By Rob Rains
As November turned into December, and December turned into January, Yadier Molina tried to ignore any doubts about whether or not he would be returning to play for the Cardinals this season.
Whatever doubts existed never caused Molina to lose hope that it would happen.
“When you are in free agency anything can happen,” Molina said during a zoom press conference on Tuesday. “You’ve got teams calling you. It’s a process you don’t want to experience but at the same time you want to experience. It was a slow process, but I never had a doubt. I knew this day would come.
“I was expecting early, sooner, but it is what it is. I’m ready to go back.”
Molina said he did receive “serious” offers from at least a couple of other teams.
“I was hoping for St. Louis to step up and put something on the table,” he said. “That’s what they did. My first choice was to be in St. Louis. That’s the place I want to finish my career. I was waiting for them. That’s why we took so long.”
Molina agreed to a one-year contract on Monday, breaking the news himself with a video on Instagram that ended with the message, “I’m back.” The deal reportedly is worth $9 million, plus an extra $1 million possible in incentive bonuses.
It happened just nine days before the team’s pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Jupiter, Fla., for the start of spring training. This will be Molina’s 18th season with the Cardinals, second all-time in franchise history behind only Stan Musial’s 22-year career.
The two sides were able to finalize an agreement that had been put on hold last week while Molina was playing for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series.
While he was in Mexico, he got a text from the newest Cardinal, Nolan Arenado, lobbying him to agree to the deal.
Molina also said he stayed in communication with Wainwright all winter, both of them asking each other for updates. When Wainwright signed, Molina said he knew it likely meant he would soon follow.
“He was a really big part why I signed back,” Molina said. “I love Waino. He’s like my brother. When you add Arenado, why not come back?”
When he became a free agent at the end of last season, for the first time in his career, Molina was said to be seeking a two-year contract. After settling for a deal for just this season, Molina said he is focusing on 2021 and not thinking about his future beyond that.
Bringing back Molina was the final piece of the team’s off-season puzzle, following re-signing Wainwright and trading for Arenado, all of which happened in the last two weeks.
John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, agreed with Molina that he wished all of those moves could have happened sooner.
“I wish all of this had happened two months ago,” Mozeliak said. “It really was a slow off-season, a lot of things slow to develop. We said at the start of the off-season goal number one was to sign Yadi, goal number two was to sign Waino and we’ll see what else can possibly happen.
“The Arenado deal was pretty time-consuming because the importance of adding all three was pretty logical. Having it all come together, it’s not how I would have drawn up my off-season if I could do it over again, but the outcome is what we wanted.”
Did Mozeliak have doubts about whether he could accomplish all three goals, perhaps even going 0-of-3?
“Sure,” he said. “Anybody can have a bad run, right? We were hopeful that his could get done but when someone is out in free agency there is only so much you can control. We’re just lucky that we have two players that are extremely loyal to this organization and want to be here. That was a big help I’m sure.”
Mozeliak said there is a possibility the team could still add some players on a non-roster invitation basis between now and the start of camp.
The pitchers are catchers are scheduled to hold their first workout on Feb. 17, with the first full-squad workout set for Feb. 22.
The Cardinals had been scheduled to open Grapefruit League play on Feb. 27, but MLB said on Monday that it is working on a revised schedule that will split teams into regional pods, meaning all of the Cardinals games will be against the Mets, Marlins, Nationals or Astros, all of whom train on Florida’s East Coast.
It is likely the number of games will be slightly reduced, and split-squad games will be eliminated.
Mozeliak said teams received a 108-page document from MLB on Monday night that contains all of the health and safety protocols that will need to be followed during spring training.
Part of those protocols call for the possibility of games being shortened to either five or seven innings during the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule.
The two sides also agreed to once again play seven-inning games in doubleheaders this season and retained the rule that extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports