Considering his murky contract status beyond 2017, there’s an outside possibility catcher Yadier Molina is entering his final season with the Cardinals. Molina will make $14MM this year, the last guaranteed season of his contract, and then he and the Cardinals will have a decision to make on a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout) for 2018. However, the two sides are motivated to stay together and are considering hammering out an agreement to render Molina’s option moot, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
“It has been something that we have talked about in terms of what that might look like,” said general manager John Mozeliak. “But when you talk about extensions … I think it’s always best to keep that internal. But not to acknowledge that he has a year left with a mutual option wouldn’t be fair either. So I think as we look at ’17, it’s certainly something we have to think through. He’s made it no secret that he would like to find a way to stay here, and I would imagine that it’s something that we will mutually try to do.”
It’s no surprise that Molina and the Redbirds are mulling extending their relationship, given both his status as a franchise icon and his still-strong production. Now 34, Molina debuted with the Cardinals in 2004 and has been building what could end up as a Hall of Fame-caliber resume ever since. The ultra-durable Molina is coming off yet another terrific season behind the plate, one in which he amassed at least 130 appearances (a career-high 147, including a league-best 142 at catcher) for the seventh time in the past eight years. Along the way, he once again ranked as an elite pitch framer (via Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner) and blocker, though he only threw out 21 percent of attempted base stealers (exactly half his 42 percent lifetime mark).
Molina has long been a defensive stalwart, of course, but it took several seasons for his offensive production to reach the position’s upper echelon. Aside from a down 2015, though, Molina has been consistently above average at the plate dating back to 2011. In 581 plate appearances last season, the high-contact hitter batted .307/.360/.427 while striking out in only 10.8 percent of PAs – just under half the rate of the 21.2 percent league mean.
With no apparent signs that Molina is poised to markedly decline, it appears his future in St. Louis will last at least another couple seasons, though his next deal obviously won’t approach the five-year, $75MM extension he signed in 2012. In the improbable event he and the Cardinals part ways next offseason, it would likely pave the way for the Carson Kelly era. In the meantime, the 22-year-old is ticketed for Triple-A Memphis in 2017, while veteran Eric Fryer stands to serve as Molina’s backup. Judging by Molina’s history, Fryer won’t see much action this year.