The idea of Yadier Molina returning to the Cardinals as a coach is intriguing. It’s exciting. It makes a lot of sense. If the greatest catcher in franchise history is willing to do it, and his role is worthy of his stature and time, then the Cardinals should make the move.
FOX 2 sports director Martin Kilcoyne was the first to get the word out on the possibility of a Molina-Cardinals reunion. As Kilcoyne reported, “the two sides have talked about the idea of him joining the coaching staff, but it’s not clear how far those talks have progressed.”
Marty’s reporting is on the mark, but there are so many questions we don’t know if it will happen. I’m not assuming anything. There would be a lot to work out in advance. This wouldn’t be a simple hire. Full-time coach? Part-time coach? Pitching coach? A combination pitching-and-catching coach? All-around advisor? The specifics aren’t clear.
Let’s break this down.
The pros, the cons and the questions.
1. He’s Yadier Molina, for goodness sake. Two-time World Series champion. A driving force on St. Louis teams that won four pennants. The Cardinals were third in MLB in both regular-season wins and postseason wins during his career, which spanned 2004 through 2022. Molina was selected to 10 All-Star teams, earned nine gold gloves, four platinum gloves, a silver slugger award and received NL MVP votes in five seasons
2. Let’s continue with this theme: Yadier is not just a winner; he’s one of the all-time winners. And after a horrendous 2023 season, the Cardinals need winners. They need a leader to sharpen the winning mentality and the competitive mentality. This team needs someone who can push hard to raise the standards. The Cardinals lacked a hard edge in 2023. That must change. Without question, Yadier Molina is a badass. And a relentless badass at that. This nice-guy, gentlemanly, laid-back clubhouse could use Molina’s fire.
This is unofficial … but based on my research on the “StatHead” engine at Baseball Reference, only one Cardinal played in more regular-season wins than Molina in franchise history: Stan Musial. The top five? Musial 1,577 wins, Molina 1,196, Lou Brock 1,135, Ozzie Smith 1,000, Enos Slaughter 1,000.
Molina competed in 104 postseason games, the most by a National League player. His teams won 52 postseason games, making him the winningest player in NL history.
3. The collapsed Cardinals’ pitching staff requires considerable ministration. Talent upgrades are essential. But it’s also imperative to have someone in place who commands unlimited respect from pitchers. Someone who can teach and lead pitchers. Someone who is excellent at game-planning and adept at pitch-calling strategy. During Molina’s long run as the catcher, only the Dodgers allowed fewer runs than the Cardinals. And STL’s 3.82 ERA was the second-best in the majors over 19 seasons. Is there a more qualified individual to lead a pitching staff than Mr. Molina? He’ll be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And though his body wore down, Molina’s beautiful mind is a phenomenal resource in the project of rebuilding the team’s fallen pitching staff. Molina would be on any serious person’s short list of the shrewdest catchers in big-league history. Why not take advantage of that in a time of need?
4. Molina can have an incontrovertible impact on starting catcher Willson Contreras. There is a strong mutual respect. Molina advised the Cardinals to sign Contreras to become Yadi’s successor behind the plate. Molina can show Contreras the way to improved game-planning, pitch selection, pitch framing, pitch blocking and any other area of catching. Molina can maximize the Cardinals’ $87.5 million investment in Contreras. And he will work with Contreras and instill confidence – which is especially important considering the embarrassingly shabby treatment of Contreras early in the 2023 campaign.
5. Molina is revered by Cardinals fans. His return in a meaningful – not ceremonial – capacity would energize the fans, and restore some of their happiness. And that’s part of a two-step process of reestablishing credibility and trust. The other half, of course, is renovating the starting rotation and bullpen by adding to the roster. Molina would be good for (A) fan relations which also means (B) he’d be good for business.
And the soft Cardinals need Molina’s “edge.”
1. This must be done the right way. There can be no confusion – or backtracking – over the agreed upon parameters. The worst thing the Cardinals could do is hire Molina under somewhat false pretenses and put him in a job that doesn’t fulfill his goals and expectations. The team can’t make promises to Molina – and then break them. He would not put up with that. And the move would be a disaster. The Cardinals and Molina would have to agree on everything about this role including his authority and the related boundaries. Would Molina have the autonomy to make recommendations and implement them? I don’t see Molina as the type of guy who would be OK with being overruled. If he believes in something with all of his heart, I don’t think he’d put up with repeated instances of rejection. What would be the point of having him on staff? And Marmol must be completely on board with this. If Molina’s presence makes Marmol feel insecure, it wouldn’t work. Proceed with caution, gentlemen.
