Yadi or Pujols?

Everyone who follows baseball knows that Albert Pujols is nearing the end of his contract, allowing him to become a free agent at the end of this season unless he signs a contract extension with the Cardinals first. And every bit of Cardinal Nation wants to keep him…but at what cost? No one really knows what the slugger wants, or what the team is willing to pay, so it leaves a lot to the imagination. Based on rumors and media speculation – El Hombre should get a contract in the upper 20 millions for close to, if not, a decade. That’s in the range of $260 – $300 million. I won’t argue that he’s not worth that, but I do have some concerns.

My main concern is what, or more accurately who, we stand to lose. Carpenter and Molina are signed through 2011 with club options for 2012 that the team will likely exercise. After that, without contract extensions, they will both become free agents. I don’t know about the rest of you – but I’d like to keep these guys around for a while. Especially Yadi.

If you know me, then you know that I have a large place in my heart for Yadi, and that I’d be a little broken hearted to see him play somewhere else. But my own sentiments aside, I honestly think he might be a bigger asset to the team than Albert. (I can almost hear you gasping as you read this, but hear me out.)

Albert is phenomenal, possibly the best player in the game. His power, his ability to draw (unintentional) walks with his patience at the plate, and his gold glove alone make him worth every penny he is paid. Factor in his leadership, charitable works and the fact that he is a role model you’re actually proud to have your kids look up to – and you’ve got a player you can hardly put a price tag on. Each year his stats look like what most guys strive to get in a ‘career year’, and he’s done it now for more than a decade! What he contributes to a team is priceless.

Now let’s talk about Yadi. Yadi’s contributions aren’t as easily measured. Obviously he’ll throw you out stealing center field, much less second base – no one in the league catches more would be thieves. His hitting has come a long way, too, as he’s proven that he can handle a bat, and he manages a lot of important clutch hits. (remember game 7 in New York a few years back?) But what he does with a pitching staff is unreal. A lot of people don’t realize that the catcher is the one who calls the games. Catchers call every pitch, including pick offs. Sure the manager has a say in what he calls and a pitcher can shake him off and ask for a new sign, but I think that’s less common with Molina behind the plate. Yadi is so confident that unless the game has just gotten out of control, he won’t let too many pitchers shake him off. And I can’t say that I blame him. He studies film, a lot of film, so that he knows what each players’ strengths and weaknesses are. He knows if a player has a hole in his swing or what pitch is most likely to catch a certain hitter looking. He knows it better than any pitcher. So to shake him off is, well, almost disrespectful. When he’s behind the plate, he is in charge.

Like Pujols – Yadi is a work horse. Getting him to take a day off isn’t an easy task, but he’s always willing to do whatever is in the best interest of the team. It seems like they are resting him a little more this year than in the past – maybe to prolong his career, or at least his knees, although if it were up to him I doubt he’d sit as many days. When he’s healthy he plays hard, when he’s hurting – he plays harder. And he always plays with passion.

A friend of mine recently suggested that baseball is all about pitching. That’s not to say that a good hitter – like Pujols – doesn’t have as much impact, but sluggers like that a few are far between. For the vast majority of hitters in baseball – no matter how good you are, a good outing from a pitcher can shut you down. And a good catcher can greatly affect the pitcher.

Basically – if you lose Albert – you can replace him with a hitter (or 2) who can put up remarkable numbers, and the team can still win games. If you lose Yadi – good luck finding another catcher who can hit, handle his pitchers and throw out baserunners (potential run scorers) the way he does. Look – I’m not trying to take away from Albert – the man is a machine and I hope he’s here to stay. I just hope it’s not at the cost of (my) Molina.

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