Yadier Molina exudes excellence and personifies the Cardinal Way. He’s one of the best and most durable catchers in the game. He’s coming off a year in which he slashed a robust .307/.360/.427 and continued to earn plaudits for his work behind the plate and guidance of the pitching staff.
So, the three-year, $60MM deal he just signed to stay with the Cardinals through 2020 would seem at first glance to be a slam dunk. It’s a top-of-the-market AAV for a catcher, true, but also just a three-year commitment. For a player who’s an arguable Hall-of-Famer and undisputed franchise icon — and, reputedly, a clubhouse leader without peer — it seems like an easy gamble to make.
On the other hand, Molina will turn 35 in the middle of the season that just kicked off. He hasn’t hit double-digit home runs since 2013, which is also the last time his isolated slugging mark exceeded .120. Molina’s surge at the plate last year was fueled by a career-high .335 BABIP. His defensive productivity seems likely to slow down at least somewhat as the wear and tear catches up; his durability is a feather in the cap, on the one hand, but he has also logged 1,583 games behind the dish (including today’s game) in the majors.
Consider, too, the opportunity cost. Around this time last year, the division-rival Pirates got Francisco Cervelli — then on the heels of an outstanding 2015 season and having just begun his age-30 campaign — to agree to a three-year deal at nearly half ($31MM) the guarantee Molina received. While Molina certainly has a claim to receiving the league’s top annual salary for a catcher, it’s tough to promise that rate at his age, and it’ll certainly tie up payroll that could’ve gone elsewhere. Remember, too, that the Cards have one of the game’s best catching prospects in Carson Kelly waiting in the wings at Triple-A.
There’s a middle ground here, of course. Molina has always been fairly reliant on batting average to reach base, because he doesn’t walk all that much. But he has continued to carry an outstanding contact rate and showed no signs of slowing in that regard in 2016. While the power won’t likely return to even average levels, perhaps he can keep hitting at a solid-enough rate so long as he maintains his hand-eye coordination. Likewise, the dark arts of the catcher — receiving, blocking, throwing, calling pitches, and managing a staff — are perhaps more dependent upon a blend of mental acuity, hard-earned experience, and ingrained reflexes than are the tools of any other position. And Kelly’s presence can be seen as a positive; perhaps he’ll help keep Molina fresh while learning from the game’s top catching sensei. The Cardinals have acted to lock up other core players to more manageable salaries, so the team can probably afford a bit of an extravagance to keep a key veteran who’ll provide continuity and unrivaled leadership.
So, there are several ways to characterize this signing. How do you view it? (Link for app users.)