The 2016 season hinges on the health of Yadier Molina’s thumb

In 2012, with Albert Pujols, the former face of the Cardinals’ franchise, signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent, and Tony La Russa retiring, St. Louis needed someone to step up and become the new face of the franchise. Though lacking the outgoing personality that most prototypical leaders had, Yadier Molina, who had been with the team for 8 seasons up until that point, assumed the role and became the unofficial “captain” of the team. This year, maybe more than ever, the Cardinals need Molina to lead this team if they have any World Series aspirations. Offensively, he may not be the most potent bat in the lineup, but he may be the Cardinal’s most important player this year.

On the field, Molina’s accomplishments are tremendous. He is a 7x All-Star, 2x World Series Champion, 8x Gold Glove Catcher, and he holds numerous Cardinals’ catcher records. The only chink in his catching gear is that he is an average hitter at best. With only a lifetime .283 batting average, he lacks the thump that is most synonymous with a franchise player. However, Molina made up for his flaws as a batter by being the best defensive catcher in the last decade as well as being one of the best signal callers in the game today. When it is all said and done, he will likely go down as the best defensive catcher in history and probably belongs in the Hall-of-Fame.

This offseason, Molina underwent two thumb surgeries to fix a torn ligament in his glove hand. The first surgery happened right after the season ended, but it was not successful, so the doctors had to operate a second time a month before Spring Training opened. Now, with the team carefully monitoring Molina’s health, we will likely not see him play until at least a week into the season. As manager Mike Matheny has reiterated repeatedly, the goal is for Molina to avoid a third surgery on the same thumb. All signs are pointing towards a full recovery though, as Molina has been participating in catching drills as of February 26th and quoted saying, “[My thumb] feels good. It’s getting stronger.”

When he is finally healthy, the Cardinals don’t need him to do anything special. They just need him to do what he normally does for this ball club. Molina will need to be the best defensive catcher in the game. He will provide a locker room presence that helps nurture the young players. And, perhaps most importantly, he will need to lead by example for what it means to work hard every day and help create the winning culture for the ball club. If Molina can be an average batter at the plate and win the Gold Glove at the catcher position as he has done every year since 2008, the Cardinals will definitely be World Series contenders.

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports