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Cards, Molina a match too perfect to end

MLB.com @RichardJustice

In the end, it came down to this: It was pretty much impossible to imagine Yadier Molina playing for a team other than the St. Louis Cardinals.

Molina means too much to the franchise, his teammates and the millions of people who care about baseball in St. Louis. That's why the Cardinals and their longtime leader agreed to a contract extension.

In the end, it came down to this: It was pretty much impossible to imagine Yadier Molina playing for a team other than the St. Louis Cardinals.

Molina means too much to the franchise, his teammates and the millions of people who care about baseball in St. Louis. That's why the Cardinals and their longtime leader agreed to a contract extension.

In the 12 seasons Molina has been the No. 1 catcher, the Cards have won more regular-season games than any other National League team (1,075).

Their 48 postseason victories are the most in baseball in that time. There have been three NL pennants and World Series wins in 2006 and '11.

Molina? Seven-time All-Star. Eight-time Gold Glove winner. Throwing arm one of the best ever.

Video: DOM@PUR: Statcast™ analyzes Molina's throw to second

Beyond the numbers, there are the things Molina's teammates see and admire. That he's tough and smart and durable. That his relentless work ethic and consistent production are the gold standard for every player wearing the Cardinals uniform.

Molina is a mentor to young players, especially young pitchers. Veterans trust him, too. The Cards have a 3.79 ERA over the past 12 years, the second lowest in the Majors -- and if you don't think Molina is a big part of that, ask Adam Wainwright or Lance Lynn or Carlos Martinez.

Sure, we've become accustomed to players changing teams. Happens all the time. Part of the landscape. But some players are just different. They become embedded into the fabric of both the team and the community.

That's what Molina represents to one of baseball's crown-jewel franchises. From the beginning, this deal seemed virtually certain of happening before Opening Day. As marriages go, there have been few better.

No player represents what the Cardinals would like to be more than this one. Besides that, to allow the uncertainty to linger might have become a distraction for a club that has had a terrific Spring Training. As much as both sides said that Molina heading into a potential walk year wouldn't be a problem, it was an uncomfortable possibility.

Video: Outlook: Molina is an above-average contributor at C

The Cards had two other factors to weigh. One is that one of their top prospects, Carson Kelly, is a catcher and widely considered Major League ready.

Another is that Molina's 1,582 games are the 24th most in history at his position, and he's likely to become just the sixth to break the 2,000-game mark.

No position takes its toll on a body more than catcher. Still, at 34, Molina is coming off a season in which he started a career-high 142 games and batted .307. He batted .333 in the World Baseball Classic and looked as good as ever behind the plate.

Molina apparently was stung by whispers that his defensive game declined last season and intended to show the world that he's as good as ever.

Video: MIA@STL: Molina hits a deep solo homer to left field

On the other hand, there's no way to project the level at which Molina will produce for the next three seasons. And there's this: Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak does not make many personnel mistakes.

Here's what really matters: Molina probably will play every game of his career with the Cards, and that feels like the right thing.

Having missed the postseason for the first time in five seasons in 2016, the Cardinals have sailed through Spring Training brimming with confidence and possibilities.

Now, they've locked up one of their cornerstone players and removed a potential distraction. It was nearly impossible to think this would play out any other way.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina