ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: (L-R) Yadier Molina #4 and Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate with family after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win Game Seven of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The St. Louis Cardinals' Spring Training storylines will have to do without Yadier Molina's next contract, now that he's called off negotiations in-season.
So: Finally, and with a little less of a flourish, maybe, than anticipated, the St. Louis Cardinals' least pleasant Spring Training storyline is over, right after pitchers and catchers-who-aren't-part-of-the-storyline were compelled to report: Yadier Molina and the Cardinals will not be negotiating a new contract in-season after failing to get a deal done before baseball season began.
This is not necessarily a bad thing; Yadier Molina is coming off the best season of his career as a hitter and still has a year of catching nearly every Cardinal game to get through to maintain his career as a Healthy Young Catcher all the way into free agency, and to sign him now would be to give his agent the highest possible baseline off which to leap. If Molina comes back to earth and just has a really good Yadier Molina season, like usual, the lowered expectations and the extra year of mileage could well make up for having to bid against other teams for his services, something his agents will have already priced into these team-controlled negotiations.
But it does show the Cardinals' clearest near-term weakness: Without Yadier Molina, they have little in the way of catching depth, both next year and down the line. Bryan Anderson and Tony Cruz are probably each above replacement level and below average, in their own ways; in the low minors, Cody Stanley failed to do much with the Midwest League and Robert Stock took another step toward the long-threatened conversion to pitcher that accompanied his selection back in the 2009 draft.
With negotiation off the table, though, 2012 at least is a sure thing: The Cardinals have Yadier Molina, one of the best catchers in baseball, under contract. Everything else can wait until a new offseason of homegrown-fan-favorite angst.