Posted on: March 5, 2012 10:26 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 4:54 pm
JUPITER, Fla. -- A lot of numbers folks and fans are suggesting that $75 million for five years is high for defense-first Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. But Molina's people were actually prepared to aim for nearly double that, $140 million over seven years, had he consented to test free agency after the year, according to people familiar with their thinking.
Molina's agents might not have gotten quite such a lofty contract for the catcher whose first double-digit home run total came last year when he hit 14. However, baseball executives absolutely love Molina and it's reasonable to assume Molina could have easily matched or beaten the $75-million deal he got with a reasonable year in 2012. Molina heard about the $140-million goal but told his agents that he wanted to do everything he can to stay in St. Louis, so we'll never know if that's right. This is that rare case where both sides seem jubilant with the deal that was done.
Competing executives don't let Molina's good-but-not-great overall offensive numbers sway them from the belief he is invaluable. "He's a shut-down catcher. He's like the Deion Sanders of catchers,'' one competing executive said. That's apparently about how the Cardinals view him, as well.
As such a unique player, Molina's $75-million deal might not have the impact one might think on Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who's a free agent after 2012, or even even Braves catcher Brian McCann, who will be a free agent after 2013 once Atlanta picks up his $12-million option for '13 (word is, they plan to do so). Molina is considered the best defensive catcher in the National League by a wide margin, and even Cardinals people say that defensive metrics haven't quite caught up.
The Cardinals weighed several things in making their assessment of Molina, including the recommendation of manager Mike Matheny, a former catcher who's told folks he had one of his best years at age 35 (Molina's new contract runs through age 35). Even more pertinent for the Cardinals, they noticed Molina's older brothers Bengie and Jose both performed into their mid 30s. Bengie had 20 home runs, 80 RBIs and a .265 at age 35 in 2009, and Jose hit .281 last year at age 35.
Molina's $75-million contract trails only Joe Mauer's $184-million contract and Mike Piazza's $91-million contract alltime for catchers. But it's clear his handlers thought he could have at least beaten Piazza had he been willing to test the free-agent market.
Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:15 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 12:08 pm
JUPITER, Fla. -- As I warned Yadier Molina's agent, Melvin Roman, I was going to think/say/write the Cardinals got a great deal on Molina no matter what the deal was. I think he is that good. Roman is probably a little bit biased, but he called me over after the press conference to announce the signing to tell me he agrees with me.
Though clearly, not everyone does. A fairly strong stat-based case is being made on the internet (and below here) that $75 million for five years (plus a mutual sixth-year option) is an overpay.
I say, Molina's game isn't about numbers. I say, there are no comps for Molina because there is no one even close to like him.
The surprise here may be that the sides figured it out without too much trouble since no one's comparable. Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt and GM John Mozeliak agreed that it wasn't easy to put a pricetag on Molina because he is such a different player. He is the best defensive catcher in baseball, the best-throwing catcher, a clutch hitter and a winner. So ultimately, it wasn't about the comps, it was about the need and the desire.
"We couldn't take a chance of him being a free agent,'' DeWitt told me this morning.
I'm with him. But it's fair to present the other side. There's a big internet outcry, some but not all by the stat folks, that $15 million per year is to much for Molina. Here's how a friend of mine in baseball who analyzes these things put it for the other side:
"Good move by Yadier Molina. Cash in on a career year offensively and a second (winning) World Series. But buyer beware. He is coming off his first season with double digit home runs (14) and an OPS (.814) that is 100-plus points above his career average (.707). He had a .671 OPS in 2010 and I don't think that would get him $15 a year, even with his great defense.
"Twins got all giddy over Joe Mauer's 28 home run MVP season in 2009, numbers he likely will never reach again. They gave him $184 million. I'm sure they'd like a do-over on that contract.
"John Buck had a career year in '10 (20 home runs, .802 OPS) and that got him three years and $18 million (total) with the Marlins. Buck isn't anything close to Molina defensively, but, other that batting average, his career stats are on par with Molina. In fact, he has more power (90 home runs to 55 for Molina) through their free agent year Nobody is suggesting you;d take Buck over Molina. But it's obvious the Cardinals value Molina's intangibles/gamecalling, as they are paying him at a star rate.''
DeWitt had an answer, saying, "We didn't extend Molina because he had a good year offensively last year. We extended him because of the bulk of the work since he became a regular in 2005. He's been a key player on two World Series teams. He's won Gold Gloves. He's made All-Star teams multiple times.''
Beyond that, Molina brings things that can't be measured. He has tough at-bats at crucial moments (Mets fans know that, as do Rangers fans). He is tough mentally and physically. He doesn't miss games. The pitchers love him at a time they've lost Dave Duncan. As DeWitt said, they just couldn't take a chance.
Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:32 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 1:22 pm
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals are about to sign Yadier Molina to a five-year deal believed to be worth $75 million, and though this deal certainly cannot be considered a discount, the Cards could not take a chance on losing him.
Folks will look at Molina's new contract, which a source suggested should come in at right about $75 million and is expected to be finalized soon, as a partial make-good after losing all-time great Albert Pujols to the Angels this winter. However, that is unfair to Molina, who is the best defensive catcher in baseball as well as the best throwing catcher. He had a very nice offensive year last season with 14 home runs, 65 RBI and a .305 batting average, but Molina's value goes well beyond that. The team has not only been a perennial winner in his tenure, but it has fairly consistently outperformed expectations, including two unexpected World Series championships. Some of that might have to do with an under-rating of Pujols' value or underestimating of ex-manager Tony La Russa's impact, or even Dave Duncan's. But a lot of baseball people think it is because of Molina.
Beyond the fact that he a three-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner, he may be the most underappreciated impact player in the game. He is obviously not by the Cardinals, but by others. The biggest key to their title defense is not how they replace Pujols' offense but how they pitch, and it is hard to measure the importance of Molina's throwing, blocking and gamecalling ability. Molina respectfully declined comment this morning when asked about his contract situation, but sources suggest it appears headed toward finalization.
Molina is only 29, so the extension covers years 30-34, meaning there is a decent chance he'll still be productive at the end of the deal. The salary, assuming it comes in at $75 million, will make him the second-highest paid catcher ever behind Joe Mauer ($184 million, eight years), even ahead of Mike Piazza, ($91 million, seven years) and Jorge Posada ($52 million, four years). And though he obviously isn't the hitter they were, the value of having a great defensive catcher sometimes goes overlooked.
Glad to see the Cardinals, one of the smarter front offices in baseball, understood that.