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

Yadier Molina and Walker Cooper

With some St. Louis Cardinals fans still steaming over the circumstances surrounding the painful departure of Albert Pujols, the focus of their concern has moved to next year’s major impending free agent, catcher Yadier Molina.

Articles are popping up, in which the merits of trading away the catcher before he “does a Pujols” to the Gateway City are being weighed. Speculation about what was behind his decision to skip the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up for the second consecutive year continues.

In terms of value, Molina seems to be a player at the peak of his game. He is coming off his best offensive year in addition to already being the game’s best defensive backstop. As he moves into his age 29-30 season, the time to act would seem to be now. But, what should the act be?

Re-signing Molina would please many, but is that likely? Is it the best business decision for the franchise? Is a trade any more feasible? Would any other club be willing to acquire the four-time Gold Glover without first securing a commitment to an extension?

Waiting until mid-season to trade Molina no longer seems an attractive option. The new collective bargaining agreement specifies that a club acquiring an impending free agent during his final season will not receive draft pick compensation if the player signs elsewhere.

More importantly, knowing what he could potentially make in the open market next fall, at this time why would Molina commit long-term to a new team, let alone the Cardinals?

Just like Pujols and Matt Holliday before him, Molina has earned the right to gauge his worth across the game. He gave the Cardinals two of his potential free agent years when signing his last contract, but no longer has that motivation. With financial security and being at his optimal age, this is his time.

I would not fault Molina one bit for taking that path. Free agency is the model defined by the game.

Still, just as in the case of Pujols, I suspect the Cardinals will not trade Molina in the interim. He is a very popular player and a crucial one, called “our captain on the field” by Skip Schumaker this past weekend. Via trade, Molina would not fetch a replacement of the same level of skill. There would be quantity and potential quality, but likely no single player currently as good as him.

Nor is there an heir apparent in the minor league system ready to step in. I think the Cardinals will be focused on keeping the best possible team together in hopes of a repeat title in 2012. That would seem to include Molina wearing the Birds on the Bat.

Though I did not deeply consider the Pujols situation in this context earlier on, I do now. With the benefit of hindsight, winning the 2011 World Championship made the gamble of keeping Pujols until the end pay off, in my opinion.

That was a very long opening for the real motivation I had for writing this post.

This winter, I have been reading/re-reading various Stan Musial-related books, having started with the recent George Vescey-authored, “Stan Musial: An American Life.”

Next up will be The Man’s own biography, written with/by legendary sportswriter Bob Broeg back in 1964, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story.”

In between is my current subject, James Giglio’s 2001 book, “Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man.”

In the latter, just last night, I read a passage that, while from another era, reminded me of what the loss of a true game-changing catcher could mean to the franchise.

On page 124, as he discussed the post-World War II make up of the Cardinals, Giglio wrote this.

“The greatest Cardinal loss remained Walker Cooper, however, who went to the New York Giants in January 1946 for $175,000. The right-handed Cooper, the best catcher in the National League, had excellent seasons with the Giants and the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1940’s. Both Musial and (Enos) Slaughter contended than the loss of Cooper cost the Redbirds several pennants, for neither (Joe) Garagiola, Ken O’Dea or Del Rice came close to equaling Cooper’s offensive production or matching his leadership on the field. Cooper’s departure cost the Cardinals not only a long-ball threat but also balance at the plate, enabling opponents to challenge Musial’s and Slaughter’s left-handed power with southpaw pitching.

“(Owner Sam) Breadon used Cooper’s dislike of (new manager Eddie) Dyer, who managed him in the minors, as a pretext for selling him despite Dyer’s plea that he would work things out. Money remained the main motive; Breadon, tired of Cooper’s constant haggling over salary, also wanted to ensure that he came out financially ahead in 1946 in the face of higher salaries.”

The Cardinals did win the Series in 1946, but clearly hurt themselves in the long haul by disposing of Cooper. Though there were certainly other contributing factors, it would be the club’s last pennant for 18 long years, including Musial’s final 17 seasons.

