(KMOV.com) — Though Cardinals Nation holds its collective breath hoping the team figures out a way to bring back its franchise cornerstone for next season, Wednesday’s MLB transaction cycle presented an uncomfortable reality of the times.
With the World Series ending Tuesday night, this year’s class of expiring contracts across the league officially became free agents as of noon Eastern on Wednesday. For the first time in his illustrious big-league career, Yadier Molina is included on that list.
Officially, the Cardinals’ catcher since 2004 is not currently a Cardinal.
The three-year contract extension Molina signed with the Cardinals in March 2017–with the intention it would be his last deal as a player–ran through the end of the 2020 season. Although the contract has expired, his desire to keep playing has not.
Molina told reporters in January that he sought to play two more seasons in MLB after 2020. He also said he would only play those seasons with St. Louis. If the two sides couldn’t work out another contract, he said at the time, he would retire a Cardinal. Case closed.
During MLB’s COVID shutdown, however, Molina changed his mind. He said the pandemic forced him to reconsider his priorities. Molina still intended to play two more years, but added that if the Cardinals weren’t willing to keep him, he would take his talents elsewhere. That declaration from earlier this year carries more weight now that the 38-year-old catcher has been officially declared a free agent.
All teams have a five-day exclusive negotiating window with their departing free agents before the players are free to sign with new teams. For the Cardinals, Molina’s longtime batterymate Adam Wainwright is a free agent, as well. The team has gone year-to-year with the 39-year-old pitcher each of the last two seasons, but this year could also be different for Wainwright. Some have speculated that both Molina and Wainwright could relocate from the Cardinals, joining a new franchise as a package deal. A reunion with Albert Pujols in Los Angeles would be a tough image to stomach.
Other free agents for St. Louis include Brad Miller and Matt Wieters. Miller was an effective bat for the Cardinals in 2020, a savvy signing in February for just $2 million. A reunion at a similar price point shouldn’t be out of the question. That’s what happened between the Cardinals and Wieters, who signed a pair of one-year deals with St. Louis before 2019 and 2020. For next season, though, it’s possible the Cardinals shift to up-and-coming catcher Andrew Knizner for full-time backup duties–unless, of course, the Cardinals find themselves in need of a primary starter at the position.
That all depends what happens with Molina. While it would be a stain on the reputation of the Cardinals to let their star catcher–a member of the organization since he was drafted in 2000–end his career elsewhere, it’s unclear how far the team is willing to go financially to avoid that scenario. Molina’s previous contract put his annual