BERNIE BITS

As you’ve likely heard by now, free-agent Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina would consider retiring instead of accepting an unsatisfactory contract offer. Yadi revealed his thinking in an interview with Cardinals broadcaster Polo Ascencio for La Vida Baseball.

“I’m preparing hard. When God says — if He wants, if it’s His will that I can come back, I’ll come back,” Molina said, speaking in Spanish. “And if not, I’ll retire happy and with my head held high.”

In past interviews Molina made his feelings known: he wants to return to the Cardinals, preferably on a two-year deal that would take him through the 2022 season. 

Molina, who turns 39 in July, would be 40 years old at the end of a two-year contract. 

Molina has declined offensively, posting an adjusted OPS that places him 15 percent below league average offensively over the past two seasons. But that’s offset by his universally admired defense, pitch-calling intellect, and revered leadership. 

Molina has a Cooperstown-bound resume. He’s a highly decorated catcher, honored with nine All-Star selections, nine Gold Gloves, four Platinum Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. 

Molina has been the one on-field constant during a special era of Cardinals baseball. Since Molina’s promotion to the majors in 2004 the Cardinals rank second in MLB in ERA, and third in regular-season wins. They’ve been to the postseason 11 times, winning four NL pennants and two World Series championships. 

And do not forget this: In baseball history, no National League player has competed in more postseason games (101) or been a part of more postseason victories (52) than Molina. Molina has the most postseason hits (101) by a catcher in MLB postseason history and ranks second in RBIs, doubles and walks. He’s fourth in extra-base hits. Of the 38 catchers to have at least 100 career postseason plate appearances, Molina is tied for seventh with a .280 batting average. 

This is my long way of saying that Molina is among the most special players, and figures, to wear the Birds on the Bat. We overuse the term “iconic” but it applies to Molina’s place in St. Louis franchise history. 

Which means, at least to me, that he should be treated with respect and handled with care. Molina remains viable in ways that help the Cardinals win. And that’s more pertinent considering the Cards’ dependence on pitching and defense to make it to the postseason in each of the last two years. This isn’t some broken-down, wheezing catcher that needs to be carried to the finish line. 

And as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said earlier this offseason, the Cardinals would likely go outside of the organization to find a catcher should Molina depart. The team isn’t set to give the No, 1 job to their young catcher in waiting, Andrew Knizner

What does that tell you? 

It tells me two things: 

One, if Knizner isn’t ready, then he isn’t as good as the Cardinals have been saying in the effort to tout their prospects. 

Two, unless the Cardinals have plans to sign or acquire a catcher who is superior to Molina, then why not just keep Molina? 

After looking at the strategy of this situation, here are a few quick points: 

1–Molina doesn’t appear to have much leverage at the moment. (More on that later.) The market is slow. And to this point the number of teams in need of a starting catcher has decreased. I’m not saying the door is slamming shut on Molina; the Angels are one team with a fragile situation at catcher. Despite Molina’s esteemed reputation within the game, the current baseball economy isn’t favorable for older players  seeking two-year deals, or an extra-large salary. 

2–Accordingly and predictably, the Cardinals are slow-playing this. Waiting to see if a market develops for Molina. If not? In theory they could bring him back at a lower price. 

3–That could change. If the Phillies (as expected) lose star catcher J.T. Realmuto in free agency, Molina makes sense as a one-year solution. His name value would have extra magnitude in the Philly market. But there is another aspect to this; teams that fail in the pursuit of Realmuto could turn to Molina as an alternative. So he would have options. But in that scenario would Yadier get a fair price or have to settle for a lowball offer? 

4–Molina is more valuable to the Cardinals than he is to another team. Why? Because the fans adore him. And this is not a happy fan base right now. The Cardinals are cutting payroll and taking a cautious approach to free agency and/or trades. If the front office doesn’t add talent, lets Molina walk, and then brings in another catcher who isn’t in Molina’s class as a player or a fan favorite — well, that wouldn’t go over very well, right? 

