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.