The Cardinals officially extended catcher Yadier Molina to a 5 year, $75 million contract Thursday. The first thing to say to I’ve already eaten my crow. I really thought Molina was as good as gone with the big market teams, most notably the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox needing a long term solution at the position. I thought the signs were in place with Molina not showing up at the Cardinal Winter Warm-Up and the White House, as well as the deadline he gave the Cards. I’m happy that Molina is back, but I think the Cardinals overpaid. As far as overpaying players, I’m thrilled it was done with Molina instead of Albert Pujols. Molina will be 35 at the end of the contract, which isn’t all that bad.
Moving on, I think the deal for Molina came about because of a lack of an impact catcher in the Cards system more than anything. By most expert minor league assessments, the Cardinals farm system has been ranked in the top 5 in 2012, but they do not have a catcher among their top 20 prospects. Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak must not feel that Tony Cruz or Bryan Anderson have a long term future as a starter for the Cards, and that should be good enough for all of us.
Molina’s defense was down in 2011 as far as throwing out base runners, but looking back, that had a lot to do with the absense of Adam Wainwright. Edwin Jackson gave up 5 steals in 5 attempts, Jaime Garcia gave up 15 of 18 and Jake Westbrook gave up 13 of 17. For his career, Molina has thrown out 40% of base runners with Wainwright on the mound. Hopefully with Waino back Molina’s numbers will improve.
Molina might be the best defensive catcher in the game, but his career OPS in .707, with a career high .814 in 2011. 2011 was the first time Molina hit more than 8 HR’s in a season (14) and he also hit a career high .305. Molina’s previous high for WAR was 2.7 in 2009, which jumped to 3.9 in 2011. Unless Molina continues to put up offensive years like 2011, the Cards are overpaying. I just don’t think you make a light hitting catcher the second highest paid one in MLB to Joe Mauer, and the second highest paid player on the Cards behind Matt Holliday, but what he does for a pitching staff can’t be ignored.
The best thing about retaining Molina is that the Cards are going to have a long list of pitchers coming up from the minors over the next 2-3 years, and Molina should make their transition easier. That might have been the biggest factor in the Cards bidding against themselves. I just hope the decision to pay Molina doesn’t impact the decision for the Cards to be in on the bidding for Matt Cain in 2013.
MLB adds another wild card team to each league
The Cardinals finally benefitted from the wild card in 2011 to win it all, which made me feel better about the 105 win team from 2004 that lost to the wild card winner in the AL, the Boston Red Sox. Speaking of the Red Sox, I think the additional wild card was put in place because of the Tampa Bay Rays crashing the party over the last few years in the AL East. In 2008, the Rays kept the Yankees out of the playoffs. In 2010 and 2011, they did it to the Red Sox. In each of those years, the Red Sox and the Yankees would have been the next wild card team. The Red Sox and Yankees are force fed to us 18 times a year on ESPN, and the ratings for them in the playoffs are always at the top.
It seems most fans are split on the idea of the extra team, but I happen to like it. Anything that gives the Cards more of a chance to make the playoffs I’m all in on. The one thing I don’t like about it is that it’s now a one game playoff between the two wild card teams. Hopefully if the Cards find themselves in the position to grab one of the spots and can set it up right, they’ll have Wainwright pitching in that game.
I especially like it for the immediate future. With the NL East being a powerhouse division now with all of the new additions to the Marlins and Nationals, especially on the pitching side, the Phillies are going to have a hard road to secure the #1 overall seed in the playoffs. I think the Braves may even give the Phillies a run for the division this year. Looking at the NL West, the Dodgers, D-backs, Giants and Rockies should also beat each other up a bit, making it very possible for the #1 seeded team to come out of the NL Central in 2012.
With the NL Central being a 3 team race between the Cards, Reds and Brewers, it’s very possible the winner is the best team in the NL. However it plays out, I like the addition of the wild card, and I don’t think this waters down the regular season at all. I think it gives teams more incentive to not put themselves in a do or die game after 162 are played.