Yadier Molina has made a name for himself in St. Louis during his time with the Cardinals. As the only player in Major League Baseball to have played for the same team since 2004, it is a bit difficult to imagine him wearing a different uniform. However, as ESPN’s Marly Rivera reported earlier this year, Molina is now considering signing elsewhere if the Cardinals decide not to bring him back after 2020. June 2020 marked 20 years that Molina has spent in the Cardinals organization. After being drafted by the Cardinals in the 2000, he eventually became the everyday catcher in 2005. Before the 2008 season he signed a 4-year, $15.5 million extension with a club option for a 5th year in 2012. The winter before the option kicked in, he signed a 5-year, $75 million extension. Before the final year of that contract, he signed a 3-year $60 million extension, which will end after the 2020 season and potentially make him a free agent for the first time in his career.
Molina’s numbers are not at the same level as they were earlier in his career, with his 1.2 WAR ranking 27th and his 87 wRC+ ranking 33rd among 68 catchers in 2019 (minimum 100 plate appearances). Behind the plate, his 8.9 Defensive Runs Above Average were the 16th highest among 61 catchers (minimum 100 innings). One thing that has remained consistent throughout his career is his availability. Despite missing about a month last July due to injury, his 113 games ranked 13th and his 939.1 innings ranked 7th for backstops. However, among catchers Molina is currently the active leader in WAR and the all-time leader in Defensive Runs Above Average, which is reflected in his current compensation.
Due to the shortened season, players will not be receiving their full 2020 salary, but if they were, Molina would be earning $20 million, making him the highest paid catcher this year, though Buster Posey would be ahead of him had Posey not opted out. The free agent market has not been very lucrative for catchers since Molina signed his extension prior to the 2017 season. The only catcher to sign a free agent contract that is larger than Molina’s current $60 million deal is Yasmani Grandal, who signed with the Chicago White Sox for 4 years, $73 million after the 2019 season. In fact, Grandal is the only catcher since to sign for more per year than Molina’s $20 million guaranteed. Molina’s extension came after a 3.5 WAR season in 2016 during his age 33/34 season. To compare, Grandal reached free agency after his age 29 season when he put up 4.7 WAR in 2018, his 4th straight season with over 4 WAR. He ultimately could not surpass Molina’s AAV in a single season deal, signing a 1-year, $18.25 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. It is worth noting that there was some discussion about Grandal’s poor postseason performance the year prior, but it seems as though Molina would have had a difficult time getting his $20 million AAV from another team had he elected to test free agency. This may be true again this contract year.
As you can probably imagine, there are not many examples of 38-year-old catchers seeking multi-year deals, but there have been some veterans who were in similar situations in recent years. One example is Brian McCann, who was coming off of a down year in his age 34 season with a 81 wRC+, 1.1 Defensive Runs Above Average, and 0.1 WAR. He signed a 1-year $2 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. Another is Robinson Chirinos, who had a 113 wRC+, 2.7 Defensive Runs Above Average, and 2.3 WAR in his age 34/35 season before signing a 1-year $6.75 million contract with a club option with the Texas Rangers. Chris Iannetta was coming off one of the best years of his career in his age 34 season with a 120 wRC+, 6.8 Defensive Runs Above Average, and 2.3 WAR and signed a 2-year $8.5 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Kurt Suzuki signed a 2-year, $10 million contract with the Washington Nationals after a 108 wRC+, -5.7 Defensive Runs Above Average, and 1.0 WAR age 34 season. Lastly, Jeff Mathis had a 48 wRC+, 18.6 Defensive Runs Above Average, and 0.9 WAR age 35 season before signing a 2-year $6.25 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Of these players, the only one who played in more than 90 games with their new team was Iannetta, who played 110 the first season and 52 the next. Chirinos has yet to play a season with the Rangers.
The bottom line is Molina’s first priority is likely starting as many games as possible. It seems improbable that he would earn more as a free agent than he would if the Cardinals negotiate an extension with him in the next few months due to catchers not being particularly favorable in the eye of the market. Molina’s reputation may help his negotiations and increase the bidding to upwards of $10 million for 2 years, but the main factor that will probably determine whether he stays in St. Louis or goes elsewhere will be if the Cardinals are willing to commit to him as their everyday catcher for another 2 seasons.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.
Featured Photo: Cardinals