5–That said, it would be disheartening to see Molina make a short-fuse decision to go elsewhere on a short-money deal with a non-contending team — or with a good team that won’t guarantee Molina the starting job. Example: Tony La Russa’s Chicago White Sox. Molina could absolutely help a young, talented and hungry team that is learning how to win. But the No. 1 catcher is Yasmani Grandal — a consistent above-average hitter (career 115 OPS+) who rates very well defensively. 

I have to believe there is a way for Molina and the Cardinals to make a deal that would reaffirm his role as the starting catcher .. and also ensure that he would play his entire career in St. Louis. That would put him in a special category. And I would cringe to see Molina complete his brilliant career in a baseball town that will never love him the way St. Louis loves him. 

And if Molina and the Cardinals can’t extend this mutually positive relationship and give his career a happy ending, the retirement makes sense. 

READING TIME 5 MINUTES: 

In case you missed it, former Cardinals outfielder Jose Martinez signed a one-year deal with the Mets that doesn’t guarantee a spot on the 25-man roster. He’ll receive $1 million either way, but gets an extra $500,000 if he makes the big club. Martinez may be a fan fave in St. Louis but his offense has been in decline. He was 26 percent above league average offensively in 2018, one percent above average in 2019, and 43% below average last season. Going back to the end of July of 2019, Martinez has a .198 average and .313 slugging percentage. 

The Cardinals and center fielder Harrison Bader avoided arbitration by settling on a $2 million salary for 2021. He’s an elite defender that has a career .330 OBP and .424 slugging percentage when he’s started games (247) for the Cardinals. As I’ve said before: Barder’s inconsistent bat in center isn’t the problem. The problem is the lack of offense around him in left field and right. If the Cardinals got strong production from their corner outfielders, no one would be mewling over Bader’s offensive stats. 

The Detroit Lions did well this week in hiring a talented and promising young general manager with St. Louis ties: Brad Holmes, 41, who began his NFL journey as a public-relations intern with the STL Rams in 2003. But Holmes’ goal was to find a way to get a career started, then gradually find a role in the player personnel department. And that’s exactly what happened. Holmes eventually became the Rams director of college scouting under GM Les Snead, and his role and responsibility expanded during the last few years. The former North Carolina A&T football player became only the third minority GM in the NFL. Holmes is a great guy and we wish him the very best. 

Tony La Russa has some St. Louis ties in his White Sox coaching staff for 2021. Joe McEwing returns to the role of third base coach, Miguel Cairo is the bench coach, and Shelley Duncan takes over the newly created role of analytics coordinator. “Super Joe” McEwing has been coaching in the CWS organization (including the majors) for nine years. La Russa loved him as a Cardinals’ utility player in 1998 and ‘99. Cairo was a Cardinals’ utility man for four seasons including a three-year stretch from 2001-2003. Duncan is the son of legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan and the brother of the late Cardinals’ outfielder Chris Duncan. Duncan will be a big-league manager sooner rather than later. He’s worked as Toronto’s major-league field coordinator and managed in the Arizona minor-league system. Duncan managed two Arizona affiliates to league championships. 

Speaking of La Russa: I liked the hiring. I had a lengthy interview with TLR on Thursday. and you can access the podcast of that interview by going to 590thefan.com (just click the “Bernie Show” tab.) But my friend, baseball analyst Joe Sheehan, doesn’t like the La Russa hire. He’s quite grumpy about it. 

In assessing the 2021 CWS, Sheehan wrote: “Hanging over all of this, of course, is the shadow of the new manager. Russa hasn’t run a team since 2011, which may as well be 1973 for all the game has changed in the last decade. Can he hold up to the physical rigors of the job, the travel and the media demands? Can he get the most from brash young stars without having conflicts with how they play? Can he adapt to all the new information, and how it is created and shared to make a team better? … I was skeptical that La Russa was the right person for this job two months ago, and I remain so today. It may be that the Sox are good enough to win even if their manager no longer is, but until we see this relationship in action, it’s going to to be the defining story of the 2021 Sox.”

