ST. LOUIS — After 19 years within the majors, and greater than 18,000 innings crouched behind the plate, the old catcher has two World Series rings and has earned greater than $170 million. In spite of everything of that, what’s the following step? Traveling the world? Constructing a beach home? Plopping down in front of a television and disappearing from the limelight?
Yadier Molina, the longtime backstop of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose résumé is widely expected to land him within the Baseball Hall of Fame, doesn’t want any of that yet. Every time the Cardinals’ season ends, he’ll immediately head to Venezuela to embark on his next chapter: managing.
Catchers are sometimes called managers on the sphere because they’re involved in every play and are the one players positioned facing out at the whole field somewhat than in at a batter. But Molina’s teammates and coaches said he has taken that role to a different level due to his ability to see things that few else do.
Molina liked the taste he got when he managed his native Puerto Rico’s under-23 team within the Pan American Baseball Championship. But he has never managed on the skilled level — at the least, not formally.
Officially, Oliver Marmol is the Cardinals’ manager. Unofficially, Molina has been sharing those duties for quite some time.
“He’s been managing for years,” said Marmol, 36, a first-time manager who’s 4 years younger than his catcher. “He’s top-of-the-line baseball guys I’ve been around.”
Managers do way over set a lineup or run a bullpen. They function a liaison with front offices, which have shaped the sport an increasing number of over the many years. They serve because the team’s de facto each day spokesman. They assist guide the morale of the clubhouse. Now Molina will get his likelihood to mold things as he chooses.
“He might be just a little quiet, but he’s like an encyclopedia,” Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas said of Molina. “It’s not at all times open, but once you need a solution, you possibly can open it and find one.”
Paul DeJong, a Cardinals shortstop, said he was surprised that Molina was headed to Venezuela to administer this winter since he thought his teammate would find yourself spending his time on his charitable efforts in Puerto Rico or coaching his skilled basketball team (Bayamon Vaqueros) on the island.
But Molina said he couldn’t do the latter because he’s the owner. He said he wanted to administer a baseball team in Puerto Rico but didn’t get the chance. So when two of his Venezuelan friends — José Martínez, a former teammate, and Pablo Sandoval, one other former major leaguer — heard Molina was in search of a shot after playing, they tried to recruit him to their respective Venezuelan winter league teams. Sandoval’s team won.
And with that, Molina will dive into managing instantly with the Navegantes del Magallanes, the defending champions of the eight-team Venezuelan Skilled Baseball League.
“It’s something different, and I’d prefer to try it early and see the way it goes,” Molina said recently in Spanish, adding that he was grateful the Magallanes gave him a likelihood. “After which after, I can resolve if I would like to do it over here.”
Here is, after all, the USA. And a few consider that Molina, should he need to, has the talents and experience to be a big-league manager sooner or later. Ask his coaches and teammates concerning the ways Molina took control of a hairy situation or spotted an opponent’s weakness during a game, and they’re going to rattle off examples.
There was the time in May when the Cardinals were playing the San Francisco Giants and Molina picked up how his opponent motioned for the runner on first base to take off because the pitch was delivered.
“In that scenario,” Marmol said, “he was like, ‘I got a read on something. Just give me one pitch.’ If he does that, you recognize he’s got a grasp on it. Just stay out of the way in which.”
It worked: Molina threw all the way down to second base to catch Joc Pederson in a rundown. These moments don’t surprise the Cardinals.
“You have got full trust in him that he sees something,” said second baseman Tommy Edman, adding later, “There are occasions he can predict what’s going to occur or has a very good idea what’s going to occur before it actually does.”
There was also that point in spring training — yes, even then Molina is hyper focused — when the bat flew out of the hands of the batter on the plate and everybody turned to look at it, including the runner at second base. Molina noticed and flung the ball across the diamond to try to select off the runner. It may need worked, too, if the shortstop wasn’t also distracted.
“I’m sitting there watching, ‘That son of a gun,’” the Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “Everybody is watching the bat but Yadi.”
