January 26, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) The offseason discussion surrounding Yadier Molina has long centered on whether the St. Louis catcher should rest more during the season.

After Molina played in a career-high 147 games last year, that consideration is in the forefront more than ever for the 34-year-old winner of eight Gold Gloves. So is the awareness that his time as one of the dominant backstops in baseball might soon start winding down.

The discussion about Molina's playing time hasn't been limited to only fans, with Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak recently saying he feels Molina would be ''better off'' with more rest. This after a season in which the Puerto Rican star didn't win the Gold Glove for the first time since 2007.

It's not an opinion shared by St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.

''My job description is to win games,'' Matheny said. ''And if I've got a player I feel is going to help us win games, and that I feel is able to answer the bell, he's going to be in the lineup.''

Matheny knows more than most about the grueling demands of catching over the course of a 162-game season, having won four Gold Gloves of his own for his work behind the plate.

He's managed Molina since 2012, during which time the catcher - who has been a part of nine playoff appearances and two World Series titles since debuting in 2004 - has played in an average of 133 games per season.

And while Matheny understands the long-term concerns about Molina's ability to continue playing at a high level, he's also aware that last season was the first time the Cardinals have missed the playoffs over that stretch - with much of the prior success coming in large part to Molina.

''It's frustrating, frustrating for me because I remember the years when I was able to play a lot,'' Matheny said. ''There were times I felt good, and it just made no sense. And for whatever reason, sometimes you can feel a lot of pressure of the outside influences saying that you shouldn't be playing.''

Mozeliak's comments about resting Molina more weren't his first on the topic. However, his interest has likely taken on more of a big-picture feel as the five-year contract extension Molina signed in 2012 nears its end.

The catcher is under contract for $14 million in 2017, and there is a $15 million mutual option for 2018, with a $2 million buyout.

Molina has said in the past he prefers to remain in St. Louis for the remainder of his career, and the idea of him in another team's uniform is upsetting for many fans.

For Mozeliak, it's about balancing what Molina is now with what he hopes to be in the years to come.

''I do feel like, from a general manager's seat, that you would want to balance that and try to protect him better than we have,'' Mozeliak said. ''But, the guy loves to play. He trains extremely hard to prepare himself in the offseason for that 162 (games), and he's not an easy guy to talk to get out of that lineup.''

Despite turning 34 during the middle of last season, Molina was at his best offensively over the last few months of the season. He hit .365 after the All-Star break, and his .307 batting average for the season was the third best in his career.

Matheny said Molina is better than most about telling him when he needs a day off to rest, and the manager said he plans to continue watching the catcher for signs of wear and tear. All the while, though, he's well aware there's only one Yadier Molina behind the plate.

''There's a shelf life to this gig and eventually there's going to be a finger to point of why this, that or the other, but right now this guy works really hard to continue to answer the bell,'' Matheny said. ''And he's doing it well.''

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