For the first time in a long time, the Cardinals cannot only depend on Yadier Molina to fulfill their catching needs.
With Yadier Molina publicly stating that he plans to retire when his current contract ends in 2020, the Cardinals need to begin thinking about their future at the Catcher position. Carson Kelly seems poised to fill that spot, and will likely be serving as Yadi’s backup until he retires.
However, Kelly needs to continue progressing during the next few seasons so he’s ready to take over once Molina hangs up his cleats, and the only way to do that is to give Kelly playing time. How will the Cardinals balance getting Kelly playing time while also making sure Molina plays enough and stays content? Well, it’s not an easy problem to fix, but here are some possible solutions:
Kelly Needs to Start
The obvious first step to getting Kelly in the lineup more is starting him at Catcher more often. Since Molina will need a few days off, that should not be a problem. However, these starts may need to come more frequently than Molina would ideally like them to.
He can still play well and be an everyday catcher, no one is doubting that, however in order to prepare the catcher of the future to take over that role, he has to start regularly at catcher. In the long run this should help both men as Kelly will get experience and Molina will be fresher and more rested during the days he does start at catcher.
On Molina’s day off he can also become a coach and mentor for Kelly, watching him play and giving him pointers. Molina’s decade and a half of experience would be put to good use in this role, grooming Kelly to take over.
The only potential problem with this scenario is that it could effect both catchers’ production at the plate, as it will be more difficult to establish a rhythm when you’re not going on long streaks starting at catcher. I do not see this being much of a problem for a veteran player like Molina, but it could disrupt Kelly a bit.
Kelly at Third Base
Carson Kelly was drafted by the Cardinals, and began his minor league career as a third baseman. That being said, he was known to have a bit of a wild arm from the hot corner, which is one of the reasons why he switched positions and became a catcher.
While the move has worked out in Kelly’s favor, and he’s improved a lot in the field from behind the plate, Mike Matheny might need to consider putting Kelly at third on days when he wants both Kelly and Yadi in the lineup.
If it doesn’t work, and Kelly starts throwing balls all over the infield, then put him back behind the plate. Although, if it does work then the Cardinals would gain another capable infielder as well as giving Kelly some more experience against major league pitching.
Molina at First Base
In addition to playing Kelly somewhere other than catcher, the Cardinals could also play Molina at a different position. That being said, Molina will be turning 35 this season, so it understandably might not happen very often. The Redbirds may want to consider giving Molina more reps at first base.
Molina last played first base last season during the May 5th trouncing of the Atlanta Braves. He put in 2 solid innings at first base helping the Cardinals cruise to a 10-0 victory. During blowout games like this one, it may be worth it to move Yadi over so Kelly can step in behind the plate.
Molina has been a solid fielder at first during the few times he’s played there over his career, so the Cardinals would not be taking much of a defensive risk with this move.
Photo Captured By: USA Today Sports- Jeff Curry
Stats from baseball-reference.com