Trading Stars (Or, Why It Makes Sense To Trade Yadier Molina)
Does anyone remember the winter of 1980? Whitey Herzog had just assumed the rare position of field manager and general manager for the Cardinals, and he went to the winter meetings ready to deal. In the space of a couple of hours, Herzog dealt popular Cardinals Ted Simmons, Gary Templeton, and Pete Vuckovich. In doing so, Herzog shocked Cardinals fans who had come to love the comfort of having these elite players around. However, these trades also dramatically reshaped the team into a winner within one year.
While star players are nice to have on a team for the sake of fan adoration and the level of production/experience they bring, they are often costly. Star players are an investment. Fans may view star players as untouchable, but baseball management knows that star players come with substantial price tags and baggage. This is especially true of stars manning “wear and tear” positions like pitchers and catchers.
Which is why it might be time to consider trading a proven All Star like Yadier Molina.
Before I go any further, let me re-state my feelings: Yadier Molina is my favorite Cardinal. He’s a warm-hearted leader on this team. He’s one of the best catchers in baseball. He has a smile that could soothe the Grinch’s heart. All that stuff. If I had my choice, Molina would be a Cardinal for life.
But that won’t ever happen. Since Tom Pagnozzi’s run of eleven years with the team, the Cardinals have made it clear that they consider the position to be expendable. And for good reason: catchers absorb tremendous amounts of physical strain. It is probably one of the most difficult positions to endure in sports, let alone baseball.
Given that degree of wear and tear, it makes little financial sense to pay millions of guaranteed dollars to a catcher in his thirties. The likelihood of injury increases exponentially with every passing year.
In Molina’s case, his is nearing the 30-year threshold. His knees ache already. He is noticeably slower this year. He is on pace for his lowest caught-stealing total of his career (although some of that might be a resistance to run on him, too). How much longer can Molina’s body sustain his previous performance levels?
But consider this: Molina is already making the second-most of all catchers who have ever played for the Cardinals. The Cardinals gave Mike Matheny $4 million ($4.5 million in adjusted dollars) to play one season in 2004 at the age of 34; the Cardinals released him that winter. Molina makes just under $4 million this year, the final year of his long contract. The option for 2012 is $7 million dollars. That’s some serious money in a position that requires youth, fitness, and a fair amount of luck. It’s especially crazy money for someone who is essentially a two-tool player (defense and throwing arm).
Exacerbating the situation is the nice catching depth the Cardinals have at the major and minor league levels. Tony Cruz and Gerald Laird have both demonstrated terrific ability both behind the plate and at it. In the farm system, the Cards have long-gestating prospect Bryan Anderson wallowing in TLR’s doghouse. Will any of these players likely ever appear at an All Star Game? Probably not. But they could provide strong back-ups at an affordable price.
Meanwhile, the market for Molina is high. Very few teams have a catcher with Molina’s skill set, and several of them would love to have him working with their staff. Imagine Molina going to the Tampa Bay Rays, where he could work with their outstanding young starters! Would the Rays be interested in such a deal? Absolutely!
While trading a star like Molina would have its financial and material benefits, the only real downside to this entire scenario is emotional. Cardinal fans adore Molina. Seeing him go would punch a hole in the center of this fan base. It would also signal the sure end of Albert Pujols’ stay with the team, and probably LaRussa’s as well (good riddance!). Trading a star like Molina would hurt immensely.
But remember the Herzog example. It’s rare that a bonafide star stays with one team for their entire career. And sometimes blockbuster trades involving big names shakes up a team and brings in players that solves problems. Sometimes trades involving beloved players bring home championships.
There are ample financial and material reasons for trading Molina or another beloved Cardinal. Sure, it will hurt. But how long will the pain last if it results in a championship?