The St. Louis Cardinals and Yadier Molina agreed to a five-year, $75 million deal on Thursday, locking up their All-Star backstop until 2017 when he will be 34. It also gives fans the satisfaction of knowing the Cardinals are very serious about competing for another World Series despite the loss of Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa. But was it really worth that price?
Molina had the best year of his career in 2011, hitting .305 with 14 homers, 65 RBIs and 32 doubles. He also continued to be the best defensive catcher in baseball, allowing just 46 stolen bases and finishing tied for second in fielding percentage among catchers. His durability is also something to appreciate as he has led the league in starts behind the plate three years in a row. And he has been a leader in the Cardinals clubhouse for years. All those things make him a very valuable commodity. But it gets to the point where you have to ask: How do you put a value on defense and intangibles?
Let’s look at it like this: Molina’s deal would go on to be the third-highest contract ever for a catcher. The two above him are Joe Mauer (eight years, $184 million) and Mike Piazza (seven years, $91 million). Both men were given the highest contracts ever at their positions at the time of their respective deals. I’m sure I don’t stand alone when I say that Molina’s name belongs nowhere near both those men at the time of their deals.
I’ll even go one step further. Do you know how many teams are furious with the Cardinals right now? The answer is at least five, because there are five catchers (Napoli, McCann, Montero, Santana and Posey) that come to my head immediately, who have yet to hit free agency, and I would take over Molina. Their agents agree with me as well. The argument will be made that their clients are far and above Molina at the plate and that has always been the measuring stick when it comes negotiations for contracts. You compare offensive numbers and just acknowledge the fact of defense when it applies to simply complement the deal. There is no real financial metric for good defense or team leadership for that matter. So, how much is too much?
I think $15 million annually is too much. Of the guys making that kind of money, they are either the aces of their staffs or a strong run-producer on their teams. Molina will likely hit seventh this season and isn’t likely to even repeat his marginal offensive production from last season. He is a career .274 hitter and only hit .300 twice (2008 and 2011). He had never hit more than eight home runs (once in 2005) in a season before 2011. And at age 29, he isn’t getting any younger. All signs point to him not eclipsing his career-year and further under-performing during his new deal.
While this deal isn’t quite Jayson Werth (seven years, $126 million), it does scream Carlos Silva (four years, $48 million). Don’t be surprised if, two years from now, we hear the talks of Molina being available as a salary dump. Defense should never be the selling point of a contract.