There’s some news as the Cardinals begin an intriguing seven-game roadie that opens with three games in Boston and ends with four at Milwaukee.
Thursday night Katie Woo of The Athletic reported that catcher Yadier Molina would be placed on the 10-day Inured List. The cause is intense and unrelenting knee pain that’s become too difficult to play through.
And so Molina – who turns 40 years old July 13 – will sit for a while and receive therapy with the hope of easing the discomfort in a crucial area of a catcher’s anatomy.
Including the postseason Molina has caught in 2,247 games as a Cardinal, setting up behind home plate for 18,848 and ⅓ innings. He’s been doing this at the major-league level since 2004, catching his first MLB game.
Yeah, I suppose that would make your knees ache.
Especially after you arrived late and out of shape for the Cards’ 2022 spring training. It’s been a physically difficult season for the 10-time All Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner.
The Cardinals have summoned rookie catching prospect Ivan Herrera from Triple A Memphis to take Molina’s spot on the roster. Herrera was 4 years and 3 days old when Molina made his MLB regular-season catching debut on June 3, 2004.
Molina’s IL stay will provide more plate appearances and catching opportunities for Andrew Knizner, and we’ll finally get a chance to watch Herrera swing his reportedly capable bat against major-league pitching.
Related thoughts and opinions.
1. Molina is having his worst season of his career offensively, batting only .213 with a .519 OPS. His adjusted OPS is 51 percent below the league average offensively. And Molina doesn’t move well behind the plate. These things tend to be glossed over by local media, but a man that’s handled such a massive load of catching for nearly 20 years can’t go on. That’s why – when Molina checked into spring training – he announced his plans to retire after the 2022 season. His hitting decline has been an obvious pattern for several years now.
Molina remains masterful at guiding a pitching staff, still throws well, and is tied for third among MLB catchers with a +3 metric in pitch framing. Fielding Bible credits him with two defensive runs saved. But his offense has gone past the expiration date.
2. The timetable for a Molina return is uncertain, but Woo reports the Cardinals are preparing to be without him for “at least a few weeks.” The length and the timing of Molina’s absence could impact on a piece of history. Molina and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright are nine starts away from moving ahead of Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan for the most all-time starts (324) by a pitcher–catcher combination.
Wainwright-Molina have worked 12 starts this season, and Waino made 32 starts in 2021. That leaves roughly 20 starts remaining for Wainwright this season if he stays healthy. Can Molina make it back in time to reconnect with Wainwright and get the nine starts to break the record? It depends on the pace of Molina’s improvement as he rehabs. I see no need to make a prediction right now. But sure, it would be nice to see Waino-Yadi make history.
3. Knizner, 27, is on the spot. You could even call it the hot seat. He’s unofficially auditioning for STL’s starting-catching job in 2023, and so far he’s failed to boost his candidacy. In 198 plate appearances this season he’s hitting .198 with a .541 OPS. He’s 41 percent below average offensively based on adjusted OPS. In 374 career plate appearances with the Cardinals Knizner is 45 percent below league average offensively in adjusted OPS. Knizner’s defense is lacking. Fielding Bible has him at minus 2 in defensive runs saved – five runs poorer than Molina. And Knizner has a negative value (minus 2) in pitch framing.
4. The Molina-Knizner tandem hasn’t been much of a threat to opposing pitchers. They’ve combined for a .205 batting average, .244 onbase rate, and .278 slugging percentage this season. That’s terrible. The Cardinals are 26th among the 30 teams at the catching position in OPS (.522). And they’ve combined for only 11 extra–base hits and 10 walks in 247 plate appearances.
5. The offense coming from the STL catching spot has been hideous in the month of June. Going into the series at Fenway Park, Knizner and Molina were hitting a combined .121 with a .150 OBP and .138 slugging percentage this month. That’s a .288 OPS. Good grief. In June the two STL catchers have combined for two RBI and two walks and a .071 average with runners in scoring position. This sums it up: in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) the two catchers are a minus 16. Translation: that’s 116 percent below the league average offensively. That’s sad.
6. Manager Oli Marmol hasn’t offered any honest assessments of Molina’s performance as a hitter this season. But Marmol didn’t hesitate to bring the candor on Knizner, recently saying this to reporters: “We’ve got to start seeing better at-bats out of Kiz. He’s working at it, but at some point there has to be a change.” A day later Marmol added: “When you’re backing up Yadi in the previous years, that’s tough. Now that (Knizner) is actually in there three times a week, four times a week, the expectations are no longer ‘trying to find my timing.’ You’re getting a real opportunity, so the expectations are different. He knows that. Now, he’s just got to get going.”
6a. Knizner has one plus: the veteran starting pitchers work well with him and his presence provides comfort … Miles Mikolas in particular. The veterans have experience with Knizner behind the dish and that means something.
7. All of this is why I’m hoping to see a lot of Herrera during Molina’s down time. He’s been a highly touted prospect for a few years now, and the Cardinals front office enthusiastic in its assessment of the 22 year old. In 128 plate appearances at Memphis this year, Herrera is batting .291 with a .388 OBP and .436 slugging percentage for a .824 OPS. He’s walked just about as many times (16) as he’s struck out (19) and has five doubles, a triple, three homers in 16 RBI. His defense is said to be coming along nicely.
8. Keith Law (The Athletic) rates Herrera as STL’s No. 4 overall prospect and wrote this about him before the season:
“Herrera has an advanced approach for such a young hitter, with good plate coverage and an evident plan to get to something he can drive. He’s made himself into a capable defender behind the plate with an above-average arm, and has earned rave reviews from the Cardinals’ staff for his work ethic. He has power, with 17 homers in 99 games last year, and if he brings that harder contact more consistently, he should be in the majors by the end of the year, perhaps to take over from Yadier Molina for 2023.”
The Cardinals will be moving in a new direction at the catcher position sometime soon – the latest date being at the start of the 2023 soon.
But Molina’s knee troubles and conditioning raise questions about how much he can and will play during the remaining months of his final season.
If Herrera is in line to take over at catcher when it’s his time, he’ll have a chance to make a case and get a head start in establishing himself as Molina’s true successor.
If Herrera is the future, the future could be now.
Thanks for reading and have a fantastic weekend…
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.