photo: Yadier Molina via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Yadier Molina returns
In a move that had been expected for several weeks, the St. Louis Cardinals announced on Monday, February 8 the signing of free agent Yadier Molina to a one-year contract for a reported $9 million.
2021 will be the 38-year old catcher’s 18th season with the Cardinals. He trails only icon Stan Musial in longevity with the team.
The move seemed imminent after a new one-year deal with battery mate Adam Wainwright was announced. Molina was participating in the Caribbean Series in Mexico with his brother’s Puerto Rico team at that time, with the deal expected to be finished once the Series ended, on Saturday, February 6. Sure enough, two days later, Molina was officially back.
The return of Molina leaves the role of heir apparent Andrew Knizner, 26, up in the air, though it is likely Knizner will act as Molina’s backup for the 2021 season. The Cardinals have acquired further catching depth in free agent Tyler Heineman and more recently, Ali Sanchez, in a trade with the Mets. Veteran Matt Wieters was Molina’s backup for the prior two seasons, but the team has not indicated a desire to have Wieters back for 2021. Wieters is a free agent who is yet unsigned.
Jack Flaherty wins arbitration hearing
The arbitration hearing for right Jack Flaherty was held on Friday, February 6. On Saturday, February 13, it was revealed that Flaherty had won his hearing and would be paid $3.9 million for the 2021 season.
2011 is Flaherty’s first year of arbitration eligibility. The win for Flaherty was the first loss for the Cardinals in an arbitration hearing since 1994 (Gregg Jeffries) and the only loss for the current ownership and front office.
The two sides had submitted salary figures on January 15 – $3.9 million from Flaherty and $3 million from the Cardinals. An arbitration panel was empowered to only choose between the two submitted salaries after hearing the respective cases.
Assuming the current rules continue into the next CBA, Flaherty will have two more arbitration eligible seasons before he can reach free agency. Given the circumstances of Flaherty’s past unhappiness with the Cardinals’ salary offers and his strong public stance for higher pay for players, it is unlikely we will see any contract extension coming Flaherty’s way – unless the Cardinals come to him with an offer he can’t refuse. Cardinals fans should not hold their breath for this.
Cardinals make last-minute depth acquisitions
During the final week before spring training begins, the Cardinals made a flurry of depth acquisitions.
The first up was a trade from the Phillies of 6’9” right-handed pitcher Johan Quezada on Wednesday, February 10. He was acquired for cash considerations. Quezada, 26, made his major league debut with the Miami Marlins late in the 2020 season and was claimed off waivers by the Phillies in October. His last full season was with the Minnesota Twins Class-A Advanced affiliate in 2019 as posted an ERA of 3.44 in 52 1/3 relief innings. Quezada was a 40-man roster player for the Phillies and has been added to the Cardinals 40-man roster.
On Friday, February 12, the Cardinals announced the acquisition of catcher Ali Sanchez from the Mets, also in exchange for cash considerations. The Mets had designated Sanchez for assignment to make roster room for Jonathan Villar, who they had signed to a major league deal. The 24-year old Sanchez made his major league debut with the Mets in the 2020 season, but had only 10 plate appearances. During his 2019 season, Sanchez slashed a combined .261/.326/.322 with the Mets Double-A and Triple-A teams. Sanchez is an above-average defensive catcher with an average bat that lacks power. Sanchez also joined St. Louis’ 40-man roster, which is now at 39 players.
On Saturday, February 13, the Cardinals announced the signing of Matt Szczur to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training. The right-handed outfielder last played in the major leagues with the 2018 Padres. He made his major league debut with the Cubs in 2014 where he remained until he was traded to San Diego in 2017. Szczur played in the Arizona Diamondbacks minor league organization during the 2019 season, then was signed by the Phillies for the 2020 season. He did not make the major league team and was released in June. The outfielder has a career major league slash line of .231/.312/.355 with 12 home runs and 61 RBI.
Cardinals announce non-roster invitees to spring training
Cardinals spring training officially begins on Wednesday, February 17, when pitchers and catchers report. The Cardinals will have 67 players at camp, which includes the 39 players on the 40-man roster and 28 non-roster players. The 67 include 33 pitchers, 9 catchers, 14 infielders and 11 outfielders.
The Cardinals announced the first 27 non-roster players in a tweet on February 11, later increased by one with the Szczur signing. The group includes top prospects Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, and Zack Thompson, any of whom could make their major league debuts later in 2021.
The Cardinals first spring game is scheduled for Sunday, February 28 against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.
Revised spring training schedule announced
On Friday, February 12, the Cardinals’ revised 2021 spring training schedule was disclosed in an announcement made in conjunction with all MLB teams. Games are scheduled to begin on Sunday, February 28 across both leagues.
St. Louis’ schedule dropped from 30 games to 24 games with no games against college teams or minor league teams allowed.
