The Cardinals have a big free agent problem looming, and they need to deal with it sooner as opposed to later. Instead of waiting until the last possible moment, I hope that they step up and complete a long-term deal right away. Just pay the man what he’s worth. That’s right. They need to pay the man who is practically a rock star in the Gateway City.
Were you thinking of someone else? He’s playing 2011 for $5.25M, and the team holds an option for 2012 for $7M. After that, he’s set to hit the market at age 30 unless the Cardinals sign him to a contract extension. So, what’s he worth to the Cardinals? Based on what other catchers make, what could he reasonably expect to make as a free agent? Let’s consider some of his contemporaries. I’ll start will all the active catchers who throw out base runners attempting to steal at a rate of 45% or higher.
Excellent. My hands are practically cramping from all the typing required to compile that list. Now I’ll move on to the list of currently active catchers who have won 3 or more consecutive Gold Gloves at the position.
Yep, that cramping sensation has moved into my fingertips.
That’s an exclusive list. It’s safe to say that Rodriguez (39) is well past his prime, so he’s not very useful for comparison. Mauer was the AL MVP in 2009 and boasts a career average of .327, so he’s not exactly a good “comp”, either. So, how do you value Yadi? There are plenty of catchers with similar offensive numbers. Check Russell Martin or Carlos Ruiz for comparable offensive punch, if that’s what floats your boat. Try stepping back for a moment and appreciating the whole picture.
Look beyond the respectable .268/.327/.361/.688 line with 41 hr and 325 rbi. Move past the 10.9 WAR (3.5 oWAR / 7.4 dWAR). Consider his entire resume. 2 All-Star appearances and 3 Gold Glove awards before his 30’s. Think about his .315/.351/.444/.795 batting line in postseason play. That’s no small sample size, either. That’s 32 games over 4 different seasons and 1 unreal World Series championship in which he ONLY hit .412/.500/.529/1.029. Buster Posey may be the current flavor of the month (with good reason), but let’s put his accomplishments in perspective. His postseason line is .288/.354/.390/.744, and he’s considered a well-rounded catcher. The book on Yadi is that he’s a defensive catcher who just happens to hit the ball the other way. I’m really big on Posey as being the catcher of the future, but let’s not be so quick to push Molina aside just yet. Posey will almost certainly outperform Yadi in the regular season at the plate, but I don’t know that anybody can match what Yadi does behind it.
Realize that his 1.7 dWAR was 4th highest in the NL for ALL players (regardless of position). At age 28, Yadi has the 18th highest dWAR total (7.4) among all active players. That total is good for 137th all-time. Need some help with perspective on that? Johnny Bench finished his career with a dWAR of 6.5, and Ivan Rodriguez sits currently at 16.4. Even if he drops off slightly from his current pace, Yadi could catch Rodriguez in 6-7 seasons. Would that be a big deal? Well, yes. Rodriguez is only 12th all-time on the dWAR list. Yeah, you might say that’s kind of a big deal.
Sure, there’s a guy who plays 90 feet down the first base line from Yadi who gets most of the attention. That’s all well and good, but it’s time to start appreciating another form of greatness in its prime. By statistical comparison and reputation, Yadier Molina is forcing his way into the conversation as one of the best defensive catchers of all-time. There aren’t many names used in that conversation. One might argue that all of them are either in Cooperstown or will be enshrined there eventually. Is it possible that Yadi may some day join that exclusive group?
The next time you watch a Cardinals game look pay special attention to the small things that Yadi does behind the plate. In some of the best games that the starting 5 will pitch this year, notice how infrequently they shake off signs from the man behind the mask. Notice how he taps the ground with his glove and a Cy Young-caliber pitcher like Wainwright just nods knowingly, because he’s thrown that curve in the dirt hundreds of times before, and Yadi’s blocked it hundreds of times before. That’s faith, folks. Maybe Albert puts fans in the stands and helps pay the bills, but I’d argue that Yadi makes the pitching staff perform at their best; thus, he truly makes the Cardinals’ world go ’round.
TIDBITS: I do think it’s too early for a serious HOF debate, but it’s worth acknowledging just how good Yadi is right now. If he can play at his current level for another 5 years then maybe we’ll have that debate.
MORE BITS OF TID: When considering WAR values for catchers, there is no ideal way to account for everything that a catcher does defensively. Some contributions cannot be measured quantitatively, and that’s where the “eyeball test” comes into play. If you added some sort of “defensive adjustment” for Posey and prorated it over the partial season he played, that would raise his WAR value (3.0) closer to Heyward’s WAR total (4.4).
FINAL BIT OF TID: Molina and Posey played on World Series winning teams in their age 23 seasons.
Like it? Are you going to be ready to debate Yadi’s HOF credentials in 5 years? Follow gr33nazn on Twitter, and we’ll start our opening arguments now!