Beloved Yadi returns to Cards: 'I'm back!'
“I’m back!” Yadier Molina exclaimed on Monday night, as he officially returned to the Cardinals for 2021 to ensure St. Louis will have the only starting catcher it has known for the past 17 years behind the plate at least one more season.
The deal is for one year, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, and is reportedly worth $9 million, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.
Like re-signing Adam Wainwright, the return of Molina seemed more like a formality than an uncertainty. Despite some public hesitancy, including Molina saying in January that he could retire without the right offer, some courting from other contenders and what he described as a mentally arduous first free-agent experience, returning to St. Louis seemed like the only plausible outcome.
“We know the importance Yadi has, not only for the St. Louis Cardinals, but really the impact he has on other players,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. “... Exciting times for all of us. I know [chairman Bill Dewitt Jr.] and the entire ownership group is glad we could get this done. And we're certainly looking forward to the 2021 season.”
“This is my home,” Molina added at his re-introductory news conference on Tuesday. “I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to be back.”
Unsure about his future, Molina will utilize the nature of a one-year deal to weigh the likelihood of continuing his career on an annual basis -- just like Wainwright.
“Hopefully we’ll stay healthy, everyone, and we’ll bring the championship this year,” he said. “After that, we’ll look and see and decide what the future is.”
This agreement comes after Molina played for Criollos de Caguas, Puerto Rico’s representative in the Caribbean Series, last week, when he faced off against Cards teammate Carlos Martínez (Dominican Republic) on the first day of action on Jan. 31. (“He looks more mature,” Molina said.) The D.R. took home the championship over Puerto Rico on Saturday, as Molina hit .192 while catching five of six games in the tournament (DHing once).
And now he joins a club that, with Nolan Arenado in the fold, is shaping up to be a contender for the National League Central if not the NL pennant.
Molina, 38, will be entering his 18th season with the Cardinals -- to trail only Stan Musial’s 22 with the franchise. The nine-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner (and four-time Platinum Glover) is coming off a .262/.303/.359 line in 42 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2000 MLB Draft, Molina has appeared in more games (2,025) than any Cardinals catcher, and only two -- Stan Musial (3,026) and Lou Brock (2,289) -- have appeared in more among all Cards players. Molina, who owns a .281/.333/.404 career slash line, ranks in the top 10 in Cardinals history in bWAR, at-bats, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, extra-base hits, total bases and several more categories.
More important than the accolades is what Molina does for the Cardinals’ pitching staff, which is set to feature an open competition for the final spot. But with Wainwright returning, the Cards can rely on a pairing that has started the sixth-most games together, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The club has also been rumored to be in the hunt for another arm, though Mozeliak doused some water on the Hot Stove on Tuesday.
“Right now, I think we're pretty confident with the team we have going into camp,” he said. “I wouldn't rule out perhaps a few non-roster invitees that could be added, but overall we feel pretty good about what we have.”
Behind Molina, the 2021 Cardinals have Andrew Knizner, 26, who played in eight games in 2020. While he’s seen as the heir apparent to Molina, the club may believe he still needs some time to develop into that role. St. Louis also signed Tyler Heineman, 29, to a Minor League contract in November, and he’ll have a chance to compete for a backup spot in Spring Training, too.
“I think they’re ready, I’m excited for them,” Molina said of Knizner and Ivan Herrera, the club’s No. 4 prospect. “They work hard, both of them. ... I’m going to be there for them, too.”