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Cardinals and Yadier Molina Must Avoid Pujols-like Drama in Contract Talks

By Kevin Reynolds

Everyone’s talking about Bengie Molina‘s comments on MLB Radio this week. The one-time catcher and prominent member of the Catching Molinas had some blunt words for anyone listening regarding his brother’s contract negotiations, especially John Mozeliak and the St. Louis Cardinals.

“He said, ‘Hey listen, I battled my butt off for you guys all these years. I play day games after night games. I did all I could to win. I’m playing. I don’t do anything else than play for the Cardinals. I lift for you guys. Now it’s time for your guys to show up. It’s time for you to show me’.

“’But if you don’t show me, I’m not afraid. I’ll go free agent and get my money somewhere else’…Yadi’s a different cat, man. He’s not like me, you know? I’ll be touching my heart and saying I have to stay here because I love it. No, man. No, no, no. He understands the business. You don’t want me? You want that kid over…Go ahead. Have him. I’ll get my money [as a] free agent.”

This stuff kills me.

We hear this from players all the time, how he gave so much to the organization – sweat, blood, work, pain – and the implication is that the organization hasn’t done enough to compensate him yet. Now, it’s time to “step up” and pay him for all that hard work and sacrifice.

As Bengie would say, come on, man.

By the end of 2017, the St. Louis Cardinals will have paid Yadier Molina $95 million dollars for playing 13 MLB seasons. That number does not include any bonuses (playoff share, World Series share, signing bonus as a drafted player, etc.), salaries paid from 2000 through 2004 as a minor leaguer and part-time MLB player (2004), or the $15 million mutual option at the end of Molina’s contract for 2018.

It also does not include the immeasurable dollars spent scouting, drafting, and developing Molina in the Cardinals’ system for more than four years.

But, yeah…the Cardinals owe Yadi something.

Please.

I’m a fan of Bengie Molina, and I love his accessibility and affable nature. But like many MLB players, he forgets he and his family’s privilege.

Take me for example. I went to college, twice, over 12 years, and earned two degrees. For much of that time – a stretch that nearly equals what Yadi has spent playing baseball in the major leagues – I worked full time and supported a family. For the last four years, I worked a full-time job, a part-time job, and went to night school two hours away two times a week, often leaving the house at 6 a.m. and rolling in at 1 a.m. the following morning.

I’ve worked in the same, lucrative career for the last 13 years for the same company, and I’ve jumped through numerous hoops to also acquire a state license in an entirely different profession – a helping profession.

And I would have to live my entire life over roughly 55 times to earn anywhere near $95 million dollars.

So let’s dispense with the “it’s time for someone to pay up” talk. He’s been paid. He’s been paid a lot. No one is crying over Yadier Molina’s paycheck or life sacrifices.

That said, this is not a place the Molinas want to go.

I’m of the opinion the Cardinals should do whatever needs to be done to sign Molina until the end of his career. I’ve even gone so far as to say the Cardinals owe the fans, not Yadi, a Molina contract extension. But making the St. Louis organization out to be the villains here will only backfire on the Molina camp.

Bill DeWitt, Jr.’s front office has always played negotiations close to the vest. Mozeliak himself is notably anal about information control, preventing and snuffing out leaks with prejudice.

That cold, hard, tactical approach allows the organization to make sound business decisions within the context of a fan-driven economic reality. It’s something fans have grown to appreciate about their ball club, good sense and fiscal responsibility.

But that approach can also come off distant and cold, as we saw in the Albert Pujols negotiations years ago.

Put off by what the Pujols’ family saw as a withdrawn and distant DeWitt, Albert and company were primed to respond with disgust to the club’s initial offer, a proposal that gave the future Hall of Famer the annual salary he sought at about half the years.

The Pujols power couple called the offer disrespectful and demanded to speak directly to DeWitt himself. From then on, negotiations soured, and Albert fled to California for exactly what he swore would never lure him away from Busch Stadium – a few million more per year.

Honestly, after the damage done to the Pujols legacy and those pocket-plunging west coast taxes, the move probably cost Pujols money in the end, even with that outlandish contract. But Albert knew all that when he signed the deal…and he signed it anyway.

