Yadier Molina would leave Cardinals to play beyond 2020

The coronavirus has forced Yadier Molina to consider something that was off limits to him only months ago: leaving the St. Louis Cardinals.

Molina, 37, has been a catcher with the Cardinals for his entire 16-year career, and wanted to finish his career with the only MLB team he’s ever known. Just three months ago he told reporters that if the Cards wanted to move on from him when his three-year, $60 million contract expires after the 2020 season, he would retire.

“If the Cardinals want me, that’s the only team I want to play for,” Molina said in January via MLB.com. “But if they don’t, if they want to move apart, that’s it for me.”

Recent events have made Molina reevaluate that position. In a phone interview with ESPN’s Marly Rivera, Molina revealed that he wants to play beyond 2020 regardless of whether the Cardinals re-sign him.

‘All I want to do is play’

It seems crazy that Molina, who has appeared in nearly 2,000 games for the Cardinals and is the epitome of the Cardinal Way, would consider taking his talents somewhere else. But that’s just what he’s prepared to do.

"I previously said that, if it wasn't with St. Louis, that I would go home. If we were unable to come to an extension agreement, that I would retire,” Molina told ESPN. “But the situation with this pandemic has changed everything. Right now, I'm thinking of playing two more years.

"Obviously, St. Louis is my first option. But if they don't sign me, then I'm willing to go into free agency. This situation has changed my mentality and all I want to do is play."

Yadier Molina wants to be a Cardinal for life, but only if the Cardinals want him. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Being deprived of baseball has only made Molina want to play more. And while he’s firm on his desire to play beyond 2020, his main goal right now is to simply get on the field.

"Before this terrible situation happened, I thought there was a 50/50 chance that the 2020 campaign would be my last. Not now," Molina said. "The most important thing right now is people's health and getting past this pandemic. It's a very difficult situation. After we accomplish that, after we're able to start the 2020 season, then I'd like to have that conversation."

Molina is realistic about his prospects. He’s been one of the most talented and consistent catchers of the last 15 years, but he’ll be 38 in July and has already lasted far longer than many catchers. He told ESPN that he knows his “window is smaller” as a nearly 40-year-old catcher, but he’s been staying in shape while baseball is dormant and said his knees feel good — a major plus for any catcher.

Health and safety come before baseball and business

COVID-19 has changed Molina’s mind on retirement because he didn’t want a possible 2020 season, which would look wildly different than any other season, to feel like “unfinished business.” And while he’s optimistic about baseball being played in 2020 — and about his future in MLB — he’s still focused on what’s most important: the health and safety of people all over the world.

"I think we're going to play. I'm optimistic that we will have a (2020) season," Molina said. "But health is first and foremost, and the safety of everyone, of all the fans. But I feel optimistic that we'll have a season. But like I said before, the priority right now is handling this pandemic. After we get a handle on that, then we can take care of business. I'm confident that St. Louis and my agent Melvin Román will come to an agreement. But the most important thing right now is everyone's health and we'll talk business later on. Now there are much more important things."

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