Yadier Molina has set Opening Day as the deadline to reach a contract extension with the Cardinals, the catcher tells MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch (Twitter links) and other reporters. Like most players, Molina doesn’t want to be distracted by negotiations dragging on into the season. If a new deal isn’t reached, the longtime St. Louis star said he isn’t afraid to hit the open market.
The two sides began preliminary talks about a new deal over a month ago, and Cards GM John Mozeliak said last week that the team would be open to continuing discussions into the season, since the Cardinals “are not a deadline organization, historically.” It seems as if the Cardinals are trying to be as flexible as possible in handling Molina’s extension case, perhaps a wise tactic when determining the future production of a workhorse catcher who turns 35 in July.
Molina has already signed two extensions with the Cardinals during his career, and is entering the last guaranteed season of a five-year, $75MM pact. (That deal contains a $15MM mutual option for 2018 with a $2MM buyout, though like most mutual options, it seems quite unlikely to be exercised.) It’s hard to argue that the catcher hasn’t been worth that investment, as Molina has hit .296/.341/.412 since the start of the 2013 season while generating 12.1 fWAR and has continued to provide his customary strong defense behind the plate. While Molina’s performance dipped a bit in 2015, he bounced back to hit .307/.360/.427 over 581 PA last season.
While the Cardinals have extended certain veteran stars (such as Molina himself and Adam Wainwright) rather than letting them test free agent waters, the club has also been willing to let franchise icons leave — i.e. Albert Pujols — if it feels the cost will be too prohibitive. While Molina obviously won’t require nearly as massive a commitment as Pujols, there aren’t many catchers who have remained both healthy and productive enough to merit an eight-figure annual salary into their mid-to-late 30’s.
Molina, for his part, tells Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other reporters that he isn’t close to the end of his career. “I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me,” Molina said. “I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid.” Molina’s remarkable durability notwithstanding, the Cardinals could explore extending Molina and then using him at first base in future years to keep him fresh and to ease top prospect Carson Kelly into catching duties.