We still haven’t heard a whole lot from individuals around the league with the pandemic ongoing, but something I have been wondering about: how will the existence of this situation, and the impact it will necessarily have on baseball, affect the way teams plan for the future? And what about players? I don’t mean from the financial side of things – the impacts there will be massive, and are still very up in the air – but instead I mean from just a pure human side of things.
What we’re going through is unprecedented. It would not be a stretch to imagine that it’s going to change so much in the sport that we cannot see coming.
For example? It has already changed the way Yadier Molina is thinking about his future with the St. Louis Cardinals:
Yadier Molina tells @ESPN he has changed his mind, will consider free agency if #Cardinals don't extend his contract: “St. Louis is my first option. But if they don’t sign me, I’m willing to go into free agency. This situation has changed my mentality.”https://t.co/jXV28Lgblr
— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) April 29, 2020
There aren’t many players around baseball who are as intimately associated with the only team they’ve ever known than Molina and the Cardinals. For 15 years, Molina has been the starting catcher in St. Louis, and almost unthinkable length of time for a catcher in the current game. It’s even more unthinkable to see him playing his final games as a part-time backstop on another team, but then again, Tom Brady is now a Buccaneer. So who knows.
Turning 38 in July, Molina knows his window to keep playing is very limited. He’d previously said that he’d finish out his current contract through this season, and then retire if the Cardinals didn’t want to extend him. Extension talks were underway before the pandemic struck, and subsequently shut down league transactions.
“The reality is that this business is difficult for a 38-year-old catcher; my window is smaller,” Molina told ESPN. “But I feel ready to keep on playing. I’m in good physical shape. My knees are good; my mind is great. Physically, I’m fine. That’s why I’ve made the decision to play two more years.”
“I had in mind that if St. Louis didn’t sign me, I would retire after this season, at 38. With this situation, obviously, we probably won’t have a chance to play a full season; we may not be able to play a lot of games. I think it will feel like unfinished business. Any player that says that they’re not going through a difficult time and not worried about what the 2020 season will look like is lying.”
When you put it that way, it really would suck for a guy like Molina to play out whatever this season is able to be (if anything), and then retire. Maybe no fans. No send off. Fewer meaningful moments. And all playing out against the backdrop of a national health crisis.
So, Molina now says he wants to play next year no matter what. If that means it’s with the Cardinals, he’ll be happy to do it. If it means he has to sign elsewhere, then he’ll move on.
I’m sure Molina is far from alone in being a player who sees this season as so different that it almost doesn’t “count” when you’re thinking about what you want your playing days to look like. For an example closer to home, hasn’t anyone else been wondering if a weird, shortened season in 2020 makes it more likely that Jon Lester and the Cubs find a way to get together in 2021? His $25 million option ($10 million buyout) will be declined, but maybe one or both sides feels like the calculus has changed so dramatically about what this year is or what next year will be that finding middle ground on a new contract makes sense.