Will the Cardinals star catcher get an extension before opening day?

Yadier Molina’s contract negotiations with the Cardinals have been ongoing for the past couple of days. With opening day right around the corner now seems like a good time to update that situation

If you haven’t been following the news lately, here’s the rundown on Molina’s contract situation. On Saturday, Molina told reporters that he will not continue contract negotiations during the regular season, setting the deadline for any potential contract to Opening Day.

According to Molina, should they fail to work out an extension, he will hit the open market next offseason. On Sunday, the Cardinals announced they were “making major progress” and “getting close.” It’s worth noting that his contract includes a 15 million dollar mutual option, but it’s unlikely other side will elect to take that clause.

Much of the negotiation is over the length of the deal. The Cardinals initially brought a 2 year deal to the table, but Molina was seeking a 4 year deal. Chairman Bill Dewitt Jr. said the Cardinals are “prepared to make a significant offer” to Molina. But exactly how significant?

Is Molina worth best catcher in the league type of money? Dewitt said they are willing to make him “one of the highest paid catchers in the league” which is a good sign for contract extensions. Let’s look at exactly how much money Molina is worth.

Assessing Molina’s value

The first step in recognizing Molina’s value is realizing that he plays at one of the weakest positions in the league. Molina himself said “there are too many catchers making more” than him.

Currently, Brian Mcann, Russell Martin and Buster Posey are the only catchers making more money than Molina. Last season only 4 other catchers had a higher WAR than Molina, Gary Sanchez, Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey.

It’s safe to say that Molina definitely deserves to be one of the highest paid catchers in the MLB, but THE highest paid might be a bit of a stretch. Its hard to construe any situation where Molina is more valuable than Posey, Lucroy or Ramos behind the plate.

Unless Molina expects the Cardinals to pay for legacy or loyalty, Molina probably won’t be the highest paid catcher in baseball. especially considering the Cardinals’ previous history with franchise cornerstones hitting free agency.

How much decline can we expect?

There are a couple of other reasons Molina probably shouldn’t be the highest paid catcher in baseball. For one, he’s 34 and for two, he’s logged over 13,000 innings behind the plate. I don’t care how superhuman you are, playing that many innings takes a toll on your body.

Although Molina is past his prime, his offensive numbers were good last season and he was a top 5 catcher in baseball. His defensive numbers have started to slip, but his pitch framing remains exemplary and of course he is a trusted pitching staff manager.

The answer to the decline is tricky because of Molina’s improvement last season. One would think that a catcher would only get worse after their primer years, but his above average offensive season says otherwise. He said himself that he “[feels] like a 20-year-old kid.”

Does he really have four more years left in the tank? It’s hard to know because of the volatility of the catcher position. Another important piece to this puzzle is Carson Kelly, the number 1 catching prospect in baseball. His time may not be this year but soon Kelly will need big league innings behind the plate. If the Cardinals give Molina time at first, it could create a logjam in the infield.

Is it worth it for the Cardinals?

My take: If the Cardinals can get an extension for Molina in the three year range, I say go for it. Finding competent catchers is not a small task, so the Cardinals should take any proven catcher they can find. There’s no guarantee Kelly will become a star.

Even if he does by the time he’s in the majors Molina will probably be willing to give up innings at catcher to preserve his health. Ultimately, Molina will be worth the investment, if not just to thank him for his years of dedication to the Cardinals.