Cardinals Legendary Catcher Yadier Molina. Who will be his successor and how soon?
St. Louis Cardinals fans are holding their breath in 2020. Their legendary catcher, Yadier "Yadi" Molina's current contract comes to a close at the end of the coming season. However, earlier in this off-season, reportedly, Molina made it known he wants to stick around. At least the thought of retirement is not quite 'real' at the end of 2020. He wants to remain with the Cardinals should he decide another two seasons is a part of his future and; his one, and only, team since he made his debut, June 3, 2004.
At the age of 37 (turns 38 in July), Yadi Molina has been backstop in 1947 games, has made 1881 game starts, logging 16327.2 innings during his 16 year career. He is a five-time MVP contender, nine-time All Star, nine-time Gold Glove award winner, with one Silver Slugger award (2013/.319 BA/12 HR/80 RBI/44-2B). He holds a career .282 BA with 2824 total bases to his credit. He currently sits seventh in the MLB All Time Best Catcher list.
Throughout his career, yes as many players, he has dealt with injury of the legs, knee (no surprise) and hand. Probably the most famous (2018) which made every male baseball fan wince - injury to his groin area from a foul-tip on a missile (102 mph) delivered by young flame thrower, Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks. A very scary moment for Cardinals Nation and team, as Molina required emergency surgery immediately following the incident. But, recovery went well and, hard to keep an old goat down, he returned to the field.
In 2019, he played in only 113 games, due to a thumb injury which put him on the 10-Day IL and regular days off (7 days). As backstop, he logged 108 game starts in those minimal number of games. At the plate, Molina closed his season with 113 hits for a .270 BA/10 HR/57 RBI/24-2B. He holds a career .282 BA. And he began the season, adding a new record in the Cardinals history book. "On Opening Day 2019, versus the Brewers, Molina extended his team-record for Opening Day starts with 15". (Wikipedia.com) Also, "He made his first career appearance at third base in extra innings of a 6−5 win on April 1 versus the Pirates."
MOLINA ~ THE PLAYER OF BASEBALL WEALTH - PLAYER KNOWLEDGE
In my opinion, along with most if not all Cardinals fans, the most impressive part of Molina's baseball life is that he studies each and every player, pitchers and position, both Cardinals and whomever they are playing. He studies videos to best guide his own pitchers against whomever comes to the plate. He is the manager on the field - 'moving' Cardinals defenders when need be - with look - a sign from behind the plate. Eagle-eyes constantly monitoring base runners. Waiting for the opportunity to retire a runner at second ~ and some amazing outs at third. Not to mention, his readiness to glove an incoming throw from the field for the out at "home'. Yes, he has been nominated in the MLB-MVP category in years past. But he is, hands down, St. Louis Cardinals MVP, leader and teammate.
NOW ~ WHO WILL SUCCEED MOLINA AND HOW SOON?
Since the Cardinals traded prospect catcher Carson Kelly, in a package deal, with the Arizona Diamondbacks for 1B Paul Goldschmidt in Dec 2018, prospect catcher Andrew Knizner (24) was being groomed in the 'wings'. However, Cardinals extended Molina two more seasons. To keep playing time available for Knizner, he began 2019 with the Memphis Triple-A. While with the Redbirds in 2019, he held a .276/.357/.463/.821 slashline, along with a .990 Fldg% as catcher.
Cardinals signed veteran catcher, Matt Wieters, who was a free agent 'waiting for a call' as Spring training began last year. He did get a call and Cardinals brought him on board signing him to a 1 YR/$100,000 contract. "The DEAL of the Season". Wieters proved to be a "VMP" as back-up to Yadi in 2019. Therefore, Knizner's MLB debut went on hold. Wieters proved to be a very worthy piece while Yadi was on the IL. He made 41 game starts, and kept 11 runners off second base, logging 379 put-outs. Even though only holding a .214 BA in 67 games played, he slugged out 11 HR/27 RBI.
Knizner did see his day in the Bigs. He made his debut June 2, 2019, as back-up to Wieters. He played in 18 games, 13 game starts. He logged 118 innings behind the plate, a .992 Fldg%; and, even 3 innings at first base. At the plate, as we see from 'very new rookies', his offense did not quite match what he held with Memphis. He logged a .226/.293/.377/.670 slashline with 12 Hits/2 HR/7 RBI/2-2B and added two stolen bases.
In a way and fortunately for Knizner, Yadi was on the bench, guiding the young catcher sharing his wealth of knowledge and working with him while with the Cardinals. After all, should he follow Molina? What a baseball encyclopedia of information was made available.
NEXT UP ~
Cardinals prospect catcher Ivan Herrera, C (No. 6) -- "Signed out of Panama for $200,000 in July 2016, Herrera was pushed up to full-season ball at age 18 in 2019 and responded to the challenge by slashing .284/.374/.405 with nine home runs in 87 games across two levels, including Class A Advanced Palm Beach. Herrera continued to impress on both sides of the ball after the season as one of the Arizona Fall League’s youngest players and will enter 2020 with a big up arrow next to his name." (MLB.com)
In 2019, Herrera did quite well as indicated and noted above. At Palm Beach Cardinals FL Single-A+ league in 18 games - 16 Hits/1 HR/5 RBI posted a .276/.338/.328/.666 slashline and improved from there. With the Peoria Chiefs (IL) Single-A in 69 games - 71 Hits/8 HR/42 RBI for a slashline of .286/.381/.423/.805. This past fall, named a member of the Arizona Fall League - in 10 games - 11 Hits/6 RBI for a .324/.429/.382/.821. Offensively, very solid. His defense is where he needs a bit more work - but, not all bad, either. With PBC - a .994 Fldg%, at Peoria a .984 and during the AZFL closed with a .969.
With continued play, I feel Herrera's ability and Fldg% as catcher will improve. For his young age, in my opinion, quite impressive at the levels he has played thus far.
We should see both Knizner and Herrera as invitees to Cardinals Spring Training camp. We will be able to watch both behind the plate. Just a reminder for fans who will be at Jupiter FL for Spring Training, check out the back fields behind Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Four fields, four games being played along with the main game at RDCS ~ free for the viewing.
SHOULD MOLINA RECEIVE ANOTHER EXTENSION
Two very good prospect catchers worthy of keeping on your radar. However, 'should' Cardinals extend Molina another two seasons, even a 'contract friendly' one year, what will their future look like. Especially that of Knizner. I believe Herrera has a season or two at least, before his MLB debut is realized.
Note: Prior to Kelly's relocation, Yadi and Cardinals inked an extension. Prime prospect traded away giving way for Knizner. BUT, on a higher note, Cardinals brought on board 1B Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kelly's new home.
"IF" this becomes a 'done deal' prior to Spring training for Molina, would it be feasible to get on the horn and bring Wieters back? In the event he has not signed elsewhere, which at the moment he hasn't. In the event he would want to take another one year 'deal'. He is 33 years old, and will turn 34 in May.
The hinge of the swinging door for 'prospective' back-ups is dependent, I feel, on what Molina's future holds. The question is ~ how soon will that decision be made to get a plan in place, not only for the 2020 season. Also, for 2021 ~ maybe even 2022.
BOTTOMLINE ~ YADIER MOLINA IS 'LEGENDARY' ~ A CARDINALS LEGACY
As far as I'm concerned it will be a very long time before we see a MLB catcher with the ability, toughness, longevity and knowledge as our Cardinals Yadier Molina. At this point in time, in my opinion, his overall value is irreplaceable.
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