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Cardinals force deciding fifth game of the NLDS with a 5-4 win over the Braves in the 10th inning

St. Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina is mobbed by teammates, including Carlos Martinez who goes for his jersey, after Molina hit a sacrifice fly to score Kolten Wong to beat the Atlanta Braves 5-4 in the 10th inning at Busch Stadium on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. The NLDS moves back to Atlanta Wednesday for a deciding Game 5. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com.

Five topics from columnist Ben Frederickson that St. Louis sports fans should be discussing:

1. Should the Cardinals extend Yadier Molina? A one-year deal (or two of them) would be better

Yadier Molina wants to keep playing, and this is good news.

The Cardinals’ cornerstone catcher is tougher than a $2 steak. He has bruised and bloodied Father Time. His impact on Cardinals baseball — past, present and future — is nearly impossible to put into words. He should be in the Hall of Fame one day, and here’s thinking the “debate” about his credentials will look silly when all is said and done.

All of these things are true. And so is this.

There is no reason for the Cardinals to rush a contract extension for Molina.

Molina’s agent, Melvin Roman, told Post-Dispatch colleague Derrick Goold at last week’s general managers meetings that the iconic Cardinals catcher would like to play through 2021, and perhaps 2022.

The catcher’s current contract — a three-year, $60 million deal signed in April of 2017 — expires after the 2020 season.

Discussions about an extension are tentatively scheduled for spring training.

I’m not sure what there should be to discuss.

The easiest play for the Cardinals here is to simply ask to revisit the conversation after the 2020 season.

Molina will turn 38 next season. He had said previously that he planned to retire after that season. He has talked openly about how important it is to spend his entire career with the Cardinals.

Does anyone really think Molina would go elsewhere? Does anyone really think the Cardinals would let him?

If the answer to both is no, and it is, then a multi-year extension this spring seems premature and unnecessary, especially for a team that has been guilty of baking too much optimism into recent contracts.

A front office letting a fan favorite play out a contract season without an extension is no longer interpreted as a sign of disrespect. It happens all the time. And it does not mean that player can’t come back.

Adam Wainwright is an example. This will be his second season pitching on a one-year deal. It worked out. Twice.

Moving Molina to a year-by-year basis after the 2020 season would make the most sense for the Cardinals, especially with catching prospect Andrew Knizner developing nicely. Molina would have to agree with it, of course. The amount of money on that one-year deal would be the key.

Wainwright did not get miffed when switched to this approach. He did not escape through the free-agency hatch to go play for another team. He re-upped on a one-year deal. Then, he did it again, earning more guaranteed money the second time around.

Molina’s .738 on-base plus slugging percentage since his new contract kicked in during the 2017 season ranks 12th among catchers. His 3,082.2 innings played ranks third. He’s been an All-Star twice in those three seasons.

He also hit the injured list twice in 2019 due to a thumb injury, caught fewer than 1,000 innings for the first time in four seasons and produced his lowest OPS (.711) since 2015.

Stats don't tell the whole story with Molina. They never will. He's a pitching coach, a manager, a manufacturer of clutch and more. No team knows his value like the Cardinals.

There would be teams interested in Molina if he became a free agent. Imagine how many would like young pitchers to learn from him. But how many of those teams would be willing to offer a multi-year deal to a 38-year-old catcher, even a great one? And how many of those teams could offer Molina more than what he has in St. Louis, where he is the equivalent of a king? Is it not safe to assume Molina is worth more to the Cardinals than he is to any other club?

It would not be disrespectful of the Cardinals to pump the brakes on the idea of a Molina contract extension when the player himself was speaking openly about retirement not that long ago.

Molina wants to keep playing, and he wants to keep playing with the Cardinals. The Cardinals want him to keep playing, and want him to keep playing with the Cardinals.

Cross the contract bridge when you get to it. Don't jump ahead to it.

2. Pietrangelo building his contract case

Blues captain and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s value and future will be ongoing topics all season as he skates toward free agency. Earlier this month, the Predators signed defenseman and captain Roman Josi to an eight-year deal worth more than $72 million dollars. Josi, 29, is one of the best defenseman around. So is 29-year-old Pietrangelo, the first Blues captain to lift the Stanley Cup. Pietrangelo will use other defensemen contracts to measure out his own. That’s how this works.

He’s also, at least so far, doing his best to add value to his deal, whether that comes in St. Louis or elsewhere. Pietrangelo’s 0.81 points per game through 21 games are ahead of his career average of 0.59.

Here’s where the captain ranks among NHL defenseman in the following categories this season:

Goals: 6, tied for fourth

Assists: 11th, tied for 15th

Power Play Goals: 3, tied for first

Power Play Assists: 5, tied for 13th

Time on Ice: 505:44, 10th

3. More context on those maddening Mizzou penalties

Here is some additional context on the in-game discipline issues facing Barry Odom’s Missouri football team. The topic was a popular one this weekend as the Tigers committed an unsportsmanlike conduct and personal foul in a three-minute third-quarter span that sent the Florida Gators on to a win. Below is a breakdown of average penalty yards per game surrendered by Mizzou in each of Odom’s season as head coach, and where that average ranks among the 130 FBS teams.

2019: 67.6 average penalty yards per game, 114th

2018: 61.5 average penalty yards per game, 92nd

2017: 59.5 average penalty yards per game, 95th

2016: 57.1 average penalty yards per game, 79th

Correlating this average with team success is not as easy as one might assume. Some of this season’s best teams are giving away big chunks of yards per game. Oklahoma, for example, hands over 78 yards per game in penalties. The Sooners (9-1) also average 47 points per game. Missouri’s offense is not reliable enough to give up this many yards. The hope should be that this number shrinks over the course of a coach’s time with the team. It’s growing under Odom.

4. Sorry to keep bringing it up, but ...

A decent performance at the free-throw line would not have guaranteed SLU a massive home win against No. 12 Seton Hall at Chaifetz Arena on Sunday. It would have, however, offered the Billikens a chance. They made 23 of 41 freebies, missing 18 in a game they lost by 17 points. It was an especially rough day for Hasahn French, who made four and missed eight. SLU had a decent game plan when it came to attacking Seton Hall’s seven-footers. The fouls piled up. So did the missed free throws. The Billikens are now shooting 53.1 percent from the line through four games. Billikens opponents this season have made one more free throw (61) than the Billikens (60) despite SLU shooting 25 more free throws than their opponents. That’s absurd.

5. Will Martin move Pinson into the starting 5?

The next two games for Cuonzo Martin’s Mizzou basketball team should give us a sense of how ready the Tigers are for their Hall of Fame Classic game against Butler one week from today at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Mizzou plays Wofford tonight in CoMo. Butler (4-0) beat Wofford 80-61 on Saturday. Mizzou plays Morehead State on Wednesday. Butler plays Morehead State on Friday. I wonder if Martin inserts sophomore guard Xavier Pinson into the starting rotation soon. He’s leading the team in assists (13) and is third in scoring (32 points), second among the team’s guards. If sophomore guard Javon Pickett can’t shake his slow start, it could be something to consider. It’s been a long time since Mizzou had a point guard who attacked the rim without fear. Pinson does that.


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