Coming off two consecutive seasons that saw his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall, Yadier Molina's start to the season seemed to confirm the fear that the former All-Star's tank was starting to run on empty. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Molina's bat caught fire as he proceeded to hit .365/.398/.529 following the All-Star break. When all was said and done, he'd played a career-high 147 games and owned a .307/.360/.427 line. Such a resurgent season raises the question, just how much does Molina, who turns 35 in July, have left to offer? It's no secret that Molina is at the latter end of his career, and that he's played over 110 games at an incredibly demanding position every season since 2004 doesn't help his case for longevity. The catcher pool is top-heavy, giving Molina an opportunity to finish as a top-10 or top-15 backstop again.
Molina, playing in his first game since returning from the World Baseball Classic, went 2-for-3 with a solo home run in Sunday's 3-0 Grapefruit League win over the Marlins. The veteran backstop blasted an 0-2 pitch from Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen over the left-field wall in his first plate appearance for his first homer of the spring. This year, Molina will be playing out the final season of a five-year, $75 million extension he signed in 2012; his agent and the Cardinals are working on getting an extension done ahead of Opening Day, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Molina, who played for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, was a unanimous choice for All-WBC honors, Manny Randhawa of MLB.com reports. The veteran backstop became only the second two-time All-WBC honoree, joining Daisuke Matsuzaka, who accomplished the feat in the 2006 and 2009 editions of the tournament. Molina hit .333 (8-for-24) with two home runs and six RBI over six games. He hopes to bring some of that offensive prowess with him back to Cardinals camp, where he'd hit just .176 (3-for-17) with a double, two RBI, two walks and three runs over seven games before departing for the WBC.
Molina is hitting .333 (3-for-9) with a home run, three RBI and three runs for Team Puerto Rico over the first two games of World Baseball Classic play. The veteran backstop blasted a two-run homer off Padres starter Jhoulys Chacin in an 11-0 win over Team Venezuela on Friday, and he singled in a run in five at-bats in Saturday's 9-4 win over Team Mexico. Molina is once again slated to be the Cardinals' primary catcher in 2017 at age 34 after generating an impressive .307/.360/.427 line over 581 plate appearances last season.
Molina went 2-for-2 with a single and two-run double in Sunday's 7-4 Grapefruit League win over the Marlins. The veteran backstop, working as a DH on Sunday, drove home Eric Fryer and Aledmys Diaz in the second, giving the Cardinals a 4-0 lead at the time. The ageless Molina will eventually leave camp to play for Team Puerto Rico in the WBC, but is expected to see a solid amount of playing time prior to departing.
Molina, who started a career-high 142 games in 2016 and has been named to Team Puerto Rico's roster for this year's WBC, will once again be heavily counted on in 2017, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports. "My job description is to win games," (Cardinals manager Mike) Matheny said last month. "And if I have a player that I feel like is going to help us win games and that I feel is able to answer the bell, he's going to be in the lineup." The veteran backstop will turn 35 in July but did nothing to betray his advanced age last season, with his aforementioned 142 starts behind the plate also representing a major league-high figure in 2016. Molina defensive proficiency is above question despite the fact he saw his streak of eight consecutive Gold Gloves snapped last season, but his bat was a valuable asset in 2016 as well. His .307 average, 164 hits and 38 doubles all served as majors-best figures among catchers, while his .365 post-All-Star break average ranked second in all of baseball. Additionally, his eight homers, albeit a modest tally, represented his best figure in that category since 2013. Neither the Cardinals or Molina see any decline on the horizon for the seemingly ageless wonder, with the latter attributing his offseason preparation to keeping him consistent over such an extended period. "That's the goal. That's the goal," Molina said of such sustained production. "That's what the offseason workouts do for you when you do it right. That's my plan in the offseason: to work hard and to try to play as many games as I can and stay healthy."