Molina, Wainwright hit free-agent market

November 1st, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in his career, is a free agent, and now he’s eligible to sign with all teams with the end of the quiet period on Sunday.

Molina, 38, has spent 20 years in the Cardinals organization after it selected him in the 2000 MLB Draft. He is coming off a three-year, $60 million contract and is seeking a two-year contract to take him into his 40s and what could be the end of his Hall of Fame career.

Now, all that’s left to wonder is if he’ll be putting on his Cardinals catching gear in 2021 -- or gear for another team.

Cards president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said he intended to talk with Molina’s agent, as well as 's this past week. Wainwright has been through the free-agent process before but has rather quickly signed one-year deals with the Cardinals the past few years.

Wainwright and Molina have both said that their preference is to return to St. Louis. They’ve also talked about going somewhere else, together. Molina is expected to have conversations with other teams to see what his value is on the open market.

Both have already been approached by teams other than the Cards. Clubs like the Mets and Yankees could be eyeing available catchers, and starting pitching is always a premium, even this year with many teams finding ways to reduce payroll. Wainwright reportedly is drawing interest from the team that drafted him, the Braves, who have a young rotation that could benefit from a veteran leader.

Molina has left an invaluable mark on St. Louis. He is a two-time World Series champion, nine-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time Platinum Glove Award winner. In 2020, Molina played his 2,000th game and notched his 2,000th hit. Beyond his on-field performance, his teammates peg him as their steady leader and someone who can guide young players through the grind of a baseball season. The same can be said for Wainwright.

It seems like an easy decision to bring both back, and the Cardinals will certainly try to do that. But decreased revenue in 2020 might change the team’s strategy when it comes to spending. For example, the Cardinals valued the immediate financial flexibility of declining Kolten Wong’s $12.5 million option (with a $1 million buyout) over another year with an elite second baseman. In a normal year, Wong’s option would be an easy pickup, and deals with Wainwright and Molina could be further along already.

When asked Wednesday what it’s like negotiating with a team icon like Molina, Mozeliak -- who was general manager when the Cardinals tried to re-sign Albert Pujols in 2011 -- called it “one of the more difficult types of negotiations.”

“I’ve known Yadi since he was drafted,” Mozeliak said. “He’s been an iconic figure to this organization. I could tell you how tough I am and what a great negotiator I am, but I’m human. There are parts of your decision making that will inherently be drawn to that relationship.

“Ultimately, I think in this particular case, it’s about trying to understand really about next year, trying to recognize his legacy and what it means to this organization, but also understanding that this is still a business and there are some tough decisions that have to be made. But they’re not fun. It’s just something, when you’re agonizing over these types of things, it’s difficult. I’d be lying to you if I said it was easy, and I’d be lying to you if I said it doesn’t keep me up at night.”