After an initial diagnosis of a sprained right thumb following a slide into third base gone wrong on Wednesday night, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina received the news Thursday that he tore ligaments in the thumb and will need surgery which is projected to keep him out of action for 8-12 weeks. If that timetable is accurate, Molina will not have the chance to contribute much more to the Cardinals this year. The soonest he would return would be the first week of September, while a 12 week layoff would keep him out until early October.
This is an absolutely devastating loss for the offensively-challenged Cardinals, who will now be left without the offense that Molina can provide at the catcher position and will obviously also see a defensive drop-off without the six-time Gold Glover. Backup Tony Cruz will take over the bulk of the catching responsibilities for the short term, but you would have to think that the Cardinals will strongly explore the possibility of a trade if they think they can continue to contend for a playoff spot.
Cruz, who originally served as a super-utility player before being limited almost exclusively to catching duties under current Cards manager Mike Matheny, has shown the ability to make solid contact this season, but he’s had virtually no power, as he has a .255/.345/.294 slash line with no homers and eight RBI. The Cards have to be wary about his ability to hold up as a regular starter, though; when Molina went on the DL from July 31 to August 14 of last season, Cruz hit just .200 while serving as the Cardinals’ primary backstop.
If the Cardinals aren’t content with him as their long-term starting catcher, they could explore the possibility of a trade, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold seemed to signify that a trade was a decent possibility:
— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) July 10, 2014
The Buck he was referring to, of course, was veteran catcher John Buck, a former All-Star who has plenty of experience as a starting catcher. While Buck doesn’t hit for average very well and may be past his prime at age 34, he has 134 career homers and could provide a power presence to the lineup in addition to serving as a strong clubhouse presence and reliable defensive option. He was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners earlier this week, so he would seem to be relatively easy for the Cardinals to obtain.
Another option to consider may be 37-year-old veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who was designated for assignment by the Red Sox. While the stories that have come out about his clubhouse behavior have to be off-putting to the Cardinals, his track record as a winner and .282 career batting average may be attractive to a team that is still interested in contending.
Other trade possibilities to consider could be recently-DFA’d Cleveland Indian George Kottaras, All-Star Kurt Suzuki, who is on a one-year contract with the last-place Minnesota Twins, or Yadi’s brother, Jose Molina, who is signed through 2015 with the last-place Tampa Bay Rays. If the Cardinals are looking for someone who can be a reliable starter for the rest of the season, Suzuki would probably be the best option, but he’ll be the priciest of the above options considering the success he’s had in 2014.
Triple-A catcher Audry Perez, who flew to St. Louis last night, is expected to be activated before tonight’s game.