Yadier Molina Talks Free Agency, Says He Could Retire with His Head 'Held High'

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 14, 2021

Rob Leiter

Longtime St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said Thursday he'll consider retirement if the right offer doesn't come in free agency before the 2021 MLB season.

Molina told Cardinals broadcaster Polo Ascensio (via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) he's seeking a two-year contract and would prefer a return to St. Louis.

"Getting ready as always and God will tell," Molina said. "If God wants me to come back, then I'll come back. And if not, I will retire happy with my head held high."

Molina has spent his entire 17-year major league career with the Cardinals, and he's been in the organization since St. Louis selected him in the fourth round of the 2000 MLB draft.

The 38-year-old Puerto Rico native has compiled a .281/.333/.404 slash line with 160 home runs across 2,025 regular-season games with the Redbirds. He's earned nine All-Star selections and won nine Gold Gloves for his work behind the plate.

Along with his on-field contributions, he's also been a key leader in the Cardinals clubhouse during a tenure that's included a pair of World Series titles (2006 and 2011).

Although Molina was a force during his prime, peaking at 7.8 WAR in 2013, his contributions have dipped in recent years, including 0.5 WAR across 42 games during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, per FanGraphs.

The Cardinals don't have a direct replacement available should he not return, though. Andrew Knizner and Tyler Heineman are projected to compete for the starting job in spring training if no other moves are made.

It could be a situation in which St. Louis is waiting to see how the free-agent market plays out—top catcher J.T. Realmuto is still available—before deciding whether to bring back Molina.

In December, Cards president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters patience would be needed as the club worked through the offseason amid the financial uncertainty of the pandemic:

"I am an advocate for fresh faces and trying to keep an environment that feels refreshing and new and exciting. But when you enter an offseason like we're entering and you have two legacy players who are entering free agency for the first time, it poses a much different variable than just simple change for change. Then you couple in a pandemic, where you have a different finances than you might normally have (and) not have the same flexibility as in pre-pandemic thinking. Therein lies the problem.
"Where we have a lot of different variables that we're trying to capture and resolve, and still try to maintain that club that we're excited about and believe in."

Along with Molina, pitcher Adam Wainwright also hit the free-agent market after 15 seasons in St. Louis.

More clarity on their status, and the Cardinals' outlook for 2021, should become available as February's spring training moves closer.