(Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)
Four-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina enters spring training this year a lifetime Cardinal seeking a long-term extension, just like Pujols a year ago. Molina is heading into the final year of his contract and he would like to stay in St. Louis.
But he emphasizes it's a two-way street. And it can't help matters that Pujols is now two time zones away.
"When you spend time for how many years, eight years, I feel Albert is like my big brother," Molina said. "When you see a guy going like he did last year, going to another team, yeah, it affected me."
Molina said Pujols is happy in Anaheim with the Angels, adding: "He likes it. He has to like it."
That's not to say Molina is unhappy in St. Louis and that just because Pujols is gone he's got one foot out the door, too. Much was made of his absence from the team's annual Winter Warmup fan festival and his no-show at the White House with the rest of the world champions, that both were signals of his displeasure. Molina said he simply had other commitments.
"I'm sorry I didn't make it," he said, "but I had to stay home."
The 29-year-old Molina, the youngest and most talented of three brothers to catch on in the major leagues, is coming off perhaps his best season. In addition to sterling defense that's most evident with those quick throws that convince base stealers to take the day off, he set career offensive highs with a .300 average, 14 homers and 65 RBIs, then added nine RBIs in the World Series.
Molina does not intend to give the Cardinals a hometown discount to get the deal sealed as much as he'd love to stick around, as much as he respects the management team of chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak. He points out that the money has to be right on the other side of the table, too.
"I will say this: I like the town, I like the city, but at the same time I have to think about my family," Molina said. "Like they would about their team. Like I said, this is business. If I get good money, I'll take it. If I don't, I'll go away."
Mozeliak said the Cardinals will do what they can to make a deal.
"I think it's more open-ended at this point," the Mozeliak said. "Our desire would be to find a way to sign him."
Molina ideally would like to have a deal done before opening day so he can devote full attention to the game and help the Cardinals defend their World Series title. He appears trimmer than last season, although he says nothing has changed, and enthusiastically told new manager Mike Matheny he wanted to play all 162 games, though he said that has nothing to do with any sort of salary drive.
"I always come in good shape, this is not a different year," Molina said. "I can't wait to get out there and catch."
There's no doubt in Matheny's mind that Molina has come to camp motivated.
"Obviously he had a front row seat to watch how things went [with Pujols], and that's going to probably weigh on him a little bit, I imagine," Matheny said. "The one thing I know is that he's motivated to get better, and I can't believe the contract thing weighs on him that much.
"It's on his mind, but I know he has always tried to be the best catcher there is in the game, and when you go about it that way, the other stuff works itself out."
Molina said talks have stalled the last two weeks. Unlike Pujols, who cut off negotiations on the first day of spring training last February with the clear intention to test free agency, Molina plans no such ultimatum.
Whenever the Cardinals are ready to resume negotiations, Molina is ready, too.
"Yeah," he said. "I'm open to talk."