Here We Go Again…Maybe

This week, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch caught up with St. Louis Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina to talk about, among other things, his contract situation. Molina’s current deal is set to expire after the 2012 season, which would make the backstop a free agent for the first time in his career.

Unfortunately, this story is starting to sound a lot like the one told by Albert Pujols leading up to his eventual departure from the Cardinals. Obviously, in situations like this one, it is expected that the player will mention that the deal is about business. When it comes to free agency, a lot of monetary figures get thrown around that most regular folks just can’t comprehend. But, to be fair, these players want to get paid what they believe they are worth. And when one team is willing to come closer to that figure than another, and the difference is significant enough to outweigh anything else, then yes—it really is all about business. It is the business of baseball. There may be feelings involved, but business is what ultimately drove Pujols to the LA Angels. And Molina is now faced with similar prospects.

But another cliché Molina tossed into the interview also matched Pujols’ cadence months earlier: the dreaded “It’s out of my hands.” Seriously…this again? Actually, Yadi, no…it is not out of your hands. It is directly in your hands. You are the player. Your performance on the field drives your worth to the Cardinals and any other team that wants to sign you. You and your agent talk about what you believe your worth is, and then you take it to these teams. Maybe you don’t directly negotiate with the team; we get that. But “It’s out of my hands?” Sorry…not buying that bill of goods again.

At any time, Molina and his agent could start throwing numbers at the Cardinals. He is due to make $7 million this year, and is only 29. He is climbing into the upper echelon of catchers’ salaries and figures to get one more lengthy deal. He is still one of the top defensive catchers in the game, remains a clutch hitter, and is a leader in the clubhouse. The cards are on the table—no pun intended. So is the old “It’s out of my hands” routine just a benign way of saying “I’ll go with whoever pays the most” or what?

It is hard to tell, really, because Molina is one of the toughest players to read. He keeps a pretty low profile when it comes to speaking out publicly. One thing mentioned in the article is that he does not plan on imposing the same Spring Training negotiating deadline Pujols did last year, which definitely helps the process. The Cardinals, for their part, have some significant salary room in 2013 but also some significant holes to fill, at least as of now. That team will need a first baseman, at least one starting pitcher (and maybe two), and some hefty arbitration raises may be due to guys like David Freese and Jason Motte. But do they still have enough room for a bigger contract for Molina? And more importantly, does Molina really want to stay in St. Louis?

Speculation that Molina may also bolt for Anaheim to join his chum began to surface before the ink on Pujols’ contract was dry. And the Angels would certainly appear to have the salary space to take on Molina or anyone else they think can get them back to a World Series. But the Cards may have an ace in the hole with Mike Matheny, Molina’s old mentor, at the helm of the team. Or maybe not. It’s entirely possible Molina already knows exactly what he wants to do, and no amount of money or personal lobbying will change that. Of course, that could be the case from either side…at least until the Mystery Team steps in.

The Cards probably shouldn’t let this one get to the free agency deadline. Molina is a core member of the Cardinals, and now represents the old guard—he’s one of the longest-tenured players on the team. And this next contract is as much in his hands as it is anyone else’s.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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