Molina is already 34 and about to begin his 14th MLB season. Each of these seasons has been spent with the Cardinals since his debut back in 2004. Throughout his tenure, Molina has been pretty phenomenal, too. From 2009-2015, Molina was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. Molina added one other Gold Glove in 2008 for a total of eight in his career.
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A great defensive reputation is what carried Molina to stardom in the earlier part of his career. During his prime, Molina also became a very good offensive player. In 2012, he finished fourth in the MVP voting due to a mix of great defense and stellar offense. In 2013, Molina moved up one spot for a third-place finish.
Following the 2013 campaign, it did look like Molina was beginning to trend downward. He didn’t hit quite as well in 2014 or 2015 with his batting average sinking back below .300 for the first time since 2010. Molina also saw his home run total stay in the single digits after three years of hitting 10+.
However, Molina picked up his offensive game in 2016. He slashed .307/.360/.427 and smacked a career-high 164 hits. Although he only hit eight home runs, Molina did finish with 38 doubles.
Offering him a contract extension may sound reasonable. After all, he did play in a career-high 147 games last year. He also amassed another career-high with 581 plate appearances. Molina’s 142 games started at catcher in 2016 showed us that there is no doubting that he has years left to play in MLB.
This still doesn’t mean the Cardinals should extend Molina sooner than they need to. His offense was steady, but his defense was not so sharp. He didn’t even win a Gold Glove last year. As far as mortal locks in MLB go, Molina winning this award has been one.
It was completely reasonable for Molina to come up short in the Gold Glove voting for catcher. He threw out just 21 percent of potential base stealers in 2016. This total was half of the 42 percent for his career. Only once prior to 2016 had he even finished the year with less than 30 percent.
Additionally, Molina allowed eight passed balls, which ties his career worst. The 42 wild pitches Molina was a part of was also a career-high, although the pitchers deserve part of the blame.
The Cardinals knew that one day Molina’s talents would fade. This is why they began to groom prospect Carson Kelly as the eventual replacement. The 22-year-old will probably be ready for regular MLB action by mid-2017. When that time comes, the Cardinals need to know where Molina’s future lies.
Many players don’t perform well after their age-35 season. This is particularly true of catchers. In fact, it’s pretty amazing Molina has not slowed down yet. His generally healthy career has contributed to keeping him productive even as he reaches his mid-30s.
There is a reason why the Cardinals locked up Molina through age 34 with an option for his age-35 season. It’s because this is safe. Beyond that age, it might only be a matter of time before he hits a wall.
Even though Molina probably should retire with the Cardinals and will remain employed in baseball beyond the 2018 campaign, it’s far too early to offer him a contract extension. Not only does it come with a risk, it’s more money allocated to a veteran who will only fade. At any other position, it might make sense to extend him early. For a catcher, it’s asking for trouble.
Molina has a lot left in the tank for 2017 and 2018. After those seasons, the Cardinals need to remain cautious. A contract extension is an especially poor idea after a year when Molina was overloaded. By midseason, if Molina remains his usual productive self, then maybe it’s time they decide to keep the Yadi Era alive for a little longer in Baseball Heaven.