Yadier Molina is an elite catcher. A fan favorite. A burgeoning hitter. And about to sit down at the high stakes poker game with the Cardinals.
By the end of July, Yadier Molina will be playing for a different team or signed to at least a 5 year deal.
Let's back up, first.
Molina gave an interview to Hall of Fame writer Rick Hummel over the weekend where he laid out his motives coming into 2012. In order, they're money, money and then way at the bottom of that list, money.
Not surprising considering a fair amount of the unsolicited rumors we get at Cards Diaspora involve some stupidly lavish thing Molina is buying or investing in. But coming in the wake of Albert Pujols' debacle of a free agent contract, St. Louis' collective reaction to Molina's me-first attitude was more or less a collective 'meh, good for him'.
The Cardinals, for their part, have been in negotiations with Molina. But much like the Pujols situation of a year ago, they find themselves with very little negotiating leverage. Molina is coming off another Gold Glove caliber defensive year, his best yearly offensive stat line and handling a pitching staff that is being weened off Dave Duncan. So the team is basically giving Molina 5 months to fall on his face, in the hopes they can salvage a deal that's somewhat beneficial to the club.
If Molina paces with his 2011 numbers into July, the Cardinals know that he'll be seeking a long, expensive contract. Probably not something they want to give to a 29 year old backstop that has logged an impressive amount of innings behind the plate. Knowing that there is no possibility for a hometown discount, they're going to have to trade Molina and get something for his departure.
If Molina regresses, gets dinged and misses some time or worse, gets injured, then the Cardinals offer (yet to be revealed what it is) will suddenly seem more appealing. Maybe it won't be enough to get him from eschewing free agency all together, but perhaps a framework both sides are comfortable with will be built.
Either way... we're headed for a showdown.
Yadier is a beast. If anyone is more under appreciated while simultaneously really appreciated, it's Molina. We all love him and give him tons of praise, but it's probably not nearly enough. That being said, one errant play can end a catcher's season. Just ask Buster Posey. So it's a high risk/high reward situation giving a catcher a huge contract.
The dude deserves it, but he might not earn it.
Not nearly on the magnitude of Pujols' contract, this situation could turn problematic as the season progresses. The Cardinals would have never traded Pujols, knowing the back-lash and what ifs would have been infinite and damaging to the DeWitt's reputation forever. But Molina is a different story. We've made it through Pujols leaving and it'd be bad baseball to not get value for Molina if he's not going to agree to a deal.
Stay tuned for one of the jucier subplots of 2012.