Yadier Molina 'Willing' to Enter Free Agency If Cardinals Don't Extend Contract

Megan ArmstrongSenior Analyst IIApril 29, 2020

St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina heads back to the dugout after striking out swinging during the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Mets Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said in January he was committed to playing for the team as long as they wanted him and if they didn't want him he'd retire. 

"If the Cardinals want me that's the only team I want to play for," Molina told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "So, it's still like that too. If they want me. If they want to move apart, that's it for me."

A lot has changed since then.

During a Wednesday phone conversation with ESPN's Marly Rivera, Molina said the COVID-19 pandemic has altered his thinking and opened his mind to finishing his playing career elsewhere if it comes to that:

"I previously said that, if it wasn't with St. Louis, that I would go home. If we were unable to come to an extension agreement, that I would retire. But the situation with this pandemic has changed everything. Right now, I'm thinking of playing two more years.

"Obviously, St. Louis is my first option. But if they don't sign me, then I'm willing to go into free agency. This situation has changed my mentality and all I want to do is play."

Major League Baseball's Opening Day was scheduled for March 26 before the pandemic forced the league to delay the 2020 season on March 12.

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The Athletic's Mark Saxon reported on March 11 that the two sides were "in the midst" of extension negotiations that would see Molina remain a Cardinal through 2021 with the possibility of keeping him through 2022.

Those talks appear to have stalled.

"Before this terrible situation happened, I thought there was a 50/50 chance that the 2020 campaign would be my last," Molina added. "Not now. The most important thing right now is people's health and getting past this pandemic. It's a very difficult situation. After we accomplish that, after we're able to start the 2020 season, then I'd like to have that conversation."

The 37-year-old has one year remaining on his three-year, $60 million deal. The Cardinals owe Molina $20 million in base salary for 2020, per Spotrac.

The Cardinals took Molina in the fourth round of the 2000 MLB draft. He made his major league debut for the club in June 2004. Since then, he has captured nine Gold Gloves, nine All-Star nods and four Platinum Gloves while helping St. Louis win two World Series titles (2006, 2011).

"Well, Yadi has done some pretty remarkable things at his age," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. told Goold. "And as much as he played last year and has played through injuries the last couple of years, but we'll see. Get the lay of the land and sort of take it as it goes. I know in his mind he thinks he can play for a number of years and that’d be great if he can."

The future Hall of Famer was limited to 113 regular-season contests last season because of a thumb injury. He had undergone offseason knee surgery in December 2018 and had missed 27 games during the 2018 campaign after emergency surgery on a pelvic injury in May 2018. He played 123 regular-season games for the Cards that year.

Prior to those injury concerns, however, Molina averaged 125 games per season from 2004 through 2017.

In terms of productivity, Molina posted a .270/.312/.399 slash line with 10 home runs, 57 RBI and 113 hits across 452 plate appearances last year. He also caught 27 percent of runners stealing and recorded 916 putouts across 108 starts at catcher.