2. The Marmol factor is significant. He’d have to be comfortable with Molina’s aggressive personality. Marmol can’t be intimidated or resentful of Molina’s vast popularity. Molina’s presence could lead to an uncomfortable situation. Would Molina be willing to defer to Marmol? Would Marmol give Molina a wide lane, uncompromising responsibility and trust his recommendations? On the other hand, and with no offense intended here, Marmol is four years younger than Molina and can’t match Yadi’s impeccable reputation in the game. Marmol had an inexperienced coaching staff in 2023, and that was a factor in the erosion of the team’s defense, baserunning and overall fundamentals.
Marmol would earn points and respect from the fans by leading the charge to hire Molina. It would reflect well on the young manager. And there’s another consideration: I wonder how much difference Molina would make for the Cardinals in recruiting free-agent pitchers to St. Louis. This would only help Marmol and the team. And I can only imagine Molina’s pitch to pitchers as he explains how he can help make them better. How could they not be impressed?
3. That said, does the St. Louis front office realize the full extent of a Molina reboarding? Marmol had a rough 2023 and was a frequent target of criticism from angry and frustrated fans. If Molina is hired, fans naturally will view Yadi as Marmol’s replacement – be it sooner or later. But Molina’s arrival would immediately put more pressure on Marmol, and a lack of success in 2024 would likely lead to immediate calls for Molina to take over. With Molina in view, the scrutiny of Marmol’s every move would be intense.
Is this fair to Marmol … or does that really matter? Frankly speaking, Molina is smarter, has accomplished more, and has amassed a much higher level of credibility and respect than anyone he’d be working with or for. In his 19 seasons as the St. Louis catcher, Molina called the shots. His power and influence was undeniable. It was far reaching and absolute.
Cardinal fans have been nominating Molina as the team’s future manager for years. Molina has publicly aired his desire to manage and he’s worked to gain experience by managing the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic. He also managed a professional team in Venezuela.
Late in the 2022 season, when the New York Times asked Molina if he felt ready for the challenge of managing, Molina said this: “I’ve managed for 19 years in the big leagues, and baseball is baseball.”
If Molina becomes a prominent coach and the Cardinals rebound for an inspiring comeback season in 2024, Molina will receive plenty of credit – even if he isn’t looking for it. But either way, a coaching job in St. Louis will enhance his resume for a MLB managing job.
4. It’s difficult to envision Molina taking a secondary role on the coaching staff. After 19 seasons of being the boss and distinguishing himself at the highest level, Molina isn’t an ordinary staffer.
He’s a legend at age 41. He’s one of the greatest Cardinals of all time. He has opinions. His voice won’t be muted. He probably wouldn’t seek media attention for self-promotion purposes; that isn’t his style. But he isn’t a quietly working-in-the-background operator, either.
A.J. Pierzynski caught for the Cardinals in 2014 to help fill the void for an injured Molina. These days the retired, 19-year MLB catcher is a baseball broadcast analyst for FOX Sports and hosts Foul Territory, the entertaining digital baseball show that can be viewed on YouTube.
“I’ve never seen one player run an organization the way Yadi did,” Pierzynski said in May. “Yadi wasn’t even on the active roster and (manager) Mike Matheny would come to him and say, ‘would you take the pitcher out?’ Yadi was like, ‘I don’t know, why don’t you ask the catcher, he’s sitting right there.’ And I was the catcher. He would ask Yadi. And I’m like ‘he’s not a coach, he’s not the GM.’ ”
Pierzynski was laughing as he said this. He just wanted to tell a good story from his time as Molina’s teammate. Pierzynski didn’t resent Molina’s authority and the way the Cardinals depended on him. He was amazed by it.
“I’ve never seen a player – one player – and I’ve played with some all-time great guys,” Pierzynski said. “And great players. The way Yadi was treated in that organization, it was off the charts.”
5. I assume Molina would be fully committed. To suggest otherwise would be insulting to him. He wouldn’t take a serious job without striving to maximize the opportunity in every way. Teams that would have interest in Molina as manager — including the Cardinals — would maintain a close watch on his coaching performance, player relations and his effectiveness at working with colleagues.
Cardinals Hall of Famer Matt Holliday was a guest on Monday morning’s “Hot Take Central” show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. He was asked about a potential Molina-Cardinals partnership.
“Having Yadi back as part of the organization makes a lot of sense,” Holliday told Jim Hayes, Charlie Marlow and Cam Jannsen. “I’d be interested to hear what Yadi would be interested in, what kind of role he would want. I don’t want to speak for him, but being there for 162 games, he’s got a lot of outside interests. He’s got a lot of things with his basketball team and his music label and a lot of things, so …
“I would take as much Yadi if I was the Cardinals as I could get as far as impact in the organization and the team. Whatever role that looks like, whether it’s an advisory role, or a part-time coach, or – shoot, if he’s willing to do it – a full-time coach. You want that guy’s mind around, you want his influence, you want his presence. It would be a positive in my mind for the organization. I think anything you could get from Yadi would be a plus.”
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
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.