ST. LOUIS -- The annual topic of Yadier Molina's playing time -- and the question about whether this is the year the Cardinals rein it in -- predictably arose on the final day of the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up. This time, though, manager Mike Matheny came with a bold and changed response.
Instead of feigning interest in reducing the 34-year-old's workload this season, Matheny stated his intention to continue riding Molina as he has until the veteran catcher shows he's no longer able to handle it.
"My job description is to win games," Matheny said. "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.
"... We're going to put the best team out there each particular day, but [we're] also not drawing reservations because of maybe some information out there that says maybe we should back off. I don't buy it. I think if people have enjoyed the last several seasons of watching one of the best catchers in the game, I think if people enjoy watching this team continue to compete and be one of the contenders in the National League, we have to realize the importance of what Yadi does back there. You can't have it both ways."
Matheny has heard plenty of outside opinions about how he's overworked Molina and is perhaps expediting Molina's eventual decline as a result. But as a former NL Gold Glove Award-winning catcher who himself once mentored a young Molina, Matheny doesn't agree. He has 2016 to point to as proof.
Molina is coming off a season in which he started a career-high and Major League-most 142 games behind the plate. Only one catcher (Ted Simmons) in franchise history had ever started more.
Despite that workload, Molina not only stayed healthy, but he thrived offensively, particularly in the second half. His .365 batting average after the All-Star break was second best in the Majors. Molina finished the year leading all catchers in average (.307), hits (164) and doubles (38).
"That's the goal. That's the goal," Molina said on Monday. "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."
The one place Molina did fall short was in his attempt to add a ninth consecutive NL Gold Glove Award to his collection. He acknowledged that "surprised me a little bit because I played so many games." NL honors went to the Giants' Buster Posey instead. The fact that Molina threw out a career-low 21 percent of attempting basestealers hurt his case, though the Cardinals' pitchers didn't help him with their frequent struggles holding runners on.
But where there wasn't new hardware, there is added motivation.
"When you feel that you won the Gold Glove and it didn't go your way, it makes you work harder," Molina said. "That's where I am right now. I just concentrate on winning it back again. I always say you concentrate on your team winning the World Series, but at the same time with personal stuff, that's in my mind."