Leap year day has brought what appears to be the end of the on-again, off-again, on-again contract negotiations between the St. Louis Cardinals and their four-time Gold Glove Award winning catcher Yadier Molina. The two sides have come to agreement on a five-year contract extension that should be formally announced soon, tweeted Jon Heyman of CBS Sports on Wednesday morning. He also spoke directly with the player, who declined comment.
The contract is for $75 million over five years, Heyman says. Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports was the first to report the two sides were very close to closing a deal in the $70-75 million range. Molina, a native of Puerto Rico, was eligible for free agency following this season.
The 29-year-old is considered by many to be the game's best defensive catcher and had his best year with the bat in 2011. Molina’s 2011 line was .305/.349/.465 with his 14 home runs nearly doubling his previous career high. His total of 32 doubles was also his career best.
|Bill DeWitt Jr., John Mozeliak, Yadier Molina, Mike Matheny|
Molina, drafted in the fourth round in 2000, has been with the organization longer than any other active player. He first came up to the majors in 2004 as current manager Mike Matheny’s understudy and became a key member of both the Cardinals 2006 and 2011 World Champion clubs.
The catcher may be the most indispensable player on St. Louis' current roster. Unlike when Molina replaced Matheny in 2005, the Cardinals have no clear heir apparent currently in their system. It appears the team’s front office reflected this in their urgency to get a deal done and in paying what seems to be a premium price.
Last week, Molina's agent Melvin Roman expressed a preference to either get a deal done before the regular season begins or wait until fall. Some Cardinals fans, still stinging from a comparable script followed by Albert Pujols the year before, braced for the possibility of Molina's departure as a free agent.
Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, entering year two of a eight-year, $184 million contract, is the only catcher in major league history with a higher average annual value salary ($23 million) than Molina’s reported new deal would provide him ($15 million).
In 2012, Molina is slated to make $7 million in the option year of his current contract. That deal, totaling $22.5 million over five years, was signed in January 2008.
By wrapping up Molina through his age 35 season, the Cardinals will be assuming the risk of their catcher's natural late-career decline. Despite Molina's durability (averaging 145 games played per season), it will occur. It is only a matter of time.
The Cardinals apparently decided the upside in terms of winning over the next three or four years was worth the money. In other words, the downside of losing Molina following this season was considered worse than the potential risk of carrying what could be an above-market value contract in four or five years down the road.
Update: The Cardinals held a 2:00 P.M. Eastern time press conference on Thursday in Jupiter, Fla. to announce Molina's extension.
General manager John Mozeliak explained the two sides began talks last May or June, but tabled them. They restarted two weeks ago and gained momentum at a face-to-face meeting 10 days ago.
The contract is for five years, $75 million guaranteed, covering the 2013-2017 seasons. There is also a sixth-year mutual option for 2018 at $15 million with a $2 million buyout. That could bring the total value of the deal to be $88 million over six years.
Molina's current 2012 $7 million salary remains unchanged, though he receives a $1 million signing bonus as part of the new agreement. His annual salary will be $14 million in 2013, 2016 and 2017 and $15 million in 2014 and 2015.
A no-trade clause is included in the new deal, although Molina would have earned that by default by remaining with the Cardinals until part way through the 2014 season. All MLB players with at least ten years of service, including the last five with their current team, enjoy no trade protection.
In a poll at The Cardinal Nation Blog this week, 82 percent of voters are in favor of Molina's contract.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column during the season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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