With negotiations between the Cardinals and Yadier Molina moving slowly, it is still questionable as to whether the longtime Cardinals catcher will return next season. Ifthe Cardinals decide not to re-sign him, then it appears that Andrew Knizner will be the primary catcher for the team in 2021. However, Knizner has seen very little major league action, and it is still unknown if he will be able to adequately fill in for Molina.
If Knizner is the starting catcher next season, then it seems likely that he will at least be able to hold his own at the plate. Before 2019, when Knizner split time between Memphis and St. Louis, he had neer posted a wRC+ lower than 114 at any level. In 2019, he finished with a 99 wRC+; however, he also a .351 wOBA in the hitting friendly environment of the Pacific Coast League.
Even though Knizner has not had much success at the plate at the MLB level, he has made just 75 plate apperances over two seasons. This is simply too small of a sample size to judge. However, given his minor league history, it seems likely that Knizner will at least be able to be a decent hitter in the majors. The real question mark is his glove. Knizner has always been a bat first catcher who will need to improve behind the plate if he wants to become an MLB starter.
The defensive side of the game will be the most important for Knizner as he is playing the most important defensive postion in baseball. However, Fangraphs rates his glove as just a 30, while Baseball America says that Knizner has good intangibles, but rough blocking and framing skills. These are not exactly glowing reports about Knizner’s ability to play catcher, and he will need to show that he has made improvements if Molina does not return.
Additionally, if Knizner is the team’s starting catcher next season, then the Cardinals should looked to bring in a more defensive minded catcher to play with Knizner. This would allow Mike Shildt to decide on a daily basis whether the lineup needs more defense or more offense. Additionally, it would provide the 25-year-old Knizner someone else who can take some playing time and make Knizner’s transition to MLB much smoother.
The Cardinals already have a strong defensive catcher in their minor league system named Julio Rodriguez. He would actually pair well with Knizner, except for the fact that he has made just 45 Double-A plate apperances. Thus, it seems likely that he will be the organizations Triple-A catcher either by the start or by the end of 2021. Therefore, it is unlikely that he is ready for MLB in 2021, so the Cardinals should look for an external acquisition.
With Knizner and a glove-first catcher splitting time next season, the Cardinals may receive a similar level of production as Molina’s. Knizner may be able to top Molina’s 290 wOBA last season (and 303 wOBA in 2019), as Steamer projects him for a .313 wOBA, and ZIPS projects him for a .305 wOBA. However, it is unlikely that Knizner will be as good as Molina defensively, and while the Cardinals should sign a defensive partner for Knizner, that partner will likely not be as good offensively.
If Yadier Molina does not return in 2021, the Cardinals may be able to retain a similar level of production from Andrew Knizner and a defensively minded external acquisition. However, Kninzer is untested at the major league level, and the Cardinals would need to sign another starting caliber MLB catcher, which might not happen. At the very least, the team should improve offensively with Knizner in the lineup and not Molina, even if the team loses a major presence behind the plate.