Does Yadier Molina make sense for the Detroit Tigers behind the plate?
Whether filling the position is a current priority for Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila or not, we do know the Tigers are kinda/sorta required to have a catcher behind the plate next year whether the season is 162 games, 142, or 100. With no great options at hand, could the aging Yadier Molina need a home in Motown to report for duty in the Spring?
The Tigers are currently in a position where the big league roster is completely bereft of any reasonable option for a major league team to start a season within Greyson Greiner and Eric Haase. That’s a non-starter. They’ll add someone once the market starts to sort itself out.
Minor leaguer and defensive specialist Jake Rogers will also be in the mix for a spot. The Tigers certainly hoping he can take some sort of leap in ‘21. Whether that’s a pipe dream or not remains to be seen. But facts are, he’s hit sporadically in the minors and he’s coming off an idle year playing dodgy scrimmages in Toledo.
Meanwhile…after 17 seasons in St.Louis, the rock behind the plate for 4 NL Pennants and 2 World Series titles is on the market in his fading twilight years. Yadier Molina is a nine-time All Star and nine-time Gold Glover. He’s the one-name only brand in St. Louis as “Yadi”.
The Cardinals are in that rough spot many teams have with old legends who want to hang on past their expiration date. It’s assumed they want to treat Molina with great respect but it’s also safe to assume they wouldn’t mind moving on to the next era with catching prospect Andrew Knizer.
Molina will be 38 in 2021. It’s said he’d like to play two more years. The problem is he’s been tumbling as a productive player for the better part of five years and 2020 showed more erosion. Even his defensive ratings plummeted to never before seen depths as he wasn’t a Gold Glove finalist in the NL.
The last six seasons show the deterioration isn’t a one-off fluke. Molina has been a 1.8 bWAR or less player five times in those six years. His OPS+ has been below league average in four of them. His power has dwindled a bit and he doesn’t draw a bunch of walks. He’s basically a very slow batting average dependent singles hitter now. To be fair to him, even if he posted a pedestrian slash like last year at about .260/.300/.375 it’s better than the guys the Tigers have now can produce.
Why would the Tigers give him a home at this stage given his performance? It’s about leadership most likely. Being a seasoned veteran pitch-caller helps too. If the Tigers are going to keep working in their talented base of young arms a respected…if not revered…veteran legend putting them through the paces might be something the club would appreciate at this stage.
Molina might be a good example and sounding board for Rogers as well but Molina’s work with the pitchers would seem more important. If Molina was able to post a decent batting average, no matter if it’s kind of empty, and be the leader and pitch sequence guy to coax Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and some others to a new level it’s not a terrible idea to bringing the old pro on for a year or two.
Is there a mutual fit? Molina probably isn’t looking to break the bank, he’s likely hunting a chance to play. That might mean latching on with a second division club in rebuild mode. Detroit should like that price. The Cards need to decide if they’re going to let their legend play out the string as a Redbird or rip off the band-aid for good. A run at JT Realmuto would answer the question. But Knizer is also turning 26, if he’s your guy the move has to happen fairly soon it would seem.
Will Molina embrace a rebuild? Is he okay with being in the “have gear, will travel” mode and bouncing around for a catching gig? Or does he want to find a contender-only situation if he leaves St. Louis?
It probably behooves Detroit to sound Molina out over the situation if it gets into late January and Molina still has no deal and the Tigers are mulling the possible depths of a Greiner/Rogers duo behind the dish.
The guess here is there is likely no match to be found. In the end, it just feels like the Cardinals will find some kind of suitable job share for at least a year between Molina and Knizer. The Tigers might already have a wink-wink arrangement for a third hitch with Alex Avila.
However, if the Tigers did recruit the legend to shed the Cards’ red for the Tigers spiffy home whites, they’ll need to hope to buy the intangibles of his leadership and moxie is worth the risk of a further offensive cratering in his game.
Is the perceived value an old hand like Molina could have on the pitching staff greater than the value of giving the playing time to a younger player like Rogers? That will be the question for Al Avila to answer.