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Molina stays ready, waits, says in interview he could retire with 'head held high' if no offer fits

Molina stays ready, waits, says in interview he could retire with 'head held high' if no offer fits

Yadier Molina

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is seeking a two-year contract but could retire happy, he says. Shown here he walks away after striking out in the seventh inning of Game 1 of a doubleheader against Milwaukee on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Laurie Skrivan,

On his social media platform of choice, Instagram, free agent Yadier Molina shared video Tuesday of him taking batting practice with his brother’s team in an otherwise empty ballpark. He regularly has posted closeups of his smartwatch after his runs, showing both his distance and his quickening pace. His posts have become a chronicle of what used to be the predictable, even mundane, progress of preparation for spring training.

There’s something lacking from these snapshots this winter — a destination. It’s still not clear what team he’ll be swinging a bat for or where the last runs of his career will scored.

With 34 days remaining before the Cardinals are scheduled to have pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla., for spring training, Molina remains unsigned, along with fellow former Cardinals and free agents Adam Wainwright and Kolten Wong. The Cards have been in touch with Molina’s representative almost weekly, with both sides now expecting that dialogue to increase in the near future.

Molina, 38, repeatedly has made clear his preference to return to the Cardinals. He’s seeking a two-year contract, but recently acknowledged with the sluggish offseason that if an appealing offer isn’t there he’ll consider retiring.

“Getting ready as always and God will tell,” Molina said in an interview with Cardinals broadcaster Polo Ascensio set to run Thursday at noon St. Louis time on La Vida Baseball’s Facebook page. The interview was done in Spanish. “If God wants me to come back, then I’ll come back. And if not I will retire happy with my head held high.”

Molina’s agent, Melvin Roman, declined to discuss specifics of ongoing discussions with any team but said that “things could move fast” when offers begin to take shape.

The Cardinals have advertised their interest in re-signing Molina and Wainwright. What officials have said publicly about requesting patience so they can determine what their budget is, they’ve also expressed privately to several agents this winter.

As their annual Winter Warm-Up heads online this weekend, the Cardinals have yet to add a player on a major-league contract this winter. Even in the landlocked, iced-over NL Central that is leaking talent from every roster, they are the only team that hasn’t made a trade, though they have continued this month to explore possible deals for an offensive addition.

The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and this coming season — its length, its start, and whether MLB can have all that it wants, from an on-time opener to some fans in the stands — has coupled with reduced revenues to dull Major League Baseball’s winter. Only a few teams have stoked the Hot Stove Season: Notably, the Mets acquired superstar Francisco Lindor in the past week; the Padres traded for the Cubs’ Cy Young runnerup Yu Darvish; Washington signed Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber; and the White Sox have taken up the gust in the Windy City with moves for Lance Lynn, Adam Eaton, and, this past week, $50-million closer Liam Hendricks.

The Cardinals have spent this week exploring talks with the agents about arbitraton-eligible players, a group headlined by Jack Flaherty. A deadline arrives Friday to swap salary offers and salary requests with all arbitration-eligible players, and the Cardinals will discuss contracts before then with Flaherty, Harrison Bader, Alex Reyes, and Jordan Hicks.

Like many veterans, Wainwright’s market has been slow to develop. Wong has met with some interested teams and started to field offers. The Cardinals, to date, have not been one of those active pursuers, a team source confirmed. At least one club attempting to sign D.J. LeMahieu, the premiere free-agent infielder, sees Wong as an alternative if LeMahieu signs elsewhere, another source described.

That has been one of the brakes on this offseason as the leading free agent at several positions has yet to sign, set the market, and trigger the race for remaining options. What is true at second base for Wong, his peers such as Tommy La Stella and the Cardinals, also is the case at catcher.

All-Star and Gold Glove Award-winner J.T. Realmuto is the top catcher and one of the best all-around players available in this free-agent class, and yet he hasn’t signed, his market also slow to develop. Some of the same teams that have interest in Realmuto could pivot to Molina as a short-term, even one-year option at catcher, and that would increase Molina’s traction for an offer.

The Phillies reportedly continue to try and re-sign Realmuto. The Nationals and Angels have had communication with Molina’s representatives. In the interview with La Vida Baseball, Molina muses playfully about rejoining Albert Pujols with the Angels.

The Mets, a team once interested in Molina, has helped define the market for him by signing catcher James McCann. A backup at times in his career, McCann scored a four-year, $40.6-million contract because of a strong performance in 31 games in 2020 and flattering advanced metrics.

Nine months older than Realmuto, the 30-year-old McCann does not have the track record of Molina. Age helps set the length of contract, while performance and expected performance sets the average annual salary. McCann’s $10-million per year deal coming off a career year informs what Molina with his career can command on a one- or perhaps two-year deal.

From 2015 through 2019, McCann had a .684 OPS, but an uptick for 18 homers and a .789 OPS in 2019 was part of his All-Star season. In each of those years, Molina’s batting average was higher than the average catcher’s, and his on-base percentage and slugging was better than average in three of the past six seasons.

Both dipped in the shortened 2020. In advanced metrics, McCann vaulted from 64th in 2019 in Baseball Savant’s ranking at pitch framing to eighth in 2020. In that same measure, which looks at how many strikes a catcher snags on the perimeter of the zone, Molina ranked 12th in 2020. (Realmuto was second.)

The Cardinals have referred to Molina as a “legacy” player. Part of that description is not just that he’s only played for the Cardinals and will be the last to wear their No. 4 but also that he could burnish a Hall of Fame career while finishing as a Cardinal. Since 1961, Molina’s Defensive Wins Above Replacement of 25.4 ranks 11th at all positions. Ahead of him are only three catchers, including Hall of Famers Gary Carter (26.1) and Ivan Rodriguez (29.6). Ozzie Smith is the leader in dWAR since 1961, at 44.2.

A nine-time Gold Glove-winner, Molina’s 2,025 games rank ninth all-time for a full-time catcher, and the only catcher with a dWAR as high and more hits and doubles than Molina is Rodriguez.

On Wednesday, Molina posted a photo of his older brother, Jose, in his uniform as manager of Atenienses de Manati, a winter ball team in Puerto Rico. It was on their field that Yadier took batting practice, and it was with them that he mused about making a return. On Instagram, Molina suggested he’d “like to play” for them in the playoffs. In the meantime, he’ll continue to prepare, continue to hit, and, as he does devoutly, continue to run and see if it takes him in the direction it always has before.

Toward home.

Derrick Goold's answers to your Cardinals questions

The Cardinals beat writer also discusses Winter Warm Up surprises, free agents and more in his weekly chat with readers.

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