Just sixteen more days until the MLB Spring Training camps open up with catchers and pitchers reporting. Yes, on Valentine's Day. A few days following the rest of the "field"; along with new prospect and minor league invitees will report. Since the free agent pool of 2017 was pretty thin, not a lot of over-the-top signings as there were the previous season. Overall, a fairly quiet off-season - thus far.
Catcher Yadier Molina, 34 years old, entering his 14th season as the Cardinals backstop. Eight Golden Glove awards, one Silver Slugger, seven time All Star and MVP contender five times.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Without any surgeries this offseason to hamper Cardinals Yadier Molina, he will report February 14 ready for the 2017 Spring Training schedule. The Cardinals report to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, FL. I'm surmising that quite a few of our regular line-up players will be arriving "unofficially" between Monday and Valentine's Day.
In 2014, Molina sustained injury to his right thumb which limited him to 106 game starts/94 complete games. In 2015, sustaining a left thumb injury which required surgery reduced his game count to 134 with 108 complete games. In the off-season, a second surgery followed, to correct the first which did not take. When he arrived last year to Spring Training, he was just beginning rehab and in February the outlook to being able to handle a bat was dim. The Cardinals signed back-up veteran, Brayan Pena, to give relief for Molina during the 2016 season. However, Pena unable to remain healthy himself, Molina logged the most games in one season, 146, in his career.
Molina began the 2016 season, in April, as catching was no major issue; and, surprisingly, slugged out a .341 BA the first month. However, his bat cooled to a .212/.235, respectively, in May and June until the All Star break. Molina had a week reprieve since he was not voted to attend the 2016 All Star game by enough fans. Even though, to me, his second half of the season was far more important than one game, one or two innings of play. Looks good on his resume, but the season results is more important to me.
After the All Stars, "The Bat of Molina" found some heat. He closed the second half of 2016 with an offensive slash line: .365 BA/.398 OBP/.529 SLG/.927 OPS. Much improved over his first half of .259/.329/.341/.670. Yes, at the plate, Yadi did make a difference for our Cardinals. However, he fell short and did not receive a Golden Glove Award, which would have been his ninth straight. In 2016, he had eight passed balls, 42 wild pitches got away from him, he only caught 18 of 67 steals which dropped his 2015 41% down to 21% in 2016. Many fans noted that he was not as "sharp" behind the plate last season. Would the abundance of game starts make that much difference? Very well could have for a catcher of 13 years and a total of 13,325 career innings as backstop.
In 2016, Yadi did log 146 games, 142 game starts and 110 complete games. With the force of his bat much improved closing last season, who is going to tell Molina, "You need to slow down"?
Cardinals re-signed 31 year old catcher Eric Fryer, who was with the Cardinals the first half of 2016 and snapped up (off-waivers) by the Pittsburgh Pirates the second half of the season. That certainly created a lot of disbelief and with much chagrin by Cardinals fans. Fryer, began his career with the Pirates in 2011 for two seasons. He was with the Minnesota Twins (2013-2015) when he was initially signed by St. Louis. He was very solid for the Cardinals as back-up for Molina. Plus, his time with St. Louis he produced .368 BA/.415 OBP from the plate. With the Pirates, his bat chilled to a .218/.300 while away. As a catcher, I have full faith in him as back-up. Time will tell in Spring Training if he saved that bat he previously held with St. Louis for his return.
Since the plan was to have Brayan Pena catch at least one game 'a week' to give Yadi some relief throughout last season. Will this be the same detail for Fryer in 2017? (Well, I'm presuming Fryer will win the backup catcher position in Spring Training.)
Now that Molina is returning healthy. Being the "General" on the field for pitchers and the field alike, will he give in to having a day off once a week during the upcoming season? That would still give him 139 games to play in 2017. That would be his second highest career number of games per season. Dependent on the success of Fryer, I foresee Molina 'resting' a bit more this season in the comfort of knowing Fryer is doing his job well. Should Fryer falter? Molina is going to lobby to be in as many games as possible. He is not a player that gives up easily. He's the backbone of the team behind the plate and has an eagle eye. He studies and knows hitters that come to the plate to best advise our pitchers. He's a consultant and commander-in-chief. A position he has earned outright and will be hard pressed to give up. He gives his all and he expects no less from his teammates.
Yadier Molina is the MVP catcher of the St. Louis Cardinals, destined to be in the Hall of Fame. He will be a free agent in 2018. The team holds a $15 MM mutual option with a $2 MM buyout. By then, he will be 35 1/2 years old. His brother, Bengie, retired after 13 seasons. Will Yadier follow suit with 14 wearing a Cardinals uniform? On the flipside, his oldest brother, Jose, was a veteran of 15 seasons. Bottomline is the Molina brothers are dedicated to their craft and skill. Will his older brothers be able to convince young brother, Yadier, "it's time".
In my opinion, Cardinals fans must prepare themselves for "Baseball without Yadi" in the near future behind the plate. However, I feel, he will still be on the field of play in one capacity or another. So his time with Fryer; or, more time with prospect Carson Kelly, will be intensely valuable.
But, summation and guesstimates be gone. For 2017 ~ I'm certainly going to enjoy seeing Yadier Molina behind the plate. YOU tell him to slow down.
Per Jenifer Langosch, MLB.com, Yadi is going to get the nod in 2017.
Just can't hold a great player down ~ not even if he is 34 years old. I dare any Cardinals fan ~ any baseball fan ~ to match performance against him. Takers?