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Inbox: What's market like for Molina, Waino?

Beat reporter Anne Rogers answers questions from fans
@anne__rogers
November 23, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Welcome to the Thanksgiving week Cardinals Inbox, where I first want to say how thankful I am for all of you reading this story and others on MLB.com. Other than a few roster moves to protect Rule 5 Draft-eligible players, things remain status quo with the Cards,

ST. LOUIS -- Welcome to the Thanksgiving week Cardinals Inbox, where I first want to say how thankful I am for all of you reading this story and others on MLB.com. Other than a few roster moves to protect Rule 5 Draft-eligible players, things remain status quo with the Cards, but we could have some news soon enough, which I’ll get into below.

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving, everyone. Now, let’s get to some questions:

We’ve got the two faces of the franchise, and a two-time Gold Glover up for re-signing. Why are we hearing crickets from the front office, and when do you think we’ll see movement on Kolten Wong/Adam Wainwright/Yadier Molina?
-- @ephesossh on Twitter

We’ve seen this be a slow-moving offseason for almost every team. There have been a few signings here and there, but there haven’t been many splashes made. That’s because many teams are likely to wait until they can figure out if they will be able to sell any tickets and have fans in their ballparks in 2021, as well as waiting to see who else will become free agents on Dec. 2, which is the non-tender deadline.

Free agents are waiting, too, to see what next season looks like. A season with fans in the stands means teams are going to be willing to spend a little more on free-agent deals, and those players are going to be willing to wait for the right offer to come. Empty ballparks might change the deals that free agents are willing to take. A player like Wong might be in this camp.

Free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto might slow the market for Molina when it comes to teams other than St. Louis. While the Molina-Cardinals interest is mutual, and Molina’s representation has stayed in contact with the front office over the past few weeks, the veteran catcher would also like to explore his market outside of St. Louis. That includes the Yankees and Mets, who both could use a seasoned catcher. If the Cardinals want the market to help sway what they offer Molina, then it could be a little slower.

One signing that might have ripple effects for Wainwright is lefty Drew Smyly going to the Braves on a one-year, $11 million deal. If the Braves peg Smyly for their rotation, that gives them a five-man group of Smyly, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and Mike Soroka (when he returns from his right Achilles injury). In the meantime, Atlanta has prospects -- like Bryse Wilson -- waiting as options, too. That cluster of options might decrease the chances of the Braves pursuing Wainwright, who knows he has a clear spot in the rotation waiting in St. Louis.

The slow market doesn’t mean Wainwright and Molina aren’t returning to the Cardinals. It just means it’s going to take time.

What will be the plan if Yadi leaves? Andrew Knizner and re-sign Matt Wieters? At what point would they cut ties with Matt Carpenter if he continues to struggle?
-- @curtab7 on Twitter

The Cardinals believe Knizner is ready for the Majors, so he would likely be their primary catcher if Molina doesn’t return. Then, they could either sign a veteran backup like they have before (it doesn’t have to be Wieters) or make Tyler Heineman, who they signed to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training two weeks ago, as the backup. This, of course, is Plan B, with re-signing Molina and utilizing Knizner as his backup being Plan A.

To answer your Carpenter question, I think we can look to 2019 as an example. When he returned from a rehab assignment late in the season, he was relegated to a backup role. Tommy Edman was the primary third baseman, and we saw Carpenter pinch-hit or be used in double switches. There were flashes of what Carpenter can bring early this past season, but that production wasn’t sustained and his OPS dropped for the second straight year, falling to .640.

With 2021 being the last guaranteed year on Carpenter’s contract, the Cardinals aren’t going to cut him, as they would still have to pay him his full salary. If he continues to struggle as a starter, St. Louis could still use him in a backup role.

DJ Lemahieu and George Springer ... St. Louis has no second baseman or outfielders, minus Dylan Carlson. They also have no third baseman. What are the odds for signing both?
-- @joshjameslee on Twitter

The Cardinals have a second baseman in Edman, and they have other outfield options besides Carlson in Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler. They may not be the options you’d like to see, but they are there.

LeMahieu and Springer are two of the top free agents this offseason, and there are plenty of teams that will want to sign them. The Cardinals should explore offers for both, but it’s going to be a tough market to land either of them, especially this winter. St. Louis has indicated it will decrease payroll, and it is already operating at a high threshold with close to $110 million committed toward the 2021 payroll before arbitration raises.

I’d argue that the Cardinals’ greater need is in the outfield, but LeMahieu’s bat would be welcomed into the lineup. Plus, he has experience playing all over the infield. However, where I see St. Louis improving its offense is through the trade market and the next wave of free agents in early December. People around the industry are bracing for a big group of arbitration-eligible players and other non-tender candidates becoming free agents at the Dec. 2 deadline. Teams are going to try to land the best players they can at a value price.

There are still ways to improve without pursuing the upper echelon of free agents.

How is Jordan Hicks' rehab going? He looks like he's crushing it in his Instagram posts. Excited for that arm to be back in the 'pen.
-- @realTrentonD on Twitter

All signs point to Hicks rejoining the team next season and factoring into the bullpen. He’s recovering and has rehabbed his elbow, regaining his strength and building up his arm with bullpen sessions. I don’t know if the Cardinals will immediately put him back in the closer role, because he hasn’t been on a big league mound since June 2019, but they are hoping that at some point in '21, they’ll have him pitching in the ninth inning again.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.