The Injury and Prognosis
Yadi tore a ligament, likely the UCL of his right thumb last night (video of the slide). This ligament stabilizes the MCP joint at the base of the thumb, and is commonly torn when the digit is stretched too far as an outstretched hand catches the impact of falling (or sliding). Surgery will be required to fix the ligament, after which the prognosis will be good. Two MLB stars have suffered this injury this year, and both are already back playing:
- Josh Hamilton injured his thumb diving headfirst into first base on April 8. He underwent surgery on April 11, began his rehab in the minors on May 22, and re-joined the Angels on June 3.
- Bryce Harper injured his thumb diving headfirst into third base on April 25. He underwent surgery on April 29, began his rehab assignment on June 23, and re-joined the Nationals on June 30.
- One more of note: Hanley Ramirez tore his thumb UCL in the field during the 2013 WBC in mid-March. He began his major league season on April 29 and then proceeded to play like an MVP candidate for the remainder of the season.
Surgery for Molina. Will be out 8 to 12 weeks, per Mozeliak. Torn thumb ligament.— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) July 10, 2014
Something I've not seen mentioned yet: better Molina tore ligament on RH; receiving 95 mph pitches on fragile LH would be more difficult.— Tom_sveb (@Tom_sveb) July 10, 2014
You should follow him on twitter, by the way.
What will the Cardinals do in the meantime?
Tony Cruz is likely to act as the primary receiver until Yadi returns. He's not a very good hitter and doesn't have a particularly good arm, but the staff is familiar with him and, well, he occasionally gets hits. Lance Lynn went out of his way in his postgame interview last night to mention how easy it was to transition between Yadi and Cruz mid-game. Yes, the club needs offense, but it also needs its pitching staff to continue its excellent season.
There are two other options internally:
Audry Perez has been the primary catcher in Memphis this season. The 25-year-old righty (profiled by Eric Johnson here) has a reputation as a solid defender. He probably has a slightly better arm than Tony Cruz, but his bat is nothing special (he's hitting .288 with a .382 SLG and all of 2 walks in 178 PA's in Memphis) and he's unlikely to be anything more than Cruz' back-up, though it shouldn't surprise if this is exactly what happens.
Cody Stanley is perhaps a little more exciting an option. Also 25, the lefty has had a good offensive season in Springfield, putting up a .309/.363/.491 line over 260 AB's while making the Texas League All-Star team. As Eric pointed out in his farm inventory, Stanley is actually hitting even better on the road than in the batter's haven of Hammons Field. He has a good reputation as a defender as well, and he would be an interesting platoon partner with Cruz, though it would take a leap of faith by management to promote a AA player to such an important spot.
There are many other options available if the Cardinals are not satisfied with what they have internally. Most notably, AJ Pierzynski was DFA'd by the Red Sox yesterday. Pierzynski, 37, is clearly declining, but he could be a superior option over the next 6-8 weeks to the option the Cardinals have in their cupboards.
Similarly, John Buck was recently DFA'd by the Mariners. Like Pierzynski, he has been terrible this season, but can boast of some usefulness as recently as last year. Unlike Pierzynski, Buck is a beloved club-house guy, and would fit in well with the Cardinals' modus operandi.
And of course teams out of the playoff race could be willing to deal. Kurt Suzuki of the Twins seems like one name worth considering. He's on a one-year contract, has been worth 1.2 fWAR so far, and Minnesota needs to see if Josmil Pinto can be a full-timer anyway.
What does it mean for Cardinals' season?
Yadier Molina is high up on the list of players who even the most advanced metrics are unlikely to fully measure. Nevertheless, this injury is not a death knell on the Cardinals' season.
The division race is going to be even tougher now, but it should not be ignored that the Cardinals got to where they are with Yadi only putting up a 111 wRC+. They are unlikely to match that number at catcher without him over the coming weeks, but they'll be able to get far closer to his bat this season than they would have in in any of the last three seasons. Team-wide, Improvement from Matt Holliday and Oscar Taveras beating Allen Craig's first half both seem like reasonably likely ways for the overall offense to not take a dive without Yadi.
The schedule between now and Sept 1. isn't too bad. The upcoming series against the Brewers looms large, but the All-Star break is timed nicely, and of the 13 series after that before Sept. 1, they have the Cubs twice and the Padres twice, plus the Red Sox, Phillies, and Rays on the docket. There are some tough divisional series as well, but it could be a lot worse.
Finally, Tony Cruz understands the pitchers and the team pitching philosophy, and there are some other reasonable options if management is not comfortable with him as the primary catcher.