photo: Yadier Molina (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Last fall, Yadier Molina’s agent, Melvin Roman, was quoted as saying he would approach the St. Louis Cardinals this spring to discuss a contract extension for the 37-year old catcher to cover the 2021 season, and perhaps 2022, as well.
As explained in the article linked to below, the team has significant financial reasons to not offer such an extension, but instead to let Molina reach free agency, then sign him to a separate new contract with more friendly financial terms than the rules would allow an extension to be – a $16 million salary in 2021.
For his part, Molina had left it in the Cardinals hands. He stated during January’s Winter Warm-Up that he would retire this coming winter rather than play for another team and had no signing deadline.
At the time, headlines proclaimed that Molina had committed to be a Cardinal for life.
So many things in our world have changed since, including Molina’s mind regarding his playing future.
While Spring Training 2020 did not run to its full conclusion, there were no fresh rumors (at least that I was aware of) that the two sides were close to any new deal.
On Wednesday, April 29, ESPN ran an article in which Molina acknowledges a change of heart about his future plans. Because 2020 is shaping up to be a partial season at best, he now has firm plans to play in 2021, as well.
“I previously said that, if it wasn’t with St. Louis, that I would go home. If we were unable to come to an extension agreement, that I would retire. But the situation with this pandemic has changed everything. Right now, I’m thinking of playing two more years,” Molina told ESPN.
While Molina hopes that his final contract as a player will be with St. Louis, he was clear that if not, he will take his services into the market this fall, and potentially spend his final season with another MLB team.
“Obviously, St. Louis is my first option. But if they don’t sign me, then I’m willing to go into free agency. This situation has changed my mentality and all I want to do is play,” Molina added.
Brian Walton’s take
Prior to this, the only doubts there seemed about Molina returning to the Cardinals for 2021 were his continued health and the timing of an offer from the team that would satisfy their catcher since 2004.
Just as Molina rightfully wants to protect his own interests, so does the club want to protect theirs. That does not mean that the Cardinals do not want Molina to finish his entire career as a Cardinal – they certainly do. However, they may favor an approach taken with Molina’s long-time battery-mate Adam Wainwright – who followed up his own long-term contract with two successive incentive-laden one-year deals.
My interpretation of what Molina may be implying here is that the offer for next season from St. Louis must meet his expectations in both timing and money. Perhaps with playing time assurances, too.
No longer can the team assume they will determine his on-field future beyond 2020.
Even so, this does not appear to be a threat, per se, but more of a public warning that his ground rules have changed. From his comments, it seems that Molina prefers this be resolved once the pandemic threat is over and would rather not go to free agency.
One would have to assume that before Molina actually gets that far, a pre-determined deal will be hammered out behind the scenes between his agent and the Cardinals for his 2021 services.
For example, in Wainwright’s case for the 2019 season, his new one-year contract with St. Louis was announced the very first day of his free agency period. Not coincidentally, it was also the first day such a deal was allowed without financial conditions carrying over from the pitcher’s prior five-year contract.
Molina specifically mentioned the pandemic as having “changed everything”. He also talked about “unfinished business” remaining.
Could this be personal business, i.e. career stats, vs. team business?
After all, with a shortened and compressed schedule likely ahead for 2020, the Cardinals as a team are considered to better positioned than most due to pitching depth. Unless perhaps Molina feels the 2020 season is destined to be be tainted no matter how it concludes for his club.
On the individual side, Molina may play a lower percentage of games than usual in 2020 if there are fewer days off and doubleheaders are deployed liberally, as expected. This combination of playing a lower proportion of fewer total games this season may be what is driving his decision to return for next year.
While I fully expect this contract matter to be worked out, by speaking out now, Molina has taken back full control over the future of his career from the Cardinals. As such, this could become a 2020 distraction externally, though I highly doubt Molina would allow the media to make it such.
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