1. Their backup is a Clubhouse Guy and probably not the second best catcher in the system. I like Jason LaRue's mustache, and the average backup catcher plays so little that his .224/.293/.340 line as a Cardinal, which is actually a little above the hilarious catchers' replacement level, doesn't do any damage. It's like pitchers' hitting—they don't do it very well, but the difference between a great one and Al Leiter isn't so bad. But given the nature of a St. Louis Cardinal oblique strain, Molina could miss anywhere from a week to fifteen months, and a 36 year-old who has not started in five years is not an ideal replacement.
Nobody is an ideal replacement for Yadier Molina, of course; he's a great defensive catcher, and in the last two or three years he's become one of the best hitters at the position, too. He is a five tool catcher—arm, mobility, manager-approved handling, league-average hitting, and... grounding into double plays. But the Cardinals have a better option than Jason LaRue stashed away at AAA. His name is Bryan Anderson; once upon a time he was a top-five prospect in the system. Now—oh, that's list item #2.
2. Their starter in Memphis is a Clubhouse Guy (or something) and probably not the third, fourth, or fifth best catcher in the system. I like Matt Pagnozzi's... well, I like his name, and the average backup catcher plays so little that pitchers' hitting etc. If his defense is half as good as advertised even he could be a fair third catcher.
Tony, what do you think about Matt Pagnozzi?
As for how long Molina would be out, La Russa said it was too early to tell, but it would seem a certainty that another catcher, perhaps already optioned Matt Pagnozzi, would be brought back from Class AAA Memphis although La Russa said he would prefer that Pagnozzi play every day for that club instead of being a backup to No. 2 catcher Jason LaRue here.
Matt Pagnozzi is 27 years old. He's older than David Freese. He's not going to learn to hit now, and his defense is so perfect already that announcers and coaches attain satori when he blocks a ball in the dirt. Much like Allen Craig (only slightly different) Matt Pagnozzi has nothing to learn in AAA, except a knuckleball.
That wouldn't be a big deal if the Cardinals didn't have a catcher there who did have things to learn. His name is Bryan Anderson; once upon a time he was a top-five prospect in the system. Now he is 23, five months younger than Jaime Garcia, and he's about to be consigned to backing up Matt Pagnozzi in Memphis. He got one at-bat in Major League camp. Last year Bryan Anderson had a terrible year, missed half the season with shoulder problems, and hit .245/.293/.399. That would have been Matt Pagnozzi's career high OPS by 68 points. Last year Charles Cutler got on prospect-sleeper watch by putting up an .865 OPS in the Quad Cities. He is five months older than Bryan Anderson.
Anderson is recovering from the shoulder problems and coming off the first season in his minor league career that doesn't look exactly like the other ones—.280-.300, a few walks, no power—so it's fine if he spends some time at Memphis. If Molina only misses a week or two in April and LaRue looks good enough to start, Pagnozzi makes more sense as the little-used backup in that time frame. But Pagnozzi playing every day in Memphis is preposterous.
I have missed a lot of prospect boats. I was the last one on the Good Ship Mark McCormick, I got wild-eyed about how terrible Chris Duncan was shortly before he slugged .589 for the Cardinals, and I was kind of excited about Eddie Degerman and his high strikeout rates. But I pride myself in correctly calling Bryan Anderson's descent to the back of prospect lists everywhere. If I had a baseball pundit resumé, like the one that appears on the back of Baseball Prospectus every year (we said older players would play worse, and they did! we said younger players would play better, and they did!), that would be on the list.
And now, once more, I have to defend him. This is what starting Matt Pagnozzi does to people. If nothing else I suppose it brings us together, like the meteor in Armageddon.
Whether they start Anderson or not, losing Molina for an extended period of time is the one issue for which the Cardinals are not at all prepared, unless Felipe Lopez can play there, too. Based almost exclusively on his bat—UZR doesn't do catcher defense—Fangraphs has Molina as having been 3.4 wins above a replacement player in 2009. Assuming that Matt Holliday will not play the first half of 2010 in Oakland, that's third among position players, and at no other position on the team are the proverbial replacement players so close to the surface.