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Molina: ‘Three more years, three more chances’ to win a World Series

Molina says he plans to spend three more years behind the plate for the Cardinals.
[Lou Countryman photo]

Yadier Molina knows there is no Fountain of Youth. Every ballplayer knows someday it must end, even for the great ones.

Molina will turn 36 during the 2018 season. He plans to catch for the Redbirds through 2020 when his current contract ends. Then, he can ride off into the sunset.

“Three more years,” he said before spring training began. “That’s it.”

The three-year, $60 million contract, which begins with the upcoming season, will be the last one he ever signs. He looks like he’ll be worth the investment.

The ageless backstop is coming off a 2017 campaign in which he experienced a surprising resurgence in power, posting the second-highest home run total [18] of his career and his best since the 2012 season. Molina hit .273.

He accompanied the long-ball haul with a career-best 82 RBIs and even swiped nine bases, equaling the second-highest total of his long major-league tenure in that category as well.

Molina appears slated to catch another 130 to 140 games in the coming season, the norm for his career. His offseason workout routine also has not changed and he doesn’t like taking questions about how many games he can play. In fact, he’s reluctant to comment other than to insist he won’t change his mind about retiring in 2020 and that he’d like to crown a 17-year major league career with another World Series championship – or two, or three.

“I can’t wait to grab that trophy in November or October,” he said. “I can’t wait.  Three more trophies. Three more chances.”

Molina is happy to have José Oquendo back as a Cardinals coach.

“I talk to Oquendo all the time. He’s like my brother and my dad,” Molina said. “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.

“He is a secret weapon. We lose him for the last two years and we don’t make the playoffs. So hopefully with him on the bench and the work he puts in with the defense and the offense, we can get back in the playoffs. José, I mean, he likes to be everywhere. He talks to me during the game. He talks to the infield. He talks to the outfield. It’s going to be an advantage for us. We’ll have an advantage with José. He knows what he’s doing.”

It’s been rare for a standout player to spend his entire career with the club. Of the 11 players and managers to have their numbers retired by the team, only Stan Musial and Bob Gibson played for the Cardinals from beginning to end.

It might not have happened for Molina, who had a one-year, $15 million mutual option for 2018 built into his previous contract. After representing Puerto Rico in last year’s World Baseball Classic, Molina made it clear that not only would he not exercise the option, he was not afraid of free agency.

But on the eve of Opening Day, word broke that Molina and the Cardinals would be paired through the 2020 season.

Molina’s contract delays playing opportunity for Carson Kelly, 23, the organization’s second-rated prospect and No. 32 overall according to Baseball America. He’s appeared in 44 games over the last two seasons and is expected to start the season as Molina’s backup.

Kelly, who moved to St. Louis during the offseason, said he can bide his time for now. He is not concerned about having to wait for Molina to retire.

“It’s just being ready when the opportunity presents itself,” Kelly said of his role for 2018. “Who knows what’s going to happen in the future? We can plan all we want, but we never know what’s going to happen until it actually happens.”

The organization also has talented catcher Andrew Knizner waiting in the wings.

Molina is an eight-time National League All-Star who won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards between 2008 and 2015. He joined the Cardinals in time for its 2004 National League pennant run and replaced current manager Mike Matheny as the team’s everyday catcher.

“I realize I’m playing for one of the best catchers in baseball history,” Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright said at the 60th annual Baseball Writers of America St. Louis dinner. “I truly believe I throw every day to the best catcher the game has ever seen.”

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