TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Top Story #6: Molina Sets Future

photo: Yadier Molina (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Albert Pujols’ teammate on some very successful St. Louis Cardinals teams from 2004 through 2011, catcher Yadier Molina, was nearing a major decision similar to one his close friend also once faced.

Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Like Pujols, would the 34-year old leave his only home as a professional or remain with St. Louis for the remainder of his playing career? At stake was not only his Cardinals legacy, but perhaps his shot at Cooperstown one day, as well.

With Molina entering the final season of his then-current five-year contract, his agent put the Cardinals’ feet to the fire in the spring of 2017. Either an extension needed to be in place by the start of the regular season or Molina would test the free agent market in the fall.

The club blinked.

A few hours before the first pitch on Opening Day, the parties announced a three-year extension, which covers 2018-2020 and will net Molina $60 million. At $20 million per season, the backstop becomes the highest-paid player in team history as measured by contract average annual value (AAV).

While many fans were delighted the Cardinals were able to keep their team leader and applauded the club for rewarding their catching icon, others felt the team overpaid in money and years. Some worried the long-term commitment coupled with Molina’s strong desire to play every day would stifle the development of top prospect Carson Kelly.

On the field during the first half of 2017, Molina performed well, earning one of the two Cardinals berths in the All-Star Game and singling in the National League’s only run as a reserve.

However, friction soon surfaced.

Just 10 days later, on July 21st, backup catcher Eric Fryer was released with Kelly promoted from Memphis as the replacement. The circumstances surrounding Kelly’s arrival seemed to strike a negative chord with Molina, who made two social media posts which drew considerable attention. The first took exception with a comment from his manager that Molina had been given a day off because he looked tired. In the second, Molina expressed his fondness for former Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo.

As the season continued, Kelly played sparingly as Molina remained productive. In the final month, despite batting just .233, Molina led the club with 22 RBI. That run production total is even more impressive given that he did not play the final six games after suffering a concussion as the result of taking two balls directly to the facemask on September 26. It marked the third time in the last four years that St. Louis’ season ended with their star catcher unable to play.

Molina has expressed a desire to remain in baseball following the end of his playing career. He made his managerial debut with Puerto Rico’s Under-23 World Cup qualifying team this fall. His bench coach was none other than Oquendo, convinced to return to the third base coaching box for St. Louis in 2018 after a two-year self-imposed absence.

Perhaps the duo can help the 2018 Cardinals turn back the clock to the glory days of the prior decade.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at thecardinalnation@gmail.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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