Yadier Molina will make the Hall of Fame – and there should be no debate

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You don’t need to look up his statistics on Baseball-Reference.com to know that he never won an MVP award or produced a 30-homer or 100 RBI season.

You don’t have to check out FanGraphs for his Wins Above Replacement, because no computer can possibly quantify his value.

All you have to do is open your eyes.

You know, actually watch St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina play baseball.

You do it, and you’ll see what everyone who had the privilege of being a teammate, an opponent, a manager, a coach, or scout has seen for the past 20 years.

Molina, who announced he will retire after the 2022 season, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Really, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a unanimous Hall of Famer.

There is no Hall of Famer who has seen Molina more in his career than Ted Simmons, who lives in the shadows of Busch Stadium, and will be inducted into Cooperstown on Sept. 8.

Sit back and listen.

“He’s defensively the best catcher I’ve ever seen in my entire life,’’ Simmons tells USA TODAY Sports. “I remember watching Yogi Berra, and Bill Freehan and Jonny Roseboro and Johnny Bench and Steve Yeager and Bob Boone, Manny Sanguillen and Jerry Grote. I’ve seen all of these great catchers in my lifetime.

“And I’ll tell you, he’s as good a catcher as anyone who played the game.’’

Molina and the Cardinals won World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

Molina and the Cardinals won World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

It’s comical there is even a debate whether Molina belongs in the Hall of Fame, or the absurd argument that Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins had a greater career.

Mauer started just 885 games behind the plate, and 890 games at first base, DH and even the outfield in his career. Molina, 39, entered the weekend with 2,016 starts as catcher, and 2,082 games overall, the most games caught for a single team in baseball history. He had a stretch where he caught at least 130 games in eight of nine seasons. He’s one of only two catchers in history with at least 2,000 hits with the same team, joining Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.

Mauer, a three-time batting champion, certainly was a greater pure hitter, but he was primarily a first baseman over the last nine years of his career, averaging only eight homers a year. Molina’s OPS is dwarfed by Mauer (.827 to .734), but Molina has more home runs (168-143), more RBI (983-923) and even more stolen bases (69-52) than Mauer, while playing the most demanding position on the field greater than anyone of his era.

The credentials will show that he’s a 10-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove winner, four-time Platinum Glove winner, and two-time World Series champion.

And, oh yes, he has played in more postseason victories, 52, than any player in National League history, with the most hits (101) and doubles (19).

“If you doubt that guy should be in the Hall of Fame, we maybe need to have an intervention,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt says. “The numbers paint a picture but don’t paint the complete picture … He’s just a special talent and does things that can’t be quantified.”

Little wonder why one for former NL MVP concedes that he voted Molina first in his Players’ Choice ballot year after year.

“I’d always rank Yadi first,’’ he said. “I didn’t care what the numbers said. All I knew is that no one impacts a game more than this guy. Not even close.’’

Molina completely shut down the opposing team’s running game. He coaxed the best out of every Cardinals’ pitcher. He became one of the most dangerous hitters with runners in scoring position. It was as if he was a manager/coach/psychologist/catcher all rolled into one.

Why, from 2003 through this year, opponents have only attempted 1,373 stolen bases.

That is 500 fewer stolen base attempts than any team in baseball, and nearly twice as few as the San Diego Padres who have had 2,509 stolen base attempts.

And Molina has thrown out 40% of those baserunners even daring to try.

“I can’t imagine anyone being more valuable to a team,’’ said Simmons, who played for 21 years, and became a general manager, farm director, bench coach and a scout before retiring a year ago. “He had the intellect of an engineer. He was the perfect extension of a manager’s intent. What the manager was thinking about, and trying to accomplish, and field-managing his team, he was projecting that intent into his catcher.

“Yadi really became an extraordinary assistance to every Cardinals manager. It was like having a Tony La Russa on the field the way he handled everything.

“If you asked me if I could have any catcher in baseball history to be on my team, and I had five guys to pick, he would be my first or second choice.

“That’s how strongly I feel about his impact as a catcher.’’

Molina and Adam Wainwright have played together since 2005.

Molina and Adam Wainwright have played together since 2005.

The Cardinals, who signed Molina to a one-year, $10 million contract extension this past week, will have a statue of Molina erected outside Busch Stadium one day. They will retire his number. And yes, they will celebrate his Hall of Fame induction.

“He’s the greatest catcher of his time,’’ Pujols told USA TODAY Sports this spring. “It’s not even close. Defensively, he might be the greatest of all time. Some of these people don’t appreciate greatness, they just look at numbers on their computer.

“I always tell people the Cardinals could afford to let me go, but they couldn’t afford to let Yadi go anywhere else. That pitching staff and that organization would never have the success without Yadi. He’s meant everything to that organization.’’