Happy 41st birthday today to Matt Holliday … on this day in STL Pro Sports History: the immortal Bob Gibson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981  in his first year of eligibility … and also on this day, in 1988, St. Louis football Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill announced  his plans to move the team to Phoenix from St. Louis. Unable to get a commitment for a new stadium in the St. Louis area, Bidwill said he decided to petition the NFL for a transfer to Arizona for “competitive reasons.” 

More on Bidwill and the Cardinals’ announced move: I was the Post-Dispatch beatwriter covering the team (from 1985 through their departure) and vividly remember several players expressing enthusiasm for the move, embracing the idea of better fan support and facilities. To a man, they believed the move to a new market would be a big boost in reversing the many years of futility in St. Louis. (The Cardinals made the playoffs three times in 28 seasons.) 

And the players seemed downright resentful of the baseball Cardinals’ popularity in St. Louis. Well, why wouldn’t the baseball team be popular? They won the World Series in 1982, and NL pennants in 1985 and ;’87. The football team was a chronic loser on the field. I don’t say that out of malice; it’s a simple fact. 

The most memorable quote that I collected came from starting quarterback Neil Lomax, who name-checked the baseball team’s mascot: “Let’s face it,” Lomax said, “Fredbird got more endorsements than we did.”  

As for the theory that the Cardinals would thrive after leaving town … wrong. 

Since moving to Arizona the Cardinals have a .409 winning percentage that ranks 30th among NFL teams since 1988. From 1988 through 1997, the Cardinals went 55-105 for a .344 winning percentage. They didn’t make the playoffs as Arizona’s team until their 12th season there. Overall, the Cardinals have made the NFL postseason five times in 33 seasons since departing St. Louis. 

AS OTHERS SEE US

Andrew Simon from MLB.com proposes that the Cardinals acquire third baseman Nolan Arenado from Colorado, But even Simon knows that this is unrealistic. 

“While St. Louis has been connected to the Rockies’ star in the past, this is probably a big stretch, given the six years and $199 million remaining on Arenado’s contract, and his post-2021 opt-out clause. But perhaps the Cards could get creative, given all of the big contracts set to come off the club’s books after this season (Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Andrew Miller and Carlos Martínez). Assuming his 2020 offensive slump was the product of a strange, shortened season, Arenado would be a massive upgrade at third over the 35-year-old Carpenter, who has struggled for the past two years.” 

Bernie comment:

Let’s do the math here. 

Arenado is entering his age 30 season in 2021, and he’d be nuts to opt out after the ‘21 season, because his current contract guarantees him $164 million over five seasons from 2022 through 2026. That’s an average of $32.8 million per season. 

The Cardinals gave a hefty contract to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt that kicked in last season. Goldschmidt is entering his age 33 season in 2021, and the Cardinals will be paying him $104 million over the next five seasons. An average of $26 million per year.

So if the Cardinals trade pieces of their future for Arenadao without getting Colorado to eat a massive amount of the money owed to Arenado, this is how it would play out:

Over the next four seasons, from 2021 through 2024, the Cardinals would be paying a combined $244 million to their corner infielders … two guys that are on the other side of age 30, and getting older each season. Or to put it another way: Arenado and Goldy would make a combined average of $66 million per season from 2021 through 2024. 

Goldschmidt’s contract expires after the ‘24 season (he’ll be 36). But at that point the Cardinals would still owe Arenado two more years and $59 million. Arenado will be 34 in 2025, and 36 in the final year of his contract (2026.) 

Does this sound like something that would interest Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr?

Hell, no.

Thanks for reading…

Have a nice weekend …

And pardon my typos. I’m having a bad typing day.

–Bernie 

Listen to Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS, weekdays from 3-6 p.m. You can access the show online and download the show podcast by going to 590thefan.com … the 590 app is available in your app store.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.