St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina suffered an injury in the third inning of Wednesday night’s game while sliding into third base. Though he stayed in to run the bases, he ended up leaving the game and was later diagnosed with a right thumb sprain. According to the Cardinals, he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow before any significant decisions are made.
Obviously the best scenario for the Cards would be one where Molina has no lasting issues and is immediately able to return to the lineup immediately. But these kinds of issues often persist, first of all with hitters trying to grip the bat, but additionally for Molina with trying to make throws from behind the plate. Especially with the All-Star break coming up, there’s no reason for the Cardinals to push Molina if there’s any concern that this injury could persist.
Backup Tony Cruz, who has now been with the club for four seasons, has established himself as a reliable fill-in if the need presents itself. While he hits for virtually no power, Cruz has been able to get on base at a decent rate this year, hitting for a .250 average with a .345 on-base percentage. As long as Molina’s injury is relatively short-term, Cruz should be able to handle the bulk of the catching duties in the interim.
Beyond him, however, there could be questions. If Molina has to go on the disabled list, the easiest and most obvious move would be to recall catcher Audry Perez from Triple-A Memphis, since he’s already on the 40-man roster and has had decent success at the plate this year, hitting .288/.288/.382 over 170 at-bats. That’s not a guarantee, however, especially since he’s been splitting time at Triple-A this year with Ed Easley.
Easley, a 28-year-old career minor-leaguer, might be a possibility as well. He’s very highly regarded defensively, and he’s had success at the plate over the course of his minor-league career, most so in 2013, when he had a .334 batting average over 293 at-bats with the Triple-A Reno Aces.
Easley was a sandwich pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007, so it would probably be unbelievably fulfilling for him to finally deliver on the potential that the D-Backs thought he had when they selected him. Easley hasn’t made positive contact at as high a rate as Perez, but there could be an argument made that his .253/.326/.380 line, four homers, and 19 RBI are more impressive numbers than those of his counterpart.
It’s unlikely, however, that the Cardinals would want to add Easley to the 40-man if he’s only going to be up for a short period of time.
If the Cardinals decide that none of their in-house options are reliable enough, two recently unemployed veteran backstops, John Buck and A.J. Pierzynski, could be in play. The 34-year-old Buck would probably be the better fit, as he has experience serving as a backup and filled the role for the Seattle Mariners before being designated for assignment earlier this week.
Buck’s always been regarded as a decent defensive catcher, and he’s hit at least 10 homers in eight of his ten big-league seasons to this point, including a 2010 campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays which saw him hit .281 with 20 homers and make the AL All-Star team.
It’s not as if Buck was absolutely terrible this year, either; his power numbers were down due to his decreased playing time, as he had only one homer and two doubles in 84 at-bats, but he had a .226 average and .293 OBP, about pedestrian numbers for a backup catcher. With the comforting veteran presence that Buck would provide in the clubhouse and with the pitching staff, he would be a worthy addition to the Cardinals’ roster. And based on his track record, it’s possible that he could add a needed power element to the Cardinals’ offense.
The 37-year-old Pierzynski has had plenty of success over his 17-year career, making two All-Star teams with a .282/.320/.425 career slash line, but he may be nearing the end of the road. He’s considered by many to be a major clubhouse nuisance, and that’s something that the Cardinals probably don’t desire in a short-term backup catcher. Out of everyone, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny should know best about Pierzynski’s track record, as he had the duty of replacing him in San Francisco after a disastrous single-season tenure there that left him as one of the most hated players in franchise history. And while the Red Sox are trying to get a look at their young guys and wanted to clear a roster spot for touted prospect Christian Vazquez, it’s got to tell you something that they let him go despite his decent numbers, which included a .254/.286/.348 line, four homers, and 31 RBI. It would be very surprising if the Cardinals decided to pursue Pierzynski unless Molina’s injury was found to be much worse than initially anticipated.