically stuck out in around 13% of his plate appearances, but this is still a strong strikeout rate and shows that he can make consistent contact against MLB pitching. He has also walked in 13.7% of his plate appearances and has an above average chase rate and whiff rate. This speaks to his plate discipline as well as his ability to make contact.
When these stats are combined with his history of hitting throughout the minor leagues, it seems that Knizner has the ability to be a productive major league hitter, despite his overall struggles in St. Louis.
The fact that he has struggled to receive consistent playing time could be a reason that he is yet to develop into a consistent hitter. It is difficult for a hitter to find his timing and get in a rhythm when he is not playing very often. In fact, Knizner has only started consecutive games one time this season – July 23 through July 25 against the Reds – and he went a combined 3-for-7 with six walks.
With more consistent playing time, he should be able to find a rhythm and Molina should be able to rest his body enough to play well when he is on the field.
Andrew Knizner’s ineffectiveness should not be held against him too much. In Carson Kelly’s first 63 games with the Cardinals across three seasons, he posted -0.9 fWAR. He did not play consistently and struggled immensely at the plate. After being traded to Arizona, though, he became a solid, above average hitter as a starting catcher.
Obviously these two players are not the exact same. Kelly was a higher regarded prospect due to his stronger abilities behind the plate, but Knizner also tore through the minor leagues and was productive at every level. With Molina nearing age 40 and Herrera still 21 years old and struggling a bit in Double-A, Andrew Knizner deserves a chance for more playing time.
It is unlikely that this will happen now, but next season the Cardinals and Molina need to come to an agreement about a reduced role for Molina.
If Knizner receives an increased role, then he could break out next season. If this happens, then it provides insurance for the Cardinals in case Ivan Herrera struggles in the upper levels of the minors or loses some of his prospect status. A larger role for Knizner next season also gives the Cardinals the chance to improve at the catcher position, because it is unlikely that Molina will improve at age 40.
Finally, keeping Molina allows the Cardinals to have insurance in case Knizner cannot handle a larger role next season. It is unlikely that a good starting catcher will come to the Cardinals in the offseason on a short term contract due to Ivan Herrera being labeled the future of the position. Thus, a contract extension can help both sides. Molina can still satisfy his desire to continue playing while the Cardinals can begin to transition away from him. Even with Molina on the roster next season (if he signs an extension), the Cardinals should give Knizner a real chance to prove that he belongs at the major league level and can play a larger role on a winning team.