The Just Okay Yadier Molina Contract, and the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen jam

Mar 1, 2012; Jupiter, FL. USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran (3) hits in the cage during spring training at Roger Dean Stadium. Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

The tone might have been a little more apocalyptic, given the dollars and years, but if the Cardinals had, say, gotten Albert Pujols at 10 years and $200 million we might be going through the same weird non-arguments we're having now. For the first time in a while the Cardinals have made neither a good signing nor a bad signing—based on what we know now, the Yadier Molina deal seems like an okay signing that you can be happy with if you like Yadier Molina.

I'm not used to that kind of deal, primarily because the Cardinals have rarely, of late, had the need to resign or trade on a popular star; Albert Pujols was too much of a star, and seemingly not as popular, at least in the down-to-earth way a guy who doesn't represent a generation of baseball players to a generation of baseball fans can be, and before that there's... Edgar Renteria?

I agree with the contingent that wonders what the Cardinals got out of this deal, though, as currently constructed—when it seemed likely the Cardinals would be starting their five years right now, instead of in 2013, I could understand locking him up early—and paying, optimistically, no more than they'd have to pay in free agency next year—in exchange for not having to lock him up in 2017. Right now, though, the Cardinals seem to have gotten very little for their troubles, except a placated fanbase and a bunch of pissed-off baseball executives who have to talk their own young catchers off even higher ledges.

And a catcher whose special sauce contributions, in case you didn't notice, have already been declassified on Fangraphs, which added pitch-blocking to its heretofore rudimentary catcher defense component in WAR. The New Yadi has run off four consecutive three-WAR seasons, which certainly makes him feel more like a $75 million man than he did last week; his 4.7 fWAR, up from 3.9. All that's left of the publicly available research to be integrated is the most controversial piece—pitch-framing.

Molina's benefited the most in raw terms from the addition, earning something like two wins since 2008, but he's also caught the most innings of anyone not named Kurt Suzuki in the same time period; on a more even footing he's got the third, sixth, and 11th-best seasons of anyone in those four years. (Also: Brian McCann's agent just got super excited.)

I'm not sure this data can be used to suggest the Cardinals got a better deal than we thought relative to what they might have gotten otherwise—this doesn't bring the six-year, $82 million outlay we're just beginning to internalize any closer to the ideal Yadier Molina Contract than it was before. But it does suggest it's better in absolute terms—and if we were never looking at anything but a Just Okay deal, I'm fine with that.

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Before the Molina specifics broke, there was some interesting discussion in the comments about whether we're underestimating the odds that the Cardinals' veteran wild cards—Alex Cora, Koyie Hill, and Scott Linebrink—make the 25-man roster.

I'm willing to continue to underestimate Cora—whatever your opinion about him, Skip Schumaker seems like a reasonably solid veteran firewall—but Linebrink is worth talking about, if only because even without him there's already eight relievers for seven spots.

For some reason I didn't do the math until I was working on the pitcher capsules for this year's VEB season preview eBook (which we [mostly Larry] have been working on to replace the dearly departed Maple Street Press guide.) I was on the hook for 12 pitcher comments, and by the time I got to Mitchell Boggs I realized I was already done.

In-season, with the usual churn of bullpen pieces, this isn't going to be a problem. At some point we'll probably see all of these guys and Brandon Dickson and Adam Reifer and some pitchers we aren't even thinking about now. As far as breaking camp, though, I'm not sure who it is Linebrink could Pipp. Off the bubble: Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Kyle McClellan, Marc Rzepczynski.To make the roster, Linebrink would have to knock out two of these guys.

J.C. Romero: It's unclear how attached Mike Matheny is to the two-lefty bullpen, and J.C. Romero is interesting only if you must have two lefties—this isn't a knock, but he serves no other function. If Romero is particularly wild in the spring Matheny could plausibly go in another direction, especially if he's willing to buy the broadcasters' McClellan-as-second-lefty conceit. (Which, sure, why not?)

Eduardo Sanchez: Eduardo Sanchez's health is a complete mystery to me, and the Cardinals still seem to be treating him gingerly. If he has a bad spring he might be delayed a few months in taking up Octavio Dotel's role as chief righty-vaporizer.

Mitchell Boggs: Two years since making everybody think future closer by virtue of a high-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider, Boggs has basically turned into a generic right-handed relief pitcher with some vague ground-ball tendencies. Oh, and he was closer for a few days.

Any of those three relievers could be swapped out for somebody else when the time comes to assemble the 25-man roster. But for Scott Linebrink, who's basically Kyle McClellan anyway? I don't quite see it. He's got a better shot than fellow dark-horse candidate Adam Ottavino, but this strikes me as a less-than-ideal roster for Linebrink to go north with.

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