Molina played his entire career and fell in love with this baseball-crazed city, and, oh, have they ever loved him back.

“When you watch them play a long and distinguished and Hall of Fame career with the organization,’’ Cardinals president John Mozeliak said, “to have someone to want to stay and be a part of something from Day 1 to where their career ends, is just remarkable in this day and age.’’

His memory will live forever in Cardinals’ history.

“He’s a generational organizational talent,’’ Shildt says. “His footprint is going to be a large one. He’s in the same category as a lot of the great ones – [Bob] Gibson, [Lou] Brock, [Red] Schoendienst, [Stan] Musial. Those are the Mount Rushmore, but he’s right in that ilk.”

Who’s got the money?

Just five weeks remain in the playoff stretch, and two months until free agency.

The free-agent class will be deep and talented led by the shortstops with Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, and Javy Baez. Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo are the prized first basemen. The outfield market is headlined by Kris Bryant, Starling Marte, Nick Castellanos, Chris Taylor, Michael Conforto and Kyle Schwarber. The starting pitching market features future Hall of Famers Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, along with Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon.

So, just who is poised to jump into the free-agent pool?

There are actually four teams who have less than $5 million in financial commitments for 2022, led by the woeful Baltimore Orioles, who don’t have a penny on the books.

And, depending on where the luxury tax sits in 2022, the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers may be rather conservative in their free-agent expenditures.

Here’s the list of financial commitments per team in 2022:

  • Baltimore: $0.00

  • Cleveland: $2.4 million

  • Pittsburgh: $3 million

  • Miami: $3.5 million

  • Oakland: $14.7 million

  • Tampa Bay: $22.4 million

  • Texas: $29.0 million

  • Seattle: $32.7 million

  • Chicago Cubs: $41.91 million

  • Detroit: $44.5 million

  • Colorado: $44.8 million

  • Kansas City: $46.5 million

  • Arizona: $48.1 million

  • Minnesota: $49.1 million

  • San Francisco: $49.6 million

  • Washington: $63.6 million

  • Atlanta: $63.7

  • Milwaukee: $64.5 million

  • Toronto: $64.9 million

  • St. Louis: $78.7 million

  • Cincinnati: $89.7 million

  • Houston: $97.7 million

  • Los Angeles Angels: $104.3 million

  • New York Mets: $118.7 million

  • Boston: $119.216 (Price $16 million

  • Chicago White Sox: $128.3 million

  • Philadelphia: $134.9 million

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: $137.4 million

  • New York Yankees: $137.7 million

  • San Diego: $149.3 million

Dead money

There is nothing more infuriating for teams to pay players no longer with them, thanks to contracts gone bad, but here is the Mount Rushmore of teams with dead money on the books:

1. Colorado Rockies, $36.57 million: They traded Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals this past spring, assuming $51 million of his contract, and still owe the Cardinals $36.57 million, including a $21 million payment in 2023.

2. Miami Marlins, $30 million: Derek Jeter was shrewd dumping Giancarlo Stanton’s massive contract on his old team, but they still owe the Yankees $30 million, with annual $10 million payments beginning in 2026 through 2028.

3. Texas Rangers, $22.179 million: They owe $19.179 million in 2022 as part of the Rougned Odor trade with the Yankees and Elvis Andrus trade with the Athletics, and another $3 million in 2023.

4. Boston Red Sox, $16 million: The Red Sox agreed to split half of pitcher David Price’s remaining contract when they included him in the Mookie Betts trade, and after paying $16 million this year, they owe another $16 million in 2022.

The Mets' postseason hopes are getting dimmer every day.

The Mets’ postseason hopes are getting dimmer every day.

Around the basepaths

– The speculation is growing louder and louder that New York Mets owner Steve Cohen will reach out to Theo Epstein, the former architect of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs’ World Series teams, and discuss the possibility of making him in charge of the Mets’ entire front office.

Epstein, who’s working this season as a consultant to MLB, is certainly willing to listen.

Who knows, maybe the Mets would bring in another future Hall of Famer in former manager Bruce Bochy, who’s also interested in returning.

The Epstein-Bochy combo would turn around any franchise.

– Mets since the All-Strar break: They have scored 147 runs (ranked 28th). They have a .386 slugging percentage (ranked 27th). They have a .699 OPS (ranked 25th) No wonder Mets’ fans are taking their frustrations.

“We definitely hear it,” Mets reliever Aaron Loup says. “You try to drown it out and not pay attention to it the best you can, but we definitely hear it. It makes it tough. Especially, we’ve been struggling and not playing well, and then when you come home and you basically kind of get booed off the field, it definitely doesn’t make it any easier.”

– Just how much extra money did Francisco Lindor earn when he decided to sign a 10-year, $341 million contract on the eve of the season instead of waiting until free agency?

Well, according to several agents and executives, at least $100 million, if not $150 million. If Lindor had waited, he would have been coming off the worst year of his career and found himself in a crowded shortstop pool.

