How Much Is Yadier Molina Worth?
Much like Albert Pujols last spring, Yadier Molina has been on the minds of many fans as training camp opens in earnest. Molina has one final year on his extension (at $7 million) before potentially facing free agency.
Fans are tense. They just endured a bitter end to their relationship with their once-iconic first baseman thanks to free agent money, and they’re bracing for the same thing with Molina. Making matters worse is Molina’s absence from the Winter Warm Up and the White House visit, both of which were left largely unexplained by the man himself. They’re asking a reasonable question: does Yadi still love us and want to stay?
But fans should really be asking a more important question: what is Yadi worth? As we enter the 2012 season, Molina is now the highest-paid catcher in Cardinal history (in adjusted dollars, new manager Mike Matheny is second with $4.5M). His 2012 salary ranks fourth among major league catchers:
- Joe Mauer (Twins) $23M
- Victor Martinez (Tigers) $12M
- Brian McCann (Braves) $11.5M
- Yadier Molina (Cards) $7M
Statistically, the argument can be made that Molina’s 2011 campaign was the second or third best performance among all catchers (Martinez and Miguel Montero are the other two), and easily his most complete personal achievement so far. While his defense suffered a bit, Molina blew away several of his previous offensive highs and posted an incredible 3.9 WAR (fourth-highest on the team). And the numbers don’t even begin to tough Yadi’s steadying influence on a pitching staff that constantly endured trouble during a trying and tricky year.
Calculating Molina’s worth is tricky because, as the Cardinals demonstrated with Pujols last winter, Bill DeWitt’s abacus doesn’t have room for true market value. If we look at the prices of top-tier catching talent in baseball, we see figures far in excess of $10M a year (or, in the case of Mauer, in excess of $20M and sanity). A player is only worth what a team is willing to pay, and the Cardinals are clearly not paying top dollar for anyone.
I do not believe that Molina will get a $10M+ contract from the Cardinals. That’s the reason why I wrote this article last summer that explored the idea of trading Molina while he still had some value and years under contract. Here’s why: when Molina hits free agency at the end of the 2012 season, he will be 30 years old. His body (not the most conditioned one in baseball, for sure) has averaged 128 games and 1,000 innings for the last seven years. His knees show signs of wear and tear. While never the fastest of players, Molina was noticeably slower last year.
Molina is playing a position that few continue to play consistently beyond the age of 36 years old. The great Ted Simmons played until age 38, but didn’t play over 100 games after he reached 35 years old. Of current catchers, Jorge Posada is 40 years old and logged 115 games last year – a remarkable achievement. However, does Molina have the conditioning to do the same? And even so, would it make financial sense to pay top salary to someone of advancing age and risk major injury?
Many people will argue that the Cardinals should pay Molina as a franchise icon. I generally agree with the first part of their point – Molina is probably the most-beloved Cardinal (even more so than Pujols), and his status as an eternal Cardinal has some monetary value to the organization. It’s clear from the nightly chants of “Yadi! Yadi!” that the fans adore their fiery and talented backstop, and the sales of his jersey and other merchandise has never waned at the stadium.
But if the Cardinals were unwilling to pay The Greatest Player Of His Generation™ like a franchise icon, then it’s highly unlikely that they will do so for a player whose position is the toughest, most physically-demanding spot on the field. Nobody in this organization has any intention of paying Molina $12M-$14M to have knee surgery or get really, really fat when he’s 33 years old.
However, I think there are a couple of teams that would be willing to pay Molina more than $10M a year. For instance, the Anaheim Angels will have an opening at the end of the year and the money to spend. Really, a move to the American League makes sense for Molina, who can ease into the designated hitter role as his legs weaken over time. The added ability helps Molina’s worth in those American League markets.
Yadier Molina is my favorite player on the team. He has heart, talent, and courage. He is the greatest Cardinal catcher of my lifetime. However, the truth is becoming painfully obvious – we will spend 2012 watching the last of Molina in a Cardinals uniform.