Like the Energizer
Molina, 39, signed a one-year, $10 million contract extension Tuesday and Wainwright, 40 next week, seems set to follow suit – probably with a raise over the $8 million he earned this year.
It hasn’t been a memorable year for the Cardinals, who started play Wednesday 13 games behind – solidly wedged into third place in the five-team National League Central. But Wainwright stepped up with a 12-7 record, 3.10 earned run average, and league-high three complete games. He has 179 lifetime wins.
Molina, widely considered the best defensive catcher in the game despite his advanced athletic age, was an All-Star for the 10th time. He is also on track for his 10th Gold Glove. A .280 lifetime hitter with 168 home runs, Molina has hit .328 in four World Series, most recently in 2013. He has a pair of world championship rings.
The Puerto Rican backstop has announced that 2022 will be his final season. Wainwright has not decided, stating that he plans to discuss his baseball future with his family before conducting contract negotiations.
Since few players – especially stars – spend their whole careers with one club, the Wainwright-Molina battery is highly unusual. Wainwright, a 6’7″ righthanded pitcher, was not an original Cardinal. He turned pro in 1980 after the Atlanta Braves made him their first-round pick in the annual amateur draft. He was then traded to St. Louis by the Braves with fellow pitchers Ray King and Jason Marquis to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero during the Baseball Winter Meetings on Dec. 13, 2003.
Wainwright became a free agent three times but always re-upped with St. Louis. The durable veteran has topped 200 innings in five different seasons and led the league in that department twice. A two-time 20-game winner, Wainwright also won 19 in two different seasons.
He had a league-best 2.36 earned run average in 2010 and is approaching 200 wins – enough to make him a viable future candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Because of his durability, defense, and production, Molina may be closer to Cooperstown. Once considered a light hitter, he’s hit at least 20 homers in a season twice. He brought a .281 batting average into this season.
Molina’s new deal pushes the projected St. Louis payroll to $90 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. But five key players, including star pitcher Jack Flaherty, will get raises through arbitration. Five other Cardinals, including Molina and corner infielders Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, have guaranteed contracts – though Arenado could opt out of his $35 million deal.
Suffice to say that even without a new contract for Wainwright, St. Louis is virtually certain to start next season with a payroll considerably above its 2021 Opening Day level of $163 million.