Dealing With a Legend

What is due to one of the greatest of all time?

This offseason, when Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright were unsigned, I wrote a post asking what the Cardinals owed them when it came to their contract. Both of them re-signed, of course, and are regularly playing for St. Louis this season. Now that they are in the midst of the season, it may be fair to reframe the question or at least restate it. What is due to the legends?

Last night, Yadier Molina….well, he didn’t actually lose the game, but he set in motion the events that led to a horrific loss. Molina was less than energetic trying to corral a pitch from Luis Garcia, one that was not very outside, that turned an strikeout for out one into a baserunner in the ninth. Errors, walks, and bad decisions later, the Cardinals took home a loss no one saw coming.

There were a lot of reactions to this and while I think there were many others in the middle, there were a couple of factions I saw. There was one that came just short of saying release Molina, one that said how dare you speak ill of the holy.

I think we all know that Molina is one of the best that has ever done this. He’s a Hall of Famer and not just one of the red jacket ones. We’ll be talking about how Yadi played catcher to our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids depending on our age and health. As the saying goes, Molina’s forgotten more about catching than many will ever know. So what if he occasionally misses a pitch that someone with a little more effort would have blocked, or doesn’t always hustle after a ball that gets past him. He’s Yadier Molina. He’s earned the right to do whatever he wants.

That seems to be the thought process of management, at least. For the year, Molina’s OPS+ is 93, meaning he’s about seven percent lower than average. That’s not a terrible thing, especially for a catcher of his age and ability. However, a lot of that is based on his strong April, when he had an OPS of .997 due to five homers and a .323 batting average. Since then, his OPS is .595, he only has three home runs, and his BA is about 100 points lower. Yet every day, when the lineup comes out, Molina is sitting there in the fifth spot like it’s 2012.

Does a Hall of Famer have the right to determine his playing time? If he wants to play every day, does resting him connotate disrespect? Is it worth short-circuiting an offense that already struggles to make sure respect is paid? And is it heresy to suggest that maybe the team is better off with less Molina?

Granted, it’s not like Andrew Knizner lit the world on fire when he got even a regular chance to play, but when your young prospect playing two times in a week makes people legitimately wonder if he’s being showcased for a trade, there’s something off. Knizner, like Carson Kelly before him and perhaps Ivan Herrera after, runs the risk of completely withering on the vine if he doesn’t get regular chances.

Going into today, Molina is fifth in innings caught. Assuming he’d have caught seven of the 11 games he missed on the IL, he’d have the top spot and I’m pretty sure he’d have caught nine of 11 at the least. This can’t be good for him or the team, but who will tell him? Is the legend well served by having carte blanche, when it might wind up sullying the end of his tenure.

Thankfully, Adam Wainwright has been productive all year long (plus, with the injuries, the Cardinals don’t really have a choice with him) and we’ve been spared this discussion with him. However, I have to feel like pitching would be different. A hitter and fielder can be lost in the team, only occasionally making such a direct impact. If your pitcher is getting blown up every time out, even legendary status isn’t going to save him. Obviously John Gant’s no legend, but look how quickly they moved him out of the rotation when he started to struggle. Wainwright might not have been as swift, but I think it would have come.

I also don’t think it sullies these players to point out when they fail, when they aren’t living up to their own high standards. Nobody in their right mind hates Yadier Molina. Nobody’s wanting him cut and I think there’s a good case for bringing him back even next year in a limited role. Pointing out the facts shouldn’t be construed as hate for the player. If anything, it’s hate for the situation that is demeaning the player.

Perhaps if the team completely falls out of the race, they’ll find more time for Knizner. Perhaps if he rests more, Molina will understand the rejuvenating properties. One of the reasons Ozzie Smith hit .282 his final year was that he only played in about half the games. (The other reason was the HUGE chip on his shoulder in relation to Tony La Russa.) And perhaps Knizner will still hit .190 and we’ll wish Yadi was back in there, who knows. I just think the most respectful thing you can do for these long-time Cardinals (and you can squeeze Matt Carpenter in here, who actually has been sidelined some) is to be honest with them and put the team ahead of their personal goals.

Now, watch Yadi go 2-4 with a home run and a caught stealing tonight……