ST. LOUIS -- Though recovery from an offseason knee procedure will limit Yadier Molina's time on the field this spring, the veteran catcher has opened his mind to potentially playing beyond the end of his contract, which covers the next two seasons.
"It all depends what happens these [next] two years," Molina said. "If the Cardinals want to do [a contract extension] one more time, I'll only do it with the Cardinals."
It's a changed perspective from a year ago when, speaking at the same Winter Warm-Up event, Molina said bluntly: "Three more years. That's it."
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That Molina has relaxed those expectations is a reflection of how spry he still feels. Despite missing a month while recovering from groin surgery last year, Molina achieved a fourth straight season with at least 120 starts. He posted a .750 OPS, earned another All-Star invite and captured his ninth Gold Glove Award.
All the while Molina played through pain in his left knee. By mid-summer, Molina had decided that offseason surgery would be necessary. He chose to have the procedure in December so he could represent Major League Baseball in the Japan All-Star Series in November.
"It was pretty bad," Molina said of his knee. "Every time I hit the ground, I had a bone in my knee that was bothering me for a long time. Last year, it was way harder than ever. But for me, I wanted to be there. I don't care if I'm hurt or not."
Molina characterized his knee as at "50 percent," with three weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. He's squatting at "10 percent" effort and will be restricted in how many bullpens he can catch during the early weeks of camp.
Molina said his aim is to begin playing in Grapefruit League games around the second week of March. That would give Molina about 2-3 weeks to get himself game-ready before the Cardinals open the season in Milwaukee. Any setbacks could thrust projected backup Francisco Pena into a more prominent early-season role.
How Molina fares this season will craft his outlook on the future. Molina will be 38 years old and two decades into his career with the organization when his contract expires in 2020. He has no intentions of ever wearing another Major League uniform, but he would entertain extending his career under the right circumstances.
"If the Cardinals want me, I'll be here for them," Molina said. "But if not, I'll retire."
As for the season ahead, Molina established high expectations.
"I'm 100 percent sure that we have what we need to win the [World] Series," Molina said. "Right now, it just depends on us. Try to stay healthy. And after that, we are going to show the world that we can do it."