To reduce travel, the Cardinals will play only the four other teams with spring training facilities on Florida’s East Coast. Opponents are the Marlins, which share Roger Dean Stadium with the Cardinals, the Mets, the Astros and the Nationals. St. Louis will play 12 home games and 12 road games including eight in the evening, beginning at 5:05 pm CT. The Cardinals will have five off days during the month, on March 6, 11, 16, 21 and 26.
The full spring training schedule can be found here.
Trade and Acquisition Rumors
A rumor that the Cardinals were interested in free agent starting pitchers, most especially RHP Jake Odorizzi, seem to have fizzled. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reported that President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak stated in the virtual press conference regarding the signing of Yadier Molina that the Cardinals “were pretty confident with the team we have going into camp”.
- 2/9 The Cardinals signed free agent C Yadier Molina.
- 2/10 The Cardinals acquired RHP Johan Quezada from the Philadelphia Phillies.
- 2/12 The Cardinals acquired C Ali Sanchez from the New York Mets.
- 2/13 The Cardinals signed OF Matt Szczur to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
There are no new injuries to report.
Cardinals spring training is scheduled to begin on February 17 when pitchers and catchers are required to report. The Spring Training game schedule has been modified and can be found here. The Cardinals will play only the four teams on the East Coast of Florida to minimize travel – the Marlins, Mets, Astros and Nationals.
The revised schedule reduced the original 30 game schedule to 24 games, which includes 12 home games and 12 road games. Eight of the 24 games will in the evening beginning at 5:05 pm CT. The Cardinals will have five off days during Spring Training.
The first spring training game is scheduled for Sunday, February 28 against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium. The game time is 12:05 pm CT. The last spring training game will be on March 29 against the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium, game time 11:05 am CT. The Cardinals regular season begins on April 1 in Cincinnati in the Reds home opener. Game time is 3:10 pm CT.
Blast from the Past – Ozzie Smith: 1992-1996
In the next installment of the series on Cardinals icon and Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith is a summary of the last five seasons of Smith’s major league career.
Smith began 1992 in an unusual way. Prior to the start of spring training, a character appeared on a Simpson’s episode called “Homer at the Bat”. This character was the cartoon version of Smith, with the actual Smith providing the voice.
In 1992, Smith played in 132 games and finished with a slash line of .295/.367/.342. He won his 13th and final Gold Glove and appeared in his 12th consecutive All-Star Game. Under manager Joe Torre, the team finished in third place in the NL East with a record of 83-79.
The 1993 season was not much different from 1992 in terms of Ozzie’s performance. Smith slashed .288/.336/.356 in 141 games. St. Louis went 87-75 with another third place finish in the NL East. However, the 1993 season was different from all the others in that it was the one season since 1980 when he didn’t win a Gold Glove and the one season since 1981 he didn’t make the All-Star team. The Reds Barry Larkin was named the starting shortstop with shortstop reserves Jay Bell of the Pirates and Jeff Blauser of the Braves. Bell was the recipient of the NL Gold Glove for shortstop that season.
The 1994 season was shortened because of a player strike which began in August and caused the post-season to be canceled. Smith played in 98 games and slashed .262/.326/,349. He returned to the All-Star team. St. Louis had a losing record of 53-61, but was still in third place in the newly created NL Central Division.
Ozzie’s 1995 was marked by a shoulder injury that required surgery and shortened his season by three months. Smith played in only 44 games and slashed a dismal .199/.282/.244. He did make the All-Star team that year, however. Manager Joe Torre was fired in June and replaced on an interim basis by Mike Jorgensen. The Cardinals finished fourth in the NL Central with a record of 62-81.
In the offseason of 1995-1996 the Cardinals were sold by Anheuser-Busch to an ownership group headed by Bill DeWitt Jr. for a price of $150 million dollars. The Cardinals also got a new manager, Tony La Russa, who was previously the manager of the Oakland Athletics.
Smith had a contentious relationship with his new manager. The Cardinals had acquired shortstop Royce Clayton in December 1995. According to reports, La Russa proclaimed that Smith and Clayton would compete for the starting shortstop job in Spring Training. At the end of spring camp, Smith had hit .288 while Clayton batted a dismal .190.
However, when the season started, La Russa platooned the two despite Smith having outhit Clayton during the “competition”. Clayton ended up playing the majority of the games with Smith only starting every third or fourth day. La Russa’s explanation for this did not set well with Smith nor with Cardinals fans, either. As a result, Smith announced in June that he would retire at the end of the season.
The Cardinals went on to the 1996 playoffs after winning the NL Central title. Smith started Game 2 of the NLDS against the Padres and also played in Game 3. The Cardinals swept the Padres in three games.
The Cardinals played the Braves in the NLCS. Smith started Games 1 and 5 and had one plate appearance in Game 7. He went hitless in the series, which the Cardinals lost in seven games. That Game 7 plate appearance was his final as a player.
Next week, we will look at Smith’s post-playing days.
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