After last season’s speculation-filled hullabaloo with That Guy Who Used To Play First and the way it all ended, Cardinal Nation is justifiably gun-shy when it comes to players in contract years. It’s even harder to avoid skepticism when it’s a player worthy of a significant raise, no doubt one he could find on the Free Agent market.Yes, I’m talking about Yadier Molina.
With a guy as beloved as Yadi (really, what other catcher gets the reception he does?), it’s hard to imagine Cards fans ever doubting him. But what can I say? Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice …
The National League’s premiere catcher didn’t help his cause much this week when he candidly reminded reporters that the decision to stay wasn’t entirely up to him.
“I’m open to staying here,” said Molina. “I love the city. I love the fans. I love the ballpark. But it’s out of my hands. Whatever they like to do is how it is. They let Albert go.”
Cue the collective wince.
I guess not everyone can be Adam Wainwright and offer fans as much of a guarantee as this sport provides:
“I want to finish my career here. Everyone who plays here wants to finish here. We’re very blessed to play in St Louis.”
Later this week, Mike Matheny tried to clean up the pieces. After talking to Yadi (who has already reported to Jupiter, by the way), Matheny was confident that his star catcher’s heart was still with the Birds on the Bat.
It’s tough, though. If we try to put ourselves in his shoes for a minute, it’s not surprising at all that he’d feel a little jilted. We all did. And we didn’t lose our best friend. According to Joe Strauss, that’s exactly how Yadi felt.
“When the news came out, I was sad,” Molina said. “I was sad because you’re used to being around your friend. You’re used to being around your teammate. When you see a guy like that leave, it affects you.
It’s easy to jump the gun on the “It’s business. It’s out of my hands.” comments. Of course that’s not what we want to hear. When the speculation has already been building, when fans are already bracing themselves for another dramatic departure, we’d all like to hear our guy say he’s sticking it out for the rest of his career, or that there’s no place he’d rather be than St. Louis.
Sure, it would be nice. We love Yadi. But, perhaps we should recognize how hard this is on him.
Yes, he’s a professional. Yes, he has the “best fans in baseball” behind him. And yes, the team is still strong sans Pujols. Still, for the first time in 11 years, Molina has a different locker mate. His “big brother” isn’t there to laugh with in the dugout. His best friend is clear across the country starting a new life.
Now that we’ve all reached for the box of tissues, my point: give the guy a break.
Spring Training is about to start (hooray!). With all the changes in personnel, a little consistency is going to be critical. With a pitching staff dealing Carpenter’s potential physical limits, Wainwright’s recovery process, Garcia’s intermittent focus, all without Dave Duncan, Molina becomes even more valuable.
There’s a reason Tony La Russa asked Yadi how much his start had left in the tank. He’s one of the best in the game about knowing his pitchers, watching for signs of trouble.
This team needs that. This team needs his experience, his talent, his focus and his heart.
Molina’s team is willing to talk with the club throughout the season (no deadline has been set for talks to end), but for now, he wants to focus on doing his job. His teammates need to know they can trust him to be there.
So do I.
As Yadi talked with Matheny this week, he told his new skipper, “All right, let’s go.”
Baseball’s nearly back. I’m content to focus on what we have and let the future take care of itself.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.