What Do the Cardinals Owe the Legends?

Given the limitations the St. Louis Cardinals have, whether self-imposed or not, as a result of the loss of revenue relating to COVID-19, the situations around Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are pretty much the only game in town when it comes to something to interest us this winter.  There’s no Paul Goldschmidt trade as a tantalizing possibility, no Bryce Harper pursuit to work ourselves up over.  There’s nothing but two St. Louis icons and whether they’ll wear Cardinal red in 2021, some other shade of red (since half the league seems to use that in their color scheme), or a different color altogether.

Before we get any farther, I do want to be clear about something.  I want to see both of these guys back under the Arch and I want them both to finish their careers with the only major league team they’ve ever known.  They are remarkable athletes, remarkable people, and it would be very jarring for us to see them come into St. Louis as a visiting player.  The Cardinals should do what they can to bring them back into the fold.

That said, does the organization owe them anything?  Does it owe them a big contract, an active pursuit, whatever they desire?

Bengie Molina, who at times can be Yadier’s hype man (and sometimes I think that hype doesn’t help his brother’s case, but that’s another story), was on the radio recently talking about Yadi’s contract situation.  Robert Murray wrote it up and discussed it at Redbird Rants if you want to see exactly what he said.  The gist of it is that Yadier (and he also roped in Waino here) wanted “to be appreciated”.

“If the Cardinals are not the team willing to do everything and anything to bring him back, he’s not afraid,” Bengie said. “Yadi is not like me. If you do not want me, somebody else will appreciate me.”

Tell me, what is going to make you more valued?  A contract offer at the end of your career as the entire baseball world is reeling from significant financial losses or the fact that a team has given you every opportunity throughout your career?  The Cardinals moved on from a Gold Glove catcher in Mike Matheny to install Molina as the starter in 2005 at the age of 22.  They didn’t make him languish behind an established star, something that Carson Kelly and Andrew Knizner can’t identify with.  The Cardinals have let Molina play as much as he wants to.  They’ve let him basically ignore managers.  They’ve highlighted him as one of the faces of the franchise.  They are going to have a statue of Molina out front if he ever stops playing.

Do you think any other team would have let a 37 year old catcher handle both ends of a doubleheader, even if each game was shorted to seven innings last year?  Do you think any other team would have let him catch 30-plus games in a row a year or two back?  Do you think any other team would have paid him $20 million dollars for what hasn’t even been league average offensive production over the past three years?

How much more can you be valued than hearing “Yadi, Yadi, Yadi” from the stands when he comes up in a big moment?  When he can see thousands of Molina jerseys in the stadium on a given night?  The fan base has been behind him.  The team has always catered to him.  If that doesn’t let you know you are valued, then perhaps you need to readjust your thinking.

To be fair, that’s Bengie talking.  We tend to think that he’s his brother’s spokesperson and most likely Molina’s feeling this way, but he might not have wanted it out in the public realm like this.  Then again, it’s not the first time that his brother has weighed in on his contract status so he knows Bengie’s going to be talking about it, whether in interviews or on the Two Birds on a Bat podcast that he’s a part of.

Wainwright, perhaps because he doesn’t have a brother that played baseball and is now in the media world, has gone about this a different way.  He’s mentioned that he’s not had a contract, he’s talked about wanting to play somewhere, he’s been clear to express his gratitude to the Cardinals.  Again, he might be thinking some of the same things Yadi is but it doesn’t get out there if he does.

Do the Cardinals owe Wainwright anything more than they owe Molina?  Probably not.  They’ve paid Wainwright for almost two full seasons when he’s been injured.  They’ve worked with him the past two years to give him a contract that allowed him to reach incentives to be more in line with his normal pay.  They traded for him all those years ago and helped develop him into the pitcher he is today, something that he has said might not have happened in the Atlanta organization.

Now, let’s be clear–the two players don’t necessarily owe the Cardinals anything either.  The Cardinals have reaped the benefits of having these players on their team, including two World Series titles and one other appearance.  They’ve made money selling Wainwright and Molina jerseys and other memorabilia.  They’ve had the luster of having these two jewels in the game in their uniform.  And, of course, they received significant contributions from both of them early in their career when they were making the minimum salary prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement.

The only thing both sides owe is respect for the contributions of the other.  That respect should manifest itself in a reasonable contract offer and a serious consideration of said offer.  If another team comes in and pays more, that’s not a slight, that’s not a “we didn’t want you”.  Separations happen, but they don’t have to be nasty divorces, they can be amicable splits.  Hopefully both of these players can come to some sort of an agreement that makes sense for them while also working for the organization.  Not because they are in debt to one another or owe anything but because of mutual desire and respect.

I’m sure we’ll be talking about this topic until it gets resolved.  After all, what else is there to speculate on, really?

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