It hasn’t even been 24 hours since the Blue Jays last surprised people with Francisco Liriano, and while they haven’t officially done anything since, social media was certainly in a buzz today.
It turns out, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, that the Blue Jays are still interested in Yadier Molina.
Okay, this one’s a head-scratcher. At least, at first. For starters, the Jays have five catchers on their 40-man roster already in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno, and Riley Adams. There’s also the small detail that Molina is 38 years old and has spent his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Seeing him in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform would be objectively bizarre for just about everybody.
Of course, this could just be Molina’s agent using Toronto as leverage with St. Louis for more money. We’ve already seen it from a couple of players this offseason, including DJ LeMahieu in the pre-Marcus Semien era. It would hardly be surprising, especially considering that, as this is being written, the backstop duo in St. Louis is Andrew Knizner and Tyler Heineman. It’s easily the weak point of their strong starting lineup, and top prospect Ivan Herrera doesn’t appear to be ready yet. Adding Molina back on a two-year deal on the road to Herrera seems to be the logical move.
What if it’s not just a negotiating tactic, though? What if Yadier Molina, brother of former Blue Jays alumni Bengie (2006) and José (2010-11), actually wants to join the Blue Jays and there are active efforts at the moment to put him in a Toronto uniform?
It’s hard not to compare the thought with team history – Russell Martin’s signing was essentially the same idea, although there were significant differences as well. It all stems from the thought that adding a leader for both pitchers (behind the plate) and hitters (in the clubhouse) couldn’t possibly be a bad thing for a team ready to contend.
This is all speculation, but if Molina ends up signing with the Blue Jays, it would probably be on a two-year deal at the maximum. That would allow plenty of time for incumbent starter Danny Jansen to learn from the veteran while also keeping a clear focus on Jansen for the future. It would make a lot of sense, provided Molina’s all-in for a role that includes A) not playing everyday, and B) mentoring at least one young catcher and potentially two if you include Alejandro Kirk.
In the Blue Jays immediate catching depth chart aside from Jansen, there’s Riley Adams, who is both 24 already and not likely to be making an impact with the Jays anytime soon (there are definitely teams that are a better fit for him). He’s probably going to moved at some point. Kirk and Moreno, up to this point, have been seen as the more likely players to stick with Toronto.
Catcher is a position of depth for the Blue Jays, and the unique position they’d be in if they signed Molina could result in the team trading all three of Adams, Kirk, and Moreno to acquire pitching. They’re clearly either hesitant or waiting on the free agent market, and there are potential options in the trade market that would be perfect additions to the puzzle.
Kirk brings the most excitement to Jays fans right now, but as he looked impressive at the Major League level in limited time through 2020, he’s also likely to have the highest value. It seems likelier that they’d sell high with Kirk than give up on Jansen now – especially given all of the time they’ve spent on getting Jansen MLB-ready to this point.
In a world where they move all three and sign Molina, they’d be investing in Jansen, who’s shown that he could be worthy of the “catcher of the future” label. His defense has been extremely solid since he joined the Majors, and while his bat hasn’t arrived the way it did in Buffalo, there’s still plenty of time – especially if he’s given a great guide in Molina. The Jays probably aren’t trading Reese McGuire either, and he’s still a strong defender even if his bat’s not likely to be consistently above an average low-lineup presence. There are worse depth catchers in baseball.
Under the previous management, it seemed more likely that Russell Martin would’ve moved into a coaching presence for the Jays, but he’s got no apparent connection with current manager Charlie Montoyo. If it allows the Blue Jays to trade from a position of extreme depth and provide a strong teacher to Danny Jansen, it would appear that Yadier Molina would make a lot of sense as a similar style of addition to the Toronto Blue Jays.
They just need to make sure they’re comfortable with the idea of committing to Danny Jansen as their catcher of the next generation. Given his reportedly strong reputation with pitchers and his potential at the plate, adding Molina as his newest mentor could be an absolute home run. As much as the headline would be “Possible Hall of Famer Molina signs with Blue Jays,” there’s a very real possibility that it would be a Danny Jansen move over everything else.
Adding Molina, the potential Hall of Famer, at this stage in his career for Danny Jansen makes sense, but what about Yadier Molina, the baseball player? He’ll be entering his 18th Major League season, so it’s fair to be skeptical about the production he could bring to the team at this point. The good news is that he’s been essentially the same player since the 2017 season – he’s likely going to hit around .250 to .270, with an OBP around .310 and around 10 homers.
The only thing that seems to be on a downward trend is his power, but the home run count has shifted dramatically in the past. Busch Stadium is 26th on this park factor list from CBS Sports for home runs, though, where Rogers Centre is all the way up at first. The home of the Cardinals is generally considered a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Of course, the Jays might not be playing in Toronto within the 2020 season, so this could change a lot depending on whether they play in Rogers Centre, Sahlen Field, or in Dunedin’s TD Ballpark (the Blue Jays Spring Training home). TD Ballpark seems to have a more hitter-friendly reputation than Sahlen Field.
It’s probably not a stretch to expect a similar statline from Molina as his 2019’s as a floor, especially if he starts in a platoon with Jansen. A gradual decline is possible, though a sharp one seems unlikely considering it hasn’t happened yet – and a gradual decline could be statistically hidden by the park factors.
His FanGraphs Steamer projections have him hitting .256 with 12 home runs and an fWAR of 1.4, which seems pretty realistic. The lowest fWAR projection is 1.1 (Depth Charts), while the highest is those Steamer projections. His ZiPS projections are for 1.0 fWAR. Marcel’s Projections, from Baseball-Reference, doesn’t project bWAR, but has him around the same area for batting average (.251).
Every projection has him hitting at least eight home runs, with a 12 home run projection as the peak on FanGraphs (THE BAT, Steamer), and 14 homers projected from Marcel’s on Baseball-Reference.
For comparison’s sake, Jansen’s consistently projected for a higher fWAR across the different FanGraphs systems (High: 2.2, Low: 2.0). Molina’s projections are better than Kirk’s and much better than McGuire’s.
In April of 2020, Marly Rivera of ESPN reported (later mentioned by MLB Trade Rumors in their 2021 offseason free agent writeup) that Molina wanted to play for “two more years,” and that he’d be willing to sign with a team that’s not the Cardinals.
If he’s indeed willing to leave St. Louis at this point in his career, two years of Yadier Molina in Toronto seems like a solid deal for both sides, even discounting the Jansen-related factors.