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.
Grading the 2019 Cardinals
YADIER MOLINA, Catcher
GORDO ON MOLINA: He returned from his thumb injury to help drive the second-half push. Molina hit .285 after the All-Star break with an .801 on-base plus slugging percentage. Overall he hit .305 with runners in scoring position. Defensively he threw out just 27 percent of opposing base stealers, the second-lowest mark in his career.
Molina fell into the same playoff hitting funk that claimed most of his teammates; he was just 5 for 33 with one walk. But he turned 37 in July, so he exceeded expectations at that age — and his leadership, pitch calling and pitch framing were exceptional.
KOLTEN WONG, Second Baseman
GORDO ON WONG: Once again he fielded second base at a Gold Glove level. Wong also hit .285 for the second time in three years. This season he broke through as a base stealer, succeeding 24 times in 28 tries. He hit .310 with runners in scoring position and two outs. His 4.7 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference version) was best among the team's position players.
And Wong wasn't quite as helpless in the playoffs as some teammates. He hit .206 with four walks, four runs scored, three doubles, four RBIS and two stolen bases.
LANE THOMAS, Outfielder
GORDO ON THOMAS: His tiny work sample was impressive: .316 batting average and 1.093 OPS in 44 plate appearances. Thomas had four hits — including three homers — plus a walk in his 13 pinch-hitting performances. He was an excellent defensive replacement, too, posting strong metrics in limited duty. Had Thomas stayed healthy he would have had a postseason role. He should get a long look in spring training.
TOMMY EDMAN, Infielder
GORDO ON EDMAN: His hitting, speed and fielding versatility made him one of the team MVPs of the second-half push. Edman hit .304 with an .850 OPS and 15 stolen bases in 16 tries after graduating from the minors in June. He did nice defensive work while bouncing between third base, second base and right field.
But he hit just .208 with runners in scoring position and .152 with RISP and two outs. He was just 6 for 33 during the postseason, but he had three doubles, a triple and three RBIs.
RANDY AROZARENA, Outfielder
GORDO ON AROZARENA: He finally broke out in the minors this season, hitting .344 while splitting the season between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. That earned him his first big league opportunity in the crowded Cardinals outfield. In limited regular season and playoff action Arozarena went 6 for 24 with two walks, a double, a homer, four runs scored, two RBIs and three stolen bases.
MATT WIETERS, Catcher
GORDO ON WIETERS: He gave the Cardinals some added power as Molina's understudy. He hit 11 homers in 168 at-bats for the season, and posted an .842 OPS in July when Molina was shelved. Overall he threw out eight of 19 runners attempting to steal a base.
But Wieters was just 2 for 14 with three walks and a hit by pitch in 18 pinch-hitting appearances. He managed just one hit in 27 at bats with runners in scoring position and two outs and he was 0 for 3 in the playoffs.
PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT, First Baseman
GORDO ON GOLDSCHMIDT: His soft hands at first base improved the team's defense. He helped trigger the second-half surge with 27 RBIs and a 1.085 OPS in July. He went 9 for 21 with five runs scored in the NLDS.
But Goldschmidt's bottom line was disappointing: a 30-point drop in batting average from 2018 and a 100-point OPS decline. This was especially unsettling given MLB's power surge due to juiced baseballs. He hit just .252 with runners in scoring position and .244 with RISP and two outs. Goldschmidt turned 32 last month and the Cardinals owe him $130 million over the next five years. Feel free to fret.
JOSE MARTINEZ, Outfielder
GORDO ON J. MARTINEZ: Game 4 of the NLCS vividly illustrated his good and his bad. On one hand, he smashed a two-run double off the right-center field wall. On the other hand, he bailed on a shallow fly ball that was his to catch all the way. That mishap helped spark a seven-run first inning for the Nationals. Martinez can hit (7-for-13 in the playoffs!) but he cannot field well. His defensive runs saved per 1,200 innings during the regular season came in at minus-19. Ouch.
YAIRO MUNOZ, Infielder/Outfielder
GORDO ON MUNOZ: He did a nice job filling in during the first half, batting .307 in 88 at bats after the All-Star break. His ability to play anywhere in the infield or outfield made him especially handy as a bench player. But Munoz didn't hit as well in the second half (.226 in 84 at bats) and he got just one postseason at bat. His inability to draw walks (just seven all season) left him with a subpar .298 on-base percentage.
