Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is 33 years old, and is coming off his worst year at the plate since 2006, when he was still just establishing himself as a big league regular. It was the third consecutive year of offensive decline for Molina, who, although he derives much of his value from catching and calling a good game, became a truly elite player when he broke out offensively.
It’s fair to wonder if those plus offensive days are definitively now behind him.
In a critical late September game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Molina was on the receiving end of an Anthony Rizzo play at the plate that looked fairly normal, but resulted in a serious thumb injury. It kept him out for most of the remainder of the regular season, but he did manage to appear in some playoff games, clearly looking limited at the plate.
It’s now expected that Molina will miss most of Spring Training, which could delay his readiness for the start of the season. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Molina to the last 10 years of Cardinals dominance, so any time he misses will be a problem for a Cardinals team that is already looking to overcome some limitations heading into 2016 (Lance Lynn is out for the year, Carlos Martinez was shut down at the end of 2015 with a shoulder issue, Adam Wainwright is coming back from an Achilles injury, Jason Heyward departed, John Lackey departed, Alex Reyes has been suspended, etc.).
It’s worth noting, though, that the Cardinals still managed to win 100 games last year despite Molina’s struggles and anemic offensive performance behind him. They’ve upgraded dramatically at the backup spot, having signed Brayan Pena, and now we probably know why it was such a priority.