– It has been two years since Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and Ted Simmons were elected to the Hall of Fame, but with the pandemic postponing last year’s ceremony, they have now had two years to prepare for their Hall of Fame speeches.

“If I couldn’t say my speech my memory at this point,’’ Simmons says, “I’ve got to be brain-dead.’’

– It’s absurd that the Cubs’ new Hall of Fame doesn’t include Sammy Sosa.

He hit 609 career home runs, the ninth-most in history, won the 1998 National League MVP, had seven top-10 MVP finishes, was a seven-time All-Star and a six-time Silver Slugger.

If the Cubs really are waiting for Sosa to confess that he used steroids, they can wait forever, unless they think that Sosa would actually risk being sentenced to prison for perjury. The difference in how the Cubs treat Sosa compared to how the Giants embrace Bonds is staggering.

– It turns out that a losing the Field of Dreams game on a walk-off homer would turn into, well, an absolute dream.

The Yankees have won 13 games in a row since White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson’s homer, their longest stretch since the M&M Boys in 1961 when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with Mickey Mantle pushing him.

The Yankee have gone from two games out of the second AL wild-card spot and a 42.1% chance of reaching the postseason to being the top wild-card seed with a 98% chance to reach the postseason, according to FanGraphs.

Remarkably, they are now 21-12 in one-run games this season, even with closer Aroldis Chapman’s struggles.

“I feel like our guys are very comfortable in these close games,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone says. “Whether we pull it out, whether we lose one, whatever it may be, I know we’re comfortable in them.

“That’s a good feeling to have when you know guys are confident in their ability to execute at the most important part of the game when the pressure is high.’’

– Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perezhas 36 homers this season, just one shy of Carlton Fisk’s American League record for catchers.

Perez is on pace for 45 homers. The only catcher in baseball history to hit 45 homers? Johnny Bench, who hit 45 in 1970.

– You think Max Scherzer is everything the doctor order for the surging Dodgers?

The dude is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA since his arrival, striking out an average of 12.7 batters per nine innings while yielding a .178 batting average.

– Cincinnati Reds All-Star first baseman Joey Votto on the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching staff:

“It’s the best group of pitchers I’ve faced in my career,’’ Votto says. “This bullpen is outstanding. Their starting pitching is dominant. This is a fantastic team.’’

He is hitting just .167 against the Brewers this season with a .324 on-base percentage in 68 plate appearances, and just went one-for-1 with five stirkeouts in their three-game series this week.

– Kudos to the Seattle Mariners’ players for not quitting when GM Jerry Dipoto traded their closer, Kendall Graveman to the Houston Astros, infuriating their clubhouse.

The Mariners lost eight of 11 games after the trade, but since have gone 11-6, hanging on the fringe of the wild-card race.

– The Reds have the second-softest remaining schedule among contenders, and history will tell you it’s worked pretty, pretty, pretty good this season.

They are 43-23 against teams with a sub-.500 record this year.

– While shortstop Willy Adames has certainly helped turn around the Brewers, the most unheralded player in the four-player deal could be the key for the Rays’ championship hopes.

Pitcher Drew Rasmussen, who has made 15 appearances for the Rays, has yielded just 28 hits in 35 innings with 33 strikeouts, and the Rays quietly are counting on him to be a weapon in their postseason rotation.

– Justin Verlander helped the Astros win the 2017 World Series, and is going to Cooperstown one day, but after undergoing Tommy John surgery, it’s hard to imagine the Astros giving him $19 million on a one-year, qualifying offer.

– Remember when Robbie Ray gambled on himself by taking a one-year, $8 million contract with the Blue Jays? Cha-ching.

The dude may win the American League Cy Young award.

He has given up just 23 hits and six runs in his last 34 innings for a 1.59 ERA,, walking seven with 42 strikeouts.

He is among the top three AL starters in ERA (second), WHIP (second), innings pitched (third), strikeouts (first) and pitchers’ WAR (first).

– The Red Sox can thank the Yankees for staying in the playoff race, trading them reliever Adam Ottavino and somehow leaving reliever Garrett Whitlock unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.

Whitlock has been a godsend for the Red Sox bullpen, going 5-2 with a 1.60 ERA, and 69 strikeouts in 62 innings.

Ottavino, meanwhile, is 3-3 with a 3.55 ERA and nine saves, striking out 55 in 51 ⅓ innings.

– The White Sox thought they had the finest 1-2 bullpen punch in baseball when they acquired Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline to team with All-Star closer Liam Hendriks.

Well, they got four weeks to get Kimbrel right because he has been a disaster, yielding a 7.15 ERA, giving up 12 hits and four walks in 11 ⅓ innings.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yadier Molina is a Hall of Famer: Stats aside, there’s no debate



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