It’s official. After a lot of talk, it appears as though Yadier Molina will finish his career as a Cardinal. The two sides agreed on a $60 million extension over three years, meaning the 34-year-old will be with the only team he has ever played four through 2020.
Those are big numbers for a veteran player like Molina. Will he be worth an average of $20 million over the next three years, strictly in terms of baseball value? Probably not. The extension makes Molina the highest-paid catcher in the majors (by average annual value), though few outside of St. Louis would argue he is the best backstop in the sport at the moment. Last season was the first since 2008 that he was not named a National League All-Star, though it should be mentioned he still managed to hit .307 with a 110 OPS+.
But these so-called legacy deals (and this is a legacy deal despite what the Cardinals are saying) are a byproduct of Major League Baseball’s archaic free agency rules. Players don’t become free agents until amassing six years of service time in the bigs, meaning most won’t get paid commensurate to their value until their late 20s. National League Rookie of the Year Corey Seager made just $510,000 last year while accounting for an absurd 6.1 bWAR as a 22-year-old.
Molina didn’t make more than $7 million a season in any of his first eight seasons despite making four All-Star teams, winning four gold gloves and anchoring a pair of World Series champions by that point in his career. He wasn’t truly on the open market until he was 30.
In short, Molina deserves this lucrative extension. The résumé is impeccable: seven All-Star teams, eight gold gloves and two World Series titles for starters. He has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball for some time now, and he is coming off helping Puerto Rico to its second appearance in the finals of the World Baseball Classic. And while he may not be in his prime, he is still a pretty darn good catcher.
Throw in what he means to the Cardinals, and there isn’t much of an argument against the contract. At least until Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association fix the rules governing free agency, and that probably isn’t happening any time soon.