Yadi as a lifetime Cardinal - everybody wins!

It seems there is a real desire on both parts, the Cardinals and Yadier Molina, for him to have a chance to retire as a Cardinal, and it's going to take a bit of sacrifice on both parts to make it happen. A lot is made of these opportunities, but they tend to get talked about far more often than they come to pass. But, it is hard to argue that few Cardinal players currently associated with the team deserve it more than Yadi - he has not only been a 'franchise-defining" player, he has been a transformative player in many ways. He has certainly raised the bar for defensive catchers within the program and has raised managing pitchers to an art. If anyone deserves to retire as a Cardinal, Yadier Molina certainly does. Adam Wainwright deserves it also, but that doesn't take away from Yadi's case.

Having Yadi retire as a Cardinal would be a physical manifestation of that elusive trait, "the Cardinal way." There is no question that fans want their teams to win, but I think they also want them to win and conduct themselves in a certain way (Yankee and Red Sox fans notwithstanding.) They want their team and players to demonstrate loyalty and honor, and to recognize the contribution that both make to the success of the program. Having generational players retire with the team is one way of doing that, and of reinforcing what can be a very nebulous concept - "the Cardinal way." I like saying that - it's such an easy way to annoy so many fans of other teams.

It's easy to point out all of the times this doesn't happen - Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday, etc. But, when we see Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith at Spring Training, and when Lou Brock is around the team at any time, you know the value of having generational players maintain their association with the team. It reinforces those values of loyalty and honor, and it reminds current players of the dues that others paid for what they now enjoy, as well as the standards of excellence that are expected of them now and in the future. When you see Bob Gibson, you know what you have to do to be a great Cardinal pitcher.

But, back to Yadi. How do the Cardinals keep him as a generational player, one that can retire with the team? It will take, as I said earlier, compromise on both parts. If the Cardinals are only concerned with getting on-field value for their contract, they won't sign Yadi to the 4 year contract he wants. Similarly, if Yadi wants maximum money and playing time over four years., he won't sign with the Cardinals. The Cards will get better financial value elsewhere, and Yadi will get more money and playing time elsewhere.

So, how do we make this happen? We trade legacy for money and playing time. The Cardinals offer Yadi a 4 year contract at a competitive salary for three years. The first year, he would be the starting catcher, and would mentor his replacement, Carson Kelly. The second year, he would still be the starting catcher, but would share more time with Kelly. The third year, he would transition to part time, with Kelly taking on more than half of the starts. By the fourth year, Yadi has transitioned to a true mentor and Kelly is the starting catcher.

Why would Yadi take this offer? Well, he gets a competitive salary for three of the four years, and gets a graceful transition out of the starting lineup. He would also secure his position with the Cardinals by transitioning, after the four year contract, to the minor league system as an instructor/guru for catchers and pitchers. Yadi would fill the Jose Oquendo role for the upcoming generation of Cardinal prospects. Who wouldn't want Yadi training future generations of catchers how to frame the strike zone and manage a pitcher throughout a game? Who wouldn't want Yadi teaching a generation of pitchers how to manipulate a lineup throughout a 9 inning game?

Generational players who retire with the club usually make a contribution off the field commensurate with their on-field statistics. If the Cardinals made Yadi's legacy with the team a part of his retirement, it would cement his position along with the Gibsons, Smiths, Brocks, etc. It would require a bit of sacrifice on both parts - money for the Cardinals, and money and playing time for Yadi. But, if both sides value having Yadi "retire as a Cardinal," some sacrifice to make that happen should be open for discussion.

I'm not a numbers cruncher or a statistics guy - I'm from a different generation. The details of the contract are no doubt unrealistic and wrong. But, it's the concept and the framework that I think has value. If Yadi wants to retire as a Cardinal, let him do so and spend the second part of this career imparting wisdom and knowledge to the next generation. If the Cardinals want that too, let them pay him a bit more than they might owe him out of respect and gratitude. In my opinion, it would be a win-win for everyone.