With the agreement, the Cardinals and Molina avoid salary arbitration and keep one of the game's best young catchers under the control of the Cardinals' organization through at least 2011.
The deal includes the first and potentially second of Molina's free-agent eligibility years. He receives a $250,000 signing bonus, $1.75 million in 2008, $3.25 million in 2009, $4.25 million in 2010 and $5.25 million in 2011. The deal includes a $7 million club option for 2012 with a $750,000 buyout, and the option increases to $7.5 million if he is traded. As part of the arbitration process, the two sides had initially submitted amounts of $1.875 and $2.475 million respectively, for 2008.
Drafted by the Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2000 draft, Molina has established himself among the top all-around catchers in his first three seasons as an every-day catcher. Molina leads all Major League catchers in both catcher's stolen base percentage (47%) and pick-offs (18) since 2005, and he ranks among the National League's top clutch-hitting catchers; posting a .279 (fourth in NL) batting mark with runners in scoring position and a .289 mark (second) with two outs and runners in scoring position.
"Yadier possesses game-changing ability both in the field and at the plate," said Cardinals' Vice President/General Manager John Mozeliak, who made the announcement at the team's 12th Annual Winter Warm-up event. "From his dramatic homer in the 2006 NLCS to his handling of pitchers, Yadier has shown that he is a special talent when it comes to the all-important challenges of the catcher position. We are thrilled to have him signed for the next four years."
Molina posted a career high .275 batting average this past season, including a 15-game hitting streak, the longest by a Cardinals catcher since 1993. He ranked fifth among N.L. catchers in batting (.281) following the All-Star break. His career totals include a .248 batting average, 22 home runs and 153 RBI in 405 games.
Molina missed most of June, 2007 with a non-displaced fracture of his left wrist and he underwent a medial menisectomy of his right knee in late September. Molina is expected to be ready to take part in full activities when spring training begins next month.
Molina joins two other top young catchers in MLB, both more offensive-minded, with long-term deals. Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins is entering the second year of a four-year, $33 million contract while Cleveland's Victor Martinez signed a deal three years ago good for $15.5 million over five years, plus a sixth-year option for 2010 at $7 million.
Top Cardinals prospect Bryan Anderson, ranked number two in their minor league system, is also a catcher, but is at least a year away from the Majors. Either Anderson will improve his trade value during 2008 or the existence of Molina's long-term contract will only increase his desirability in the market, also.
Having a wealth of riches behind the plate should only prove to be to the Cardinals' benefit.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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