Because that deal was never about money. It was about respect, and Albert and his wife had convinced themselves the Cardinals’ negotiation process meant the club didn’t respect him enough to stay.

Rubbish.

In the aftermath, when Cardinals fans weren’t responding the way the Pujols thought they would – thought they should, to tell the truth – the Pujols family tried to respond.

The Cardinals had disrespected them, they said. Albert had pleaded with DeWitt to “get this done for the fans,” he claimed. Dee Dee Pujols, Albert’s wife, even went on the local Christian radio station – a company the family had heavily invested in – and tried to explain to the woefully ignorant among us that Albert really had no choice. Nine years and nearly $200 million – the reported range of St. Louis’ final offer – just wasn’t a respectable amount to pay for his services. In fact, it was insulting! The DeWitts all but forced poor Albert to sign with the Angels after that.

But it was too late. Her explanations fell on deaf ears in a midwestern town that desperately, religiously, loves its baseball team and can, at times, look upon elite financial success with distrust.

No, the fans did not support the Pujols family. They did exactly the opposite. They overwhelmingly supported the general manager and the Cardinals ownership that had let their soon-to-be franchise icon leave town.

They’re not likely to respond in such a way again.

After years of listening to the Cardinals tease career-ending deals for beloved fan favorites like Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Jason Isringhausen, Matt Holliday, and Pujols, ticket-purchasing fans are ready to actually get one done. They know exactly the amount of points DeWitt’s group cashed in to let Pujols go, and they know the ledger stands in their favor.

They want a Molina extension, and they aim to get it. This is Molina’s greatest asset. Not his agent, not his own health, and not even his older brother’s pungent words on the radio. Yadi’s greatest weapon in these negotiations is the intense surge of fan support for getting a deal done.

But beware. That sort of tide can turn in a hurry. Again, let’s take me for example.

I’ve gone on record – in this very post – multiple times in support of whatever it takes to keep Yadi in St. Louis. That’s how much value I see in making him the next Cardinal for life.

And yet, I just spent 1,028 words (no, really…I counted) defending the organization and reacting defensively to Bengie’s statements. Because that’s what people do when you say critical things about their team. They’re hard-wired to push back, and that’s the last thing Yadier Molina wants to see happen.

Bengie Molina is, as Jose Ortiz notes in his column, a wonderfully supportive big brother. But at the same time, he’s struggling a bit to properly understand the perception of any comments he makes. He thinks he can speak publicly about Yadi’s contract talks and be heard as an independent observer. He’s not representing Yadi in any capacity, he says. He’s just sharing his own opinion.

Except it doesn’t work that way, Bengie.

Case in point, I read five different accounts of what you said on the radio before I found the part of your interview where you make it clear that your comments in no way represent the Yadier Molina negotiation team, that Yadi has, supposedly, said nothing of the kind to you personally (uh huh…).

Most are not going to go that far. Most will read one, maybe two accounts of your remarks and stop there.

That’s it. That’s all they hear, the cleverly edited, sound-byte-savory comments by Yadier’s older brother criticizing the Cardinals organization. And they run with the assumption that you’re speaking for Yadi.

Because, again, that’s what people do. They make snap judgements with incomplete information and make no effort whatsoever to discover the whole story. And that’s why you have to be careful what you say.

The wrong words at the wrong time can gradually, and then suddenly, erode the momentum Yadi has among Cardinal fans. And when that happens, all the pressure is off Mozeliak and crew to get a deal done.

And then, he really can go to free agency and get his money from someone else…because the Cardinals will be under no obligation to give it to him. It’s drama along the same lines as the Pujols negotiations, and it’s exactly the sort of thing Yadi and the Cardinals must avoid.

You’ll have done Mozeliak a favor. Don’t expect your brother to thank you for it.

Kevin Reynolds has covered the Cardinals for About.com, Yahoo! Sports, and various other entitiesHe’s been writing and podcasting about the Cardinals since 2004 at Stl Cards ‘N Stuff. Follow him and chat baseball on Twitter (@deckacards), and check him out on Facebook.

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