Today we get news that Yadi has received a second (and third in the last couple years) thumb surgery. According to Yadi and the Cardinals the first surgery "didn't take" and thus he needed a second operation. The expectation is that Molina will miss most of spring training.
This type of injury isn't as bad as it once was. Just last year, Molina placed 8th out of 9 in WAR among qualified catchers with just 1.3. His 2.9 WAR in 2014 over 445 PA in 2014 was much better, but 3 WAR is at least an easier loss compared to his production from 2011 to 2013. Over those three years Yadi was worth 15.8 WAR, best among all catchers in baseball
Just as Yadi's decline means the catcher's spot doesn't have as far to fall, replacing Tony Cruz with Brayan Pena raises the floor a bit. But we're not exactly getting Molina lite in Pena. Steamer rates Molina as worth 3 WAR over 450 PA, Pena just 0.8. For catchers 450 PA is used instead of 600 as a full season's worth of PA because most catchers that aren't freaks of nature like Yadi and Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Still, the 2 WAR difference between Yadi and Brayan is concerning, just not as big of a hit as in the past. Whereas Molina was currently projected for a 99 wRC+ from a .278/.326/.397 line in 2016, Pena projects for just .254/.302/.338 and a 76 wRC+. That's after slashing .273/.334/.324 on way to a 82 wRC+, his second best season at the plate since 2009.
The Cardinals have one other option on the 40-man in Mike Ohlman. Though he didn't hit well playing part time in the Arizona Fall League he was an above average hitter at the Double-A level in 2016, accumulating a 118 wRC+. Steamer currently however projects the 25 year old to put up just a 74 wRC+ against more advanced competition. Ed Easley could be added back to the 40-man atter passing through waivers already this off-season. He is just another mediocre option though. After posting a .251/.345/.337 below average hitting line at Triple-A last year he's projected for just a .242/.302/.339 line should he play in the majors.
The available free agents left at catcher are not pretty. The best option is 30-year career backup catcher Michael McKendry, who was released two months ago by the Colorado Rockies. McKendry has been an above replacement level player in the past but was replacement level this past year. Looking forward he's projected to be worth half a win in 153 PA by Steamer, which isn't bad at all. The rest profile as replacement level fodder. So be looking for Mo to add another catcher of some level of value to hedge against Yadi's injury and the rest of the mediocre catching talent in the org. This won't be in the form of some big trade, but most likely a waiver claim or a minor league free agent pickup. Maybe the Birds end up trading for someone minor in exchange for "cash considerations", like they did with Ohlman.
After already losing Lance Lynn for the season due to Tommy John Surgery, and whiffing on high end free agents David Price and Jason Heyward, as well as watching on the sidelines while the Cubs have had the best off-season in the league, this is another blow to the 2016 Cardinals. There's still 162 games to be played of course, but the odds just keep getting longer that the Cardinals can capture their fourth consecutive division title.