Cardinals icon Yadier Molina remains in a staredown of sorts with the only team he’s ever known, seeking a two-year deal while the Cards idle amid budgetary uncertainty. Molina noted earlier in the winter that he’s heard from as many as five other clubs, but his preference has clearly been to return to the Cardinals.
Now, in an interview with La Vida Baseball’s Polo Ascencio (hat tip: Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Molina suggests that if he doesn’t receive the right offer, he feels he could retire with his head held high after a terrific 17-year career. Molina made clear that he’s still working out, getting ready as if he’ll play in 2021.
It’s hard to imagine Molina walking away when he’s previously been so adamant about continuing his career, but the Cardinals haven’t been aggressive in their efforts to retain Molina or longtime teammates Adam Wainwright and Kolten Wong — both free agents themselves (Wong after having his 2021 club option declined).
The rest of the market for Molina’s services, meanwhile, may have changed a bit since receiving that early interest. The Mets signed James McCann, taking them out of the market for another catcher. Molina previously mentioned interest from the Padres, but they picked up Victor Caratini from the Cubs. The Yankees are still in a staring contest of their own with DJ LeMahieu and don’t appear willing to spend elsewhere until there’s resolution on that front. The Angels, another club mentioned by Molina himself, could still be a fit but are surely looking at the pitching market and perhaps at J.T. Realmuto, who also remains unsigned. The Phillies would make another on-paper fit, but they, too, are intently waiting to see where Realmuto’s market goes. Goold notes that the Nationals have also been in touch with Molina, but they’ve been focused on adding more thump to their lineup to this point.
At the very least, it seems likely that once Realmuto is off the board, Molina will receive strong one-year interest as the clear best alternative on the market. Whether that pushes the Cardinals or another club toward the two-year term he prefers can’t be known at this time, nor can the level of potential gamesmanship in his comments about retirement be known. However, with about $155MM in career earnings under his belt already, Molina won’t feel financially obligated to simply take the best offer out there if he doesn’t feel he’s being valued appropriately on the market.
There’s no denying that Molina’s bat has tailed off over the past two seasons. He remains extremely difficult to strike out (13 percent) but has posted a combined .268/.310/.388 batting line since Opening Day 2019 — a pronounced decrease from the .282/.330/.434 output he notched from 2016-18. Molina’s bat is still roughly in line with that of the league-average catcher (by measure of wRC+), however, and he’s still revered for his ability to call a game, frame and block pitches, and control baserunners.