Yadier Molina's $60 million contract is money well spent for the Cardinals
It’s a sign of the times that the average fan will react to Yadier Molina’s three-year, $60 million extension with disdain, thinking that the Cardinals paid too much.
Molina is indeed likely to decline during the contract, which runs from 2018 to ’20, his age 35 to 37 seasons. But weep not for the Cardinals or any other major-league club. As the 2017 season begins, the financial state of the industry is astoundingly robust, even if the discourse around the sport would lead you to believe otherwise.
Teams remain increasingly obsessive about salaries in this age of analytics, trying to extract every last sliver of value from every player. Fans get caught up in the exercise, applauding the general manager of their favorite club for every last dollar saved.
Last August, MLB sold to Disney one-third of BamTech, its streaming division, for $1 billion, with the option of selling another one-third in the future. The new collective-bargaining agreement, agreed upon last November, includes a cap on international amateur bonuses and only modest increases in luxury-tax thresholds, both of which will help curb spending.
Baseball’s national TV contracts with FOX, Turner and ESPN are worth more than $1.5 billion per season. The Cardinals next season will begin a 15-year local TV contract with FOX Sports Midwest that includes an equity stake and reportedly is worth more than $1 billion. All of that is on top of the revenues the Cardinals derive from ticket sales, concessions and Ballpark Village, the cash cow the team constructed next to Busch Stadium.
And if owner Bill DeWitt ever wanted to sell ... well, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria reportedly wants $1.6 billion for his club, and the Cardinals are more valuable in practically every way.
This is not to suggest that the Cardinals or any other club should act imprudently; it would have been foolish, for example, for the Cardinals to match the Angels’ offer to Albert Pujols in Dec. 2011 and pay him $24 million per season through age 41.
Nor is it to suggest that the Cardinals operate in a vacuum; their biggest rival, the Cubs, possess even greater financial punch. The Cardinals are like any team and every business, needing to manage their resources properly and operate shrewdly.
Which brings us to Molina, and the question of whether he will be worth $20 million per season from ages 35 to 37 while playing the most physically demanding position on the field.
For starters, everyone in baseball knows that the value of Molina to the Cardinals extends beyond mere statistics. Defensive metrics, in particular, do not fully capture the impact of catchers, especially a future Hall of Famer such as Molina who can transform a pitching staff almost single-handedly.
Yet Molina, even by current measures, has provided a ridiculous amount of surplus value during the course of his current five-year deal, which pays him an average of $15 million per season.
According to Fangraphs’ value estimates, Molina has been worth $92.9 million over the past four years, or $33.9 million more than the Cardinals paid him during that period. Those numbers included a $5.5 million surplus last season, when Molina was 33.
Is it reasonable to expect Molina to remain such a bargain over the final year of his current deal and the next three? Of course not. But his new contract, at least in part, amounts to a reward for his past contributions. And Molina, a fanatic about conditioning, will give himself every chance to succeed in the years ahead.
Value, by the way, is not simply measured by a player’s on-field performance. Molina, even if he catches fewer games over the course of his extension, will make a positive impact on his future replacement, Carson Kelly, not to mention every Cardinals pitcher and pitching prospect going forward.
The deal also will spare the Cardinals the public-relations fallout they would have experienced if Molina had bolted for another club as a free agent. Imagine, for example, if the Cubs had signed Molina to pair with Willson Contreras, a Theo Epstein move if there ever was one. How would Cardinals fans have reacted to that?
No need to worry about such horrors now.
Molina almost certainly will be a lifetime Cardinal, and the team can market him as such. Nitpick the size of his extension if you must; heck, the Cardinals went $10 million beyond my own prediction of three years, $50 million. But please, stop worrying about your favorite club spending a few extra million here and there.
No owner is hurting. Not in this industry. Not in 2017.