Yadier Molina retiring in St. Louis is grand, so the Cardinals need to make 2022 count



Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

The St. Louis Cardinals paid Yadier Molina the proper respect of a legacy player with a one-year contract extension for 2022. The $10 million doesn’t need to be broken down by sabermetric experts; this is indeed the last ride with the immortal “Yadi.”

Molina may be far from the perfect plate package that he was in 2013 when his fWAR (Wins Above Replacement via Fangraphs) was 7.8, but he’s still a plus-player manning one of the toughest positions in pro sports. Granted, the stat kings haven’t exactly cracked the code on attributing a proper one-off value to catchers, but Molina does put a crack in the mold. He collects a record every other week, whether it’s most innings/games/breaths of air by a Cardinal or playoff games appeared in.

This was going to happen all along. It needed to happen. After all, how many franchise legends start and begin their career in St. Louis? A fate that escaped Molina’s best friend, Albert Pujols, but one that he will achieve. It happens with all the drama of a deleted Instagram (where the catcher has enjoyed his fair share of theatrics) selfie taken on a beach. Unlike this past winter, where the franchise icon and team bickered for weeks before coming to an agreement, this new and (maybe?) final contract just… happened.

Here’s the thing. I don’t care about the money as much as some. Molina wasn’t going to take a pay cut unless his 2021 was disastrous, and that hasn’t occurred. While his hard-hit percentage at the plate and overall power remain limited, Molina is still hitting .259 with 24 extra base hits, and he scored his tenth All Star berth this summer. He’s still throwing would-be stealers 43% of the time, while the MLB average is just 25%. What he’s lost in the ability to block pitches, he’s made up for in limiting the running game (at least when Kolten Wong isn’t on the bases).


Pay him $8 million or pay him $12. By the end of the season, via Fangraphs assessment of WAR/contract value, Molina comes out a plus-player. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is playing time because he’s way past the expiration date for full-time catchers. What’s so wrong with a 65-35 split with Ivan Herrera. Let’s face it. If Andrew Knizner is the backup, Molina will start more-and it says absolutely zero about the younger catcher’s talent level. The team doesn’t believe in him. Why else would they re-sign a 39-year-old catcher in August to a sweet deal? Herrera is the real future behind home plate. There is no multi-verse in baseball. Things happen and the result can be unconventional. After all, Molina is still ahead of Father Time on the scorecards–even if the latter is starting to win more rounds.

In allowing a bigger portion of playing time to the backup, Molina stays fresher and will be better. He plays better when he does collect even a little rest. Last time I checked, 17,558.2 innings took a toll. His competitive drive should be bottled and served to every young player entering the big leagues, but every hardcore desire to play must be placed in check. With a 60/40 split-please don’t dream of it being lower, outside of injury-the future gets a sizable debut to provide answers while the icon gets the bigger share and a grand finish.

This is the way it should be. I don’t care about other sports greats splitting their career in two spots or winning titles for two different teams. Molina’s tale is unlike any other, at least from what I’ve watched since the 80s. Also, comparisons are so weak at the point of inspection. The worth of Molina to St. Louis is a value that calculators can’t assess.

Now, the Cardinals just need to make 2022 worth the last ride. With so much money falling off the books, and the eventual reunion of Adam Wainwright with his favorite battery mate, the front office needs to hit the ignition button this coming offseason. Don’t wait until 2023, when the shortstop market isn’t off the charts. Molina got a $1 million raise, so use the Matt Carpenter-Andrew Miller-Carlos Martinez (just to name a few) to refuel the roster for a legitimate postseason run.

I’m not talking about acquiring a big, fancy late Christmas ornament (Nolan Arenado) and sticking it to a troubling team. Get a shortstop, No. 2 starter, and revamp the bench. Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar make for a solid outfield. Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are your corner infielders for the foreseeable future. Nolan Gorman is your second baseman-to-be. Paul DeJong isn’t the answer at shortstop. Plug that hole and make the Molina final drive worth the drama and emotion that will surely become attached as the weeks fall from next year’s schedule.

It’s no secret that Molina’s fire hasn’t exactly been at an extremely high level at times this summer. That’s not an indictment on his play; just an observation. With an inconsistent team and little help from the front office, the player isn’t going to that next level every day. The casual fan can complain about it until the end of time, but reality still wins. He competes at the expected level with occasional spurts of intensity–just about what you see from 99% of the team. They want it but still see the standings and feel the results.

Fact: If the Cards fill a couple key needs this winter and have a legit shot at a pennant, the Yadi throttle will be in hyperdrive next season. Book it.

Just make it count. Don’t check down and ride the Waino/Yadi farewell tour through another season of .500 baseball. Employ the youth, ever so slowly, and prepare for a deep run next season. Waiting around will only empty more seats at Busch Stadium.

Build a team that fills the seats, so Yadier Molina gets the sendoff he deserves, and the fans get more than a pretender.