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TA 4/27/21: Molina to IL, Sanchez Recalled

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MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Cards announced the following transaction late this afternoon:

4/27/21: Placed C Yadier Molina on the 10-day IL (right foot tendon strain). Recalled C Ali Sanchez from the ATS.

In the Cards’ game against the Reds on April 23rd, Molina swung at a pitch from reliever Heath Hembree in the bottom of the 5th inning, and it looked like he rolled his left ankle in the process and came up limping. He clearly wasn’t the same in the rest of the plate appearance and came up hobbling when he struck out. It was later revealed that it was his right foot that was sore, and that he actually injured it when he ran the bases for a double in the third inning. Andrew Knizner took over for Molina for the rest of the game, and started the next two games as well. We were told that the imaging of Molina’s foot showed that there were no major problems, but the club wanted to conduct some type of closer examination.

Molina was back in the lineup yesterday, but his very first plate appearance showed he didn’t look right at the plate, as he looked out of sorts when he struck out waving at a slider in the dirt that was about a foot outside. He stayed in the game anyway, and went hitless in his remaining two plate appearances. Now he’s being placed on the injured list with a tendon strain. I’m not a doctor, but an MRI should show a tendon injury, shouldn’t it? I can’t offer an explanation of why Molina is now diagnosed with a tendon strain when we were told that the MRI revealed nothing important. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what Shildt said the day after Molina was removed, and maybe he meant a tendon strain is not a significant injury, and the club was hoping he could play through it.

John Mozeliak said before the season that there was a plan in place to get Knizner some starts. Before this IL placement, Molina had started 18 out of the club’s 22 games. Molina was forced out of the lineup due to this injury for two of Knizner’s starts. While It is fair to point out that the Cards have had four off days this month, it is also appropriate to wonder just what the Cards’ plan for Knizner was. One could be forgiven for thinking that the plan was to basically start Molina every day until he was inevitably placed on the injured list with some type of ailment, as has happened every year since 2018.

While we might have expected Molina to land on the injured list at some point, I don’t think we expected Molina to be the best hitter the Cards had through most of the month of April. Other than coming in at second on the club with a .366 OBP to Dylan Carlson’s .388, Molina leads the club in every other offensive category—average, slugging, homers, wRC+, DRC+, wOBA, xWOBA, ISO, doubles and RBIs. He does have a .348 BABIP and an unsustainable HR/FB ratio (Baseball lists it as 26.3%, but Fangraphs has it at 20.8%). Defensively, we knew that Molina wouldn’t be what he was years ago, and that has been confirmed by Baseball Prospectus, as his Catcher Defensive Adjustment metric puts him at 44th out of 67 catchers for which BP has a rating. He’s been a little on the negative side in terms of framing, and about average at everything else. Although most probably didn’t believe that Molina would be his old Gold Glove self, I’m not sure anyone expected the club to miss his bat the most if he went on the shelf.

Molina’s replacement is Knizner, who is clearly worse at everything on defense, except for perhaps throwing out runners. Before spring training started, it looked like Tyler Heineman would get a shot at the backup catching job. He was signed to a minor league deal back in November of 2020, and had prior major league experience, along with a good defensive reputation. Then the Cards traded cash considerations to the New York Mets for Sanchez in February of 2021, five days before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Because Sanchez was on the Mets’ 40-man roster, the Cards had to add him.

I covered the Sanchez trade here when it happened. Basically, he’s the opposite of Knizner, which means he hasn’t been able to hit a lick, but he’s an above-average defender. Although Sanchez is about six years younger then Heineman, Julio Rodriguez is injured and the Cards would need an additional catcher this season because the taxi squad will operate at the same time as the AAA season, I was still surprised that the Cards made that 40-man roster addition. The addition having been made explains the recall of Sanchez instead of the addition of Heineman. Adding Heineman would require a 40-man roster move, and the Cards have no 60-day injured list move in their back pocket and are not prepared to DFA a player at this time. If the forecast for Molina was a more serious injury that would require him to miss a lot of time, I think you would have seen the addition of Heineman instead.

BENCH

Sanchez, Carpenter, Sosa, Dean, Hurst