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Investigating the Yankees’ appetite for Yadier Molina

Is there something to this rumor or should the team steer clear?

MLB: Wildcard-St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more entertaining features of this part of the offseason is the early winter rumor mill. The Winter Meetings are usually when most of the serious offseason business gets done, and the time in between is best spent speculating on every beat writer’s tweet. To wit, Jon Heyman discussing the possibility of the Yankees signing Yadier Molina.

Molina is 38, coming off a solid-if-unspectacular season behind the plate for the Cardinals, the only franchise he’s ever played for. Of course the Yankees have question marks at catcher as well, with Gary Sánchez probably never becoming the catcher we want him to, and Kyle Higashioka being a 30-year-old who had one good game in 2020 to pull him out of an ugly offensive season.

Molina’s not quite a backup yet — he started 42 games behind the plate in 2020 - and despite some very worrisome offensive signals, is still a capable defender. He’s among the top 20 catchers in baseball in framing runs overall, and still good enough to be a starter if you prorate framing runs over 1,000 innings. In fact if you prorated 2020’s framing stats, Molina had his best season since 2016:

Not for nothing, but Gary Sánchez only has one season of framing better than Molina over the course of Gary’s admittedly younger career. I don’t want to turn this post into a Sánchez bash; it’s merely worth pointing out that Molina can still work effectively behind the plate.

All of this is to say that I don’t really have any defensive concerns about Molina, aside from general age-related injury risk. His bat does nothing to excite me, but while he doesn’t touch Gary’s level of offensive potential, he also hasn’t been borderline unplayable at the plate, which both Higgy and Sánchez have occasionally been.

So there really isn’t a case to be made against Molina purely based on performance. The question becomes one of fit, and this is where we start to see the real snags in any Molina-to-Yankees rumors.

Neither Sánchez nor Higgy carry much value from a trade perspective. Higashioka will be 31 years old, and is out out of options with a mere 200 career plate appearances to his name. Sánchez, though still loaded with potential, is a free agent in two years and you cannot ignore his inconsistency, either at the plate or behind it. Maybe some team buys his upside, but maybe not.

There’s a crowded catching scene in the Bronx, and it’s unlikely that Molina is looking for a backup role anyway. As I said above, he caught more than two-thirds of the Cardinals’ games last year, and at worst, you have to figure he’s aiming for a tandem situation — which we discussed earlier this week.

There’s also the small matter of Molina being something of a Cardinals legend. He’s been a one-team player on perhaps the only club that worships its own history at a level on par with the Yankees. It’s really hard to imagine them letting him walk, especially when the contract for a guy Molina’s age won’t be something that breaks a budget.

So we have a player who can still be productive, especially for a club like the Yankees, but without any real way of fitting him on the roster. As we’ve said over and over, the Yankees have to figure out their catching situation internally — Gary and Higgy have to be better.