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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #18: Molina’s best season?

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…

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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17 Responses to “The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #18: Molina’s best season?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I would miss Yadi so much if he left, but after the Pujols experience, I will have the foresight to prepare myself better for that eventuality should it come to pass.

    At least Yadi hasn’t said it isn’t about the money. 😉

    Who is our best catching option to replace Molina? Cruz? Anderson? Perhaps get an established name through FA or trade? Do you think Baltimore would part with Matt Wieters? Inquiring fans want to know.

    • Brian Walton says:

      As far as I know, Molina hasn’t said anything, though he is sure to be asked – likely over and over. If I remember correctly, he didn’t make WWU last January. If he comes this time, he had better have his answers ready.

      I don’t see a sure-fire MLB starting catcher in the system. Anderson was the last guy tagged with that label, but he lost his momentum several years ago. There are several guys in the system with potential and remaining runway but that will take time to play out.

      If the Cards need a starting catcher next year, however, the external route would seem most likely. So many possibilities there, I would have no way to hazard a credible guess. I like Miguel Montero from Arizona, for example, but any top catchers that make it to free agency would probably cost almost as much as Molina. As a point of reference, Victor Martinez got four years/$50 million last winter for his age 32-35 years. Of course, he is in the AL, where he can both DH and play 1B as well.

  2. bigchieftootiemontana says:

    Great season for Yadi, I think he was rested more and that is why he hit better, maybe my memory isn’t accurate on the resting more.

    I actually thought there was a good case for Yadi to be MVP of the Series and was disappointed
    there weren’t any post game 7 interviews with him, I could have missed it but he seemed to disappear after that game, maybe he was busy with family.

    Hope they can work it out to keep him in the Cardinal uniform for more years, he is crucial for the
    pitching staff in my opinion. Equally important to keeping Duncan as pitching coach.

  3. crdswmn says:

    Joe Strauss is on Twitter suggesting that the Cardinals might be interested in Prince Fielder. Since Joe’s recent caterwauling about Albert being unfairly maligned seems not to have borne fruit, I am doubtful this is anything more than a Strauss attention grab. However, if they are interested, it would seem to me that an offer to Prince equal to or better than the one to Albert would not be wise from a PR standpoint. Unless there really isn’t much of a market for Prince, I don’t see how Boras would go for less than what Albert was offered. Thoughts?

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Albert and Yadier were selected during the 1999 and 2000 drafts, when Mo was at the helm of amateur scouting.
    The way a richer team might take away Molina is on duration of contract. A richer team could offer 5 or 6 years. Since catcher is a dangerous position, the Cards might be financially reluctant to supply a long term deal.
    Bryan Anderson could make the team this spring as the reserve catcher, if he shows well during spring training. We got to see Cruz last summer and he can train some more at Memphis.
    The Cards selected Stock as a high pick during 2009. He is agile and has a strong arm, but may need years to get ready as a hitter. The Cards have a lot of interesting catchers in the minors: Anderson, Cruz, Perez, Delacruz, Stock, Stanley, Juan Castillo. Developing catchers seems a team priority and they seem to be doing a nice job of it.

  5. Kansasbirdman says:

    My alma mater Pittsburg State University won the Division II National College Football Champoinship when they beat Wayne State today in Florence, Alabama. The game was on ESPN 2. This town has been painted red all week. Its the Gorillas fourth natl champoinahip!

  6. JumboShrimp says:

    Or, maybe there is something to the rumor. The Cards would like a powerful lefty swinger. One fit would be Beltran.
    But the Cards also make deals with Boras and he represents Fielder. It suits the Cards to drive up Fielder’s price for the Cubs or to land him, either way we are helped. If the market for Prince is softer than for Pujols, the Cards could get in the game.

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