Skip Schumaker, the Cardinals bench coach, played with Molina within the minor and major leagues. He said that in those days, when he played center field and second base, Molina would signal for him to maneuver his position based on the batter and situation.
“And literally each time he did that, the ball was right there,” Schumaker said.
In the fashionable game, clubs have reams of information on where each batter is more likely to hit the ball and in what counts, and players carry positioning cards with them as reminders. Coaches use that information to reposition fielders, calling out changes from the dugout. Schumaker said Molina has been allowed to overrule all that, even with stars like Chris Carpenter or the present ace Adam Wainwright on the mound, “because it really works.”
Marmol said Molina has a terrific feel for reading an opponent’s swing — if he is just too late or too early — and for what his teammate on the mound is succeeding at or scuffling with that day. He also called Molina “super astute” for a way he thinks ahead in games, reminiscent of not calling for his teammate’s best pitches until a critical moment, somewhat than showing them earlier when nobody is on base.
At times, Marmol said, Molina will pick his brain on why he called for a certain reliever when he did. He admitted that he’ll occasionally explain to Molina within the dugout during a game which pitcher he’s deciding to make use of in a certain situation. Sometimes, he’ll even solicit his input.
“It’d be dumb not to make use of the resources you’ve got,” Marmol said.
When Luis Blasini, the overall manager of Magallanes, heard from his boss earlier this 12 months that Sandoval had reached out about Molina, he said he wasn’t surprised Molina wanted to administer. He knew what type of playing experience Molina had, and he had seen him lead the Puerto Rican youth team years ago.
What surprised Blasini was the timing: Molina was still playing and it was in the midst of spring training. After an initial phone conversation, the lads later met in person in Jupiter, Fla., where the Cardinals train before the season. It was after that when Molina, who said he has visited Venezuela before and has friends there, signed on for this winter.
“We’d love for it to be multiyear,” Blasini said in a phone interview. “But it surely’s his first experience. And we’re all sure Yadi will within the near future be a manager in the large leagues. We don’t know Yadi’s future within the majors. He can have a position with a company, not only as a manager but in one other role.”
But for now, Molina faces the upcoming pressure of the Cardinals’ playoff push (they lead the National League Central race by three games through Thursday) after which the Venezuelan winter league. (The Navegantes’ first game is scheduled for Oct. 22, the identical day as Game 4 of the N.L. Championship Series.)
“In Venezuela, in addition to other winter league countries, you don’t play to develop a player,” Blasini said. “You play to win today. And in case you win, you’ve got to win tomorrow.”
Carlos Mendoza, the Yankees bench coach and the manager of the Cardenales de Lara last winter, said every game within the league felt like Game 7 of the World Series. Within the baseball-mad country afflicted by ongoing turmoil, a number of playoff games attracted nearly 10,000 fans.
“There’s pressure from the media, the fans,” said Mendoza, a Venezuelan. He also cited the difficult nature of juggling a rotating roster on a regular basis, particularly with restrictions from M.L.B. organizations on how much their prospects can play or pitch.
“It’s loads of moving parts,” he added. “Then coping with prospects and veterans on the way in which out. Managing the clubhouse is certainly one of the hardest parts, of any level, but in addition there in Venezuela.”
Asked if he was ready for those challenges, Molina didn’t hesitate. “I’ve managed for 19 years in the large leagues,” he said. “And baseball is baseball. Here I’ve had loads of pressure situations and I feel it’ll be very fun to administer a team.”
But Molina’s longest running teammate isn’t so sure the catcher is able to be on the helm of a team just yet, somewhat than playing for one.
“I’ll consider it after I see it,” said Wainwright, who has thrown greater than 2,100 innings with Molina behind the plate over 17 years. “I feel he’s going to play next 12 months. I don’t know that, but you never know with him. He’s so impulsive. I never attempt to determine what he’s pondering.”
Told of this, Molina, who was hitting .210 through Thursday and already missed time this season with a knee injury, shook his head and interrupted. “I’m done,” he said. Managing in Venezuela is indeed next.