Here’s one that may have crept up on you.
With the departure of Albert Pujols, catcher Yadier Molina has become the longest-tenured position player on the St. Louis Cardinals roster. Having joined the team in June 2004, he is second only to his battery-mate Chris Carpenter among all Cardinals. Ironically, after a half-season as an apprentice, Molina replaced his new manager, Mike Matheny, as St. Louis’ starting catcher to start the 2005 season.
Seven years later, Molina is widely recognized as the game’s top defensive catcher. However, he actually had a better 2011 with the bat.
The 29-year-old native of Puerto Rico posted a line of .305/.349/.465/.814, all career bests. He registered career-highs of 32 doubles, 14 home runs and 65 RBI during the regular season for the World Champions.
Molina was a key post-season contributor, as well. He set a new record for a Cardinals catcher with nine RBI in the World Series, including bases-loaded walks in consecutive games. It tied him with Gary Carter (1986) for the most RBI all-time by a National League player at his position in a single World Series.
The catcher continued to be recognized by those in and out of uniform. He was selected via the players vote to the All-Star Game as a reserve, his third-straight All-Star appearance. Following the season, he picked up his fourth consecutive NL Gold Glove Award. In 2011, Molina threw out just 25% of opposing base runners (15 of 60), though he picked off two more. His fielding percentage was .995 (five errors in 927 chances).
Molina remains extremely durable, appearing in 139 games last season, just one game off his career high. It might have been even higher had Molina not experienced an uncharacteristic lapse in sportsmanship in August. He missed five games due to suspension after inadvertently spitting on umpire Rob Drake during a heated argument over balls and strikes.
As was long expected, the Cardinals are exercising their $7 million option to retain Molina’s services for 2012. It is the final year of a deal signed before the 2008 season. At that time, the Cardinals and Molina avoided arbitration when they agreed to a four-year, $15.5 million contract plus the additional option year now being exercised. That covered his three arbitration-eligible years plus two potential free agent seasons.
What is coming next? Especially after the Pujols melodrama of 2011, Molina’s future with St. Louis will be one of the top discussion topics of the upcoming year. How far will the Cardinals stretch to keep one of their most popular players, a catcher moving into his 30’s? What is Molina’s mindset and how will that guide him? Stay tuned…