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Molina vs. Martinez? Could happen as Cardinals pitcher, free-agent catcher head to Caribbean Series

Molina vs. Martinez? Could happen as Cardinals pitcher, free-agent catcher head to Caribbean Series

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Atlanta Braves vs St. Louis Cardinals, Game 4 NLDS in St. Louis

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina talk with Carlos Martinez after Martinez got out of the ninth inning without allowing a run during Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com)

This coming Sunday, more than 3,300 miles from where they routinely would meet at this time of year, Carlos Martinez and Yadier Molina could be on the same ballfield, staring into each other, at a distance closer than the usual 60 feet, 6 inches.

Martinez, the Cardinals’ righthander, has been announced as Sunday’s starter for Aguilas Cibeanes, as the club representing the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series opens the annual tournament of champions. He’s set to face Puerto Rico’s champ, the team Yadier Molina joined as designated hitter in the final days of the season.

Molina is going to the tournament to play, a source confirmed Wednesday.

As a free agent, it's his choice. 

The Cardinals have an offer out to Molina to return for the 2021 season, though he continues to see what other options are out there. The Cardinals could spur movement toward a deal by adjusting their offer, sources have said. The nine-time Gold Glove-winning catcher has often talked about how much he enjoys playing for Puerto Rico — relishing the time he’s competed in the World Baseball Classic. He’s never appeared the Caribbean Series because it happens when he’s in Jupiter, Fla., prepping for the Cardinals.

Molina, 38, joined Criollos de Caguas for the championship series in Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente league, and reached base to generate the title-clinching run. In the ninth inning Sunday, with his team trailing by a run, Molina was hit by a pitch. The pinch-runner who replaced Molina — Kevin Santa — scored on an RBI single for the winning run in a 7-6 victory that completed a sweep and sent Caguas to the Caribbean Series. Caguas won the Caribbean Series in 2017 and 2018.

The championship is Molina’s second of the offseason. The professional basketball team he purchased this winter also won its league’s trophy.

Under contract with the Cardinals, Martinez goes with the club’s blessing.

During a conference call about the start this past week, Martinez said that he was “100 percent” healthy and ready, according to MLB.com, and the righthander echoed that with amplification on his Instagram account.

Martinez has been “training hard this week,” he said in a comment share along with a photo of him pitching and extended bullpen. “And we are prepared for that first game. I have no innings or pitches limit.”

In two playoff starts for Aguilas, Martinez has a 2.25 ERA and he’s allowed three runs (all earned) on six hits and three walks. He also has 11 strikeouts in 12 innings.

The righthander was sent home before the Cardinals’ playoff series because of an oblique injury that meant he wouldn’t be available for the entirety of the postseason. He’s using the winter league as a chance to regain lost innings, prove his health, and coming into spring training with a head start on reclaiming his role in the rotation. That has always been his goal. Additionally, he’s getting a chance for eyes other than the Cardinals to see him. Martinez is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, and the Cardinals have looked into trading him each of the past two seasons. Uncertain health and unknown role have been two anchors on interest, and he can offer some additional information with each outing of winter ball.

The Aguilas’ team is dotted with players who have Cardinals ties.

Former backup catcher Francisco Pena has two home runs in the playoffs. Rangel Ravelo, who the Cardinals did not offer a contract for 2021, is 11-for-40 with four RBIs and more walks (seven) than strikeouts (three) in the postseason. Shortstop Edmundo Sosa, who is positioned to be compete for a utility spot in the majors this season, has struggled to a two-for-23 in the playoffs with two strikeouts and no walks and oodles of grounders in play. Aguilas also this season has featured righthander Nabil Crismatt, one of the relievers who shined in spot duty with the Cardinals during 2020, and first baseman John Nogowski.

Molina’s Caguas team has Victor Caratini on it — he delivered the game-tying RBI single in the ninth inning of the clincher — and a Cardinals’ tie, too. One of the coaches is Jose Leon, who rejoined the Cardinals a few years ago as a minor-league hitting coach.

The Caribbean Series opens Sunday in Mazatlán, Mexico, with round-robin play and continues through Feb. 6, 11 days before the Cardinals are scheduled to have pitchers and catchers workout at Roger Dean Stadium.

“It’s an honor to represent the Dominican Republic, to represent my country,” Martinez said during the conference call Monday, according to a translation from MLB.com. “I feel 100 percent ready.”

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