TYLER O'NEILL, Outfielder
GORDO ON O'NEILL: He had an excellent July, hitting .301 with an OPS of .823. But O'Neill got hurt and fell out of the rotation, getting just 15 plate appearances the rest of the way. Overall O'Neill hit .262, but he struck out 53 times in 151 plate appearance while drawing just 10 walks. He wasn't a good pinch-hitter, delivering just two hits and a walk in 17 tries.
He hit 13 homers in 175 minor league at bats this season, but that power won't translate in the big leagues unless he cuts down on strikeouts. O'Neill runs well and plays all three outfield spots, but his fielding metrics weren't great.
ANDREW KNIZNER, Catcher
GORDO ON KNIZNER: His rapid development allowed the team to trade top catching prospect Carson Kelly in the offseason Paul Goldschmidt deal. Knizner hit .274 with an .821 on-base plus slugging percentage at Memphis this season and .226 with two homers and two stolen bases in 18 games while filling for the Cardinals. For now, anyway, he looks to be Molina's heir-apparent.
RANGEL RAVELO, First Baseman
GORDO ON RAVELO: This career minor leaguer beat the odds to get his first taste of the big leagues this season at the age of 27. Ravelo went just 8 for 39, but he had two doubles, two homers and seven RBIs. The Cardinals liked his at bats as a pinch-hitter -- he delivered five hits and two walks in 22 plate appearances.
MARCELL OZUNA, Left Fielder
GORDO ON OZUNA: OK, his throwing shoulder was much better this season. But Ozuna's poor outfield reads, tentative routes to the ball and clumsy glove work made him a left field liability. He produced in spurts, but he also suffered prolonged slumps -- like when he hit .226 in May and (gulp) .160 in September.
His inconsistency continued in the postseason. Ozuna went 9 for 21 with three doubles, two homers, five runs scored and six RBIs against Atlanta in the NLDS. But then he went 3 for 16 with eight strikeouts and zero RBIs in the NLCS.
DEXTER FOWLER, Outfielder
GORDO ON FOWLER: His ability to play center field this season was a plus. So was his ability to hit leadoff again. Fowler provided a big offensive boost in August, delivering an .849 OPS with 21 RBIs.
But overall he provided substandard offense (.755 OPS) for an outfielder making $16.5 million for two more years. Fowler faded in September, batting just .183, and he went 2 for 33 with four walks during the playoffs. That poor finish added one more question mark to the offseason roster assessment.
PAUL DEJONG, Shortstop
GORDO ON DEJONG: He remained steady at shortstop, teaming with the spectacular Wong for an excellent double-play combination. His 14 defensive runs saved above average tied Wong for the team lead.
DeJong hit 30 homers, but so did 57 other big leaguers. His 4.1 WAR rating flattered him. He hit .200 in May, then .218, .205, .233 and .175 during the next four months. Overall, DeJong hit .193 with runners in scoring position and .182 with RISP and two outs. He hit .233 with 14 strikeouts in 30 at bats during the postseason. Manager Mike Shildt used to see DeJong as a No. 3 hitter; by October he often relegated him to the No. 8 hole.
HARRISON BADER, Center Fielder
GORDO ON BADER: He is a human highlight reel in center field, covering both alleys and making spectacular catches coming in and going back. His 25 defensive runs saved per 1,200 innings led the team. He flashed speed (11 steals) and power (12 homers) while moving in and out of the lineup.
But Bader can't hit sliders. Some remedial midseason hitting in the minors produced a 9-for-25 surge when he returned in August. But otherwise Bader hit .205 for the regular season before going 2 for 12 with six strikeouts in the playoffs.
JEDD GYORKO, Infielder
GORDO ON GYORKO: He played for the Cardinals this season, remember? A series of injuries limited him to 62 plate appearances in 38 games before the team traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gyorko hit .196 with two homers and seven RBIs before departing. He was a shell of the man who clubbed 50 homers and provided reliable fielding during the 2016 and '17 seasons.
MATT CARPENTER, Third Baseman
GORDO ON CARPENTER: In the span of one year he fell from MVP candidate to part-time player. Carpenter was batting just .212 in late August before rallying during the last five weeks. He went 22 for 76 (.289), six doubles, two homers and 13 RBIs while helping the Cardinals edge out the Brewers for the division title.
But Carpenter delivered just one hit in 13 postseason at bats, albeit with three RBIs. The $39 million left on his contract will handcuff management's ability to overhaul the offense this winter.