Cooper was sent away three days before his 30th birthday, the same age as Molina will be this coming winter. Just like Molina, he played in three World Series with St. Louis, with his club winning twice. At the time, Cooper was a three-time NL All-Star, same as Molina today. After leaving St. Louis, Cooper went on to play another dozen years, including his final two back with the Cardinals as a reserve in 1956 and 1957. He added five more All-Star selections for a career total of eight.

Yes, this is a different time; yet the issue, then and now, is money. There is no way of knowing if the Cardinals will offer enough of it to Molina to satisfy him. Without Pujols, they may have the budget, but do they want to pay? If not, Molina will leave, perhaps of his own volition. All things considered, is trying for another title in 2012 better than the alternative?

At this point, I can only wonder how the books of the future will treat this time in Cardinals history and in Yadier Molina’s career.

What should the Cardinals do with Yadier Molina?

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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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18 Responses to “Yadier Molina and Walker Cooper”

  1. T8Ball says:

    As a fan, you have to put feelings aside. Trading Yadier would do irrevocable harm to the pitching staff. Already missing their long time pitching coach, replacing one the best game callers in our generation would be plane suicide.

    Work it out with him. Both sides eat some pride. If he won’t budge then weigh your options at a later date. Besides, you’ll have several pair of eyes watching you, and how you treat one of their teammates could influence how you have to deal with them later down the road.

    Personally, I’d lock up Yadi for at least another 3 years, nothing less. I don’t care how old he is. His greatest value isn’t his offense. His defense is HUGE, but that’s still not his greatest value. He manages a game better than what the alternatives are, whether in house or FA.

    • blingboy says:

      I doubt Yadi will sign during the season no matter what the team offers. Preferring, like Albert, to see what free agency churns up.

      He will not want to be a 33 year old catcher looking for another big contract, so he will go for his long term mega-deal now. It will just be a matter of whether another Arte comes along.

      It will be interesting to see what Yadi playing for a contract looks like. That should prevent too much sulking and dogging it if that is what he would otherwise be inclined to do.

      • Brian Walton says:

        Or maybe the same Arte. All it takes are a couple of phone calls. Of course, whispering the right numbers could help substantially… 😉

        I haven’t mentioned this until now, as the last thing I want to do is feed the “Why wasn’t Yadi at WWU?” camp, but this thought crossed my mind as soon as I heard he was not coming. I wonder if one reason he stayed away was that he didn’t want to deal with contact questions. Last year at WWU, Pujols had an agent rep there trying to filter his press queries. Messy and painful. Granted, Yadi is not Albert, but it will still be very interesting to see how he reacts starting in spring training, when it will be impossible to duck the issue.

        One thing I am sure of. If he doesn’t shut off the questions somehow, he is going to be asked over and over and over again – all season long. For that reason and amplified by the fact Molina does not seem comfortable with the media, I could see him taking a Pujolsian stance on the matter, at least publicly. What his agent does with the Cards behind the scenes could be another matter entirely, of course.

  2. CariocaCardinal says:

    The Cards will move on with or without Molina just as they have done with (out) Pujols. To say losing him will cause irrevocaval harm is silly. Does that mean the world ends if he walks after the season?

    I think you’ve got to shop him and if the offer is good enough you move him. It is getting late in the game though as you probably need to make a possible seperate move for another starting catcher to replace him.

    Did the compensation rules change? What will we get in terms of draft picks after the season if we dont trade him and he walks?

    • Brian Walton says:

      Yes, the draft pick compensation rules changed substantially, cutting back on the number of comp picks. One aspect I mentioned in the post. Another is that Elias Type A and B are gone. For the Cards to receive any comp for Molina, they must offer him a one-year deal at least equal to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players from the prior season. That might prove to be too much money, leaving the Cards with no compensation if they lose him. Then again, this is not a secret to potential acquiring clubs, either.

      Net-net: His trade value is diminished under the new CBA.

