According a report from the St. Louis Dispatch filed Tuesday, the Cardinals have pushed perennial All-Star/Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina's Grapefruit League debut to preserve him for the regular and postseason, for which the team has lofty aspirations.
Molina is, by nearly any definition, the team's most valuable player and one of the more valuable players on any team, finishing in the top five the last two years for NL MVP voting to go along with his five consecutive Gold Gloves at one of the game's most important defensive positions. Well-known for his prowess behind the plate, the youngest of the Molina brothers has logged the most innings at backstop over the last three seasons, all while creating the so-called "Molina effect" resulting in Cardinals pitchers ERAs dropping over a run when he was catching them through August of last season.
When coupled with the steadily improving hitting numbers -- he won last year's Silver Slugger for NL catchers -- it's clear to see why the Redbirds are so intent on making sure he stays as healthy as possible while working baseball's toughest position. It also appears that Molina will see his workload reduced throughout the season with a built-in day off rather clearly tied to his staggered start as part of an organization-wide effort to keep Yadier fresh.
"We'll probably go a little slow getting him started," Matheny told the paper. "We've got a long way to go and he looks good. When we start talking about trying to conserve we could do that from the start, do that at the beginning."
Even with the reduced spring schedule, the 31-year old catcher -- who is locked up with the club through his age-34 year in 2017 (with a club option for 2018 worth $15 million) -- still plans on meeting his standards for preparation regardless of how much the team plays him, telling the Post-Dispatch ""I like to work. I have the time I need to get ready for the season."
All in all the plan helps, to the best of the organization and Molina's ability, prolong the catcher's ability to produce offensively at peak effectiveness while not sacrificing his considerable defensive value. The Cards are looking to preempt the move to a safer, less taxing position like first base, where former MVP catchers like Joe Mauer find themselves in the later stages of their career thanks to the punishment of their original position.
Though, whether or not this plan works, or Molina is able to maintain his offensive performances, one thing is for sure: It will never, ever be a good idea to try to steal a base against him.