Yadier Molina made clear his desire to have a contract extension in his back pocket before the 2017 season begins.
With the clock ticking, the Cardinals obliged and on Thursday were finalizing a new three-year deal with their longtime catcher, Fox Sports first reported. Molina, who turns 35 in July, will earn between $55 million and $65 million over the life of the contract, the report said, surpassing the Giants' Buster Posey as the highest-paid catcher in MLB per annual value.
Molina was entering the final year of a five-year, $75 million contract with a club-player mutual option for 2018. But the veteran told Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak he wouldn't sign an extension during the regular season, leaving open the possibility he could walk away from the only franchise for which he's played through a 13-year career.
The seven-time All-Star got his wish with about 72 hours to spare before the Cubs stroll into Busch Stadium for Sunday's opening night.
“I think it’s a great thing if you can have an iconic player like Yadier Molina begin his career and finish his career with the Cardinals," team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said earlier Thursday on 590 The Fan. "He’s had a long career. But he’s in great shape. He was terrific in the World Baseball Classic. He’s got a lot — as he said — a lot of fuel in the tank. If we can add additional years on, that would be quite a career."
As news of the deal broke Thursday evening, Molina celebrated accordingly, smashing a home run during an exhibition game against the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis.
Molina, entering his 14th MLB season, is still among the best catchers in baseball, but the extension doesn't come without risk.
He'll be 38 when the deal expires in 2020 and has already begun to see regression in production both offensively and defensively.
In 2016, Molina batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and 38 doubles in 581 plate appearances. And though he's lauded for pitch-framing — a metric that's helped him earn eight Gold Gloves — Molina threw out only 21 percent of would-be base stealers last season, a career worst that's well below his 42-percent average.
Still, the Cardinals would be hard-pressed to replace Molina in the clubhouse, even with celebrated prospect Carson Kelly waiting in the wing.
Now they won't have to find out.