      If everything happened “right” if/when he walks as a free agent, the Cards would receive a first or second-round pick in the 2013 draft, depending on which team signed him, plus a sandwich pick between rounds one and two. Going forward, only the first 10 picks are protected, instead of the top 15 today.

      P.S. Your position seems to be in the vast minority, based on the voting so far.

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        I’d rather be right than vote with the crowd!

        While Molina’s trade value has diminished with the new compensation, the risk of keeping him has also increased since we will most likely receive nothing if he leaves.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Fine opinion piece by Brian, finding lessons from history.

    Yadier was a 4th round pick. If we get a couple of higher picks as compensation, its fair.

    Molina has been a super performer. This makes him tough to retain versus richer teams. If he can obtain a more generous contract from another team, we must give thanks for his wonderful service and wish him all the best. Its just the economic structure of the game today. Musial, Gibson, and Brock would have likely moved to another team, had they been able to earn freedom to choose.

    Molina may re-sign next winter or he may not. There is no reason to get get mad or to panic. Its commonplace, throughout baseball, for players to have choice. Its as fundamental now as 3 strikes makes an out.

    The Cards are paying Yadier to serve them in 2012. He will do so. It would be dopey to trade him. Good to just enjoy games as they are played and let Mo figure out all the business angles. Its why Mo collects the big bucks.

  4. blingboy says:

    Lucky for us Carmona is a ball player and not a terrorist. He has entered the U.S. many times using a false identity. And an identitly three years younger than his real age. Imagine that.

    • RCWarrior says:

      I’ve said this before…….I have had an international scout tell me that he would guess that over 75% of the Dominican players that make it have faked their ages at least once and some more than once. It always makes me chuckle when people act like they are shocked when something like this comes out….or really try to support this guy or that guy by saying there is no proof that this happened.

      His comment that if somebody comes out of nowhere and all of a sudden is a great prospect , he most likely has been recycled. He is one who told me that Albert had a similar story so he moved to America to get a fresh start as his brother. It doesn’t really matter because no matter the age….. Albert was a stud. I guess that when this last contract came about the age of Albert would actually be relevant then……but prior to that new contract being negotiated….who cares how old he was? If that story was true I’m sure the Cardinals had known about it for some time and it may have had an impact on how long they were willing to go……who knows? or cares?

      But at this point how could anyone ever try to defend or stand up for any Dominican player based on what has come out and the obvious piss poor record keeping that takes place in that joint?

      And by the way Bling……if a kid had the name Abdullah Mohammed Osama Barak Obama and could play the game somebody would find a nice little name like Jesus Flores and plug him in as an up and coming 16 year old phenom from the Dominican Republic. You can believe that. And the kid wouldn’t have come up with that scheme….it would have been some broker trying to make money off of that kids talent.

      • blingboy says:

        I guess if I was living in some third world stink hole I’d do whatever it took to get here. None of us can understand that kind of desperation. His mistake was going back.

        I’d guess owners don’t worry about it too much. Arte will get his TV money however old Albert is.

        • RCWarrior says:

          Exactly…..who really cares? I definitely don’t blame them. The damn place is a wasteland. The people that defend one of them because he is on their team is what continues to amuse moi. Our guy couldn’t do anything like that because he is a christian…….or our player wouldn’t ever lie…..he gives so much money every year to a charity. Blind loyalty……its funny stuff.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Every player from any country would under-state his age, if he could get away with it. Ballplayers are not stupid.

      • blingboy says:

        By the way, congrats to Colby on his contract. Hit him up for an allowance. 🙂

        • RCWarrior says:

          Are you kidding? The way he hit last year he better save every penny. I’m optimistically pessimistic. 🙂

          • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

            The size of that contract is as much political and market sensitive as any you might find partner.
            Start hitting for average and team sensitive situational objectives and it could work out. Targeting the salary compensation system is no longer your prerogative…………. you are in the real world now……. and on the slippery slope………. Colby’s assumed value was solidified to protect the team investment and GM’s reputation……….. they will trade him in a multi player garbage dump if he struggles…….. those rarely end up well……….. another cautionary tale/tail…………….

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