April 02, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) When it was over, when the numbers were finalized and the contract was ready, Yadier Molina cried.

Tears of joy.

Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals announced a new deal Sunday that adds $60 million over three seasons through 2020, increasing the likelihood that the catcher will finish his decorated career with his only major league team.

''This is a special day. I can't be more happy than I am right now,'' Molina said. ''This is a dream come true. I always wanted to be here. ... It was a hard week, going back and forth with feelings. But I'm just glad that we got it done because this is the right place to be.''

The opening-day crowd at Busch Stadium roared its approval when Molina was introduced before Sunday night's 4-3 victory against the Chicago Cubs, prompting the catcher to doff his cap twice as the cheers continued. He got another standing ovation when he came to the plate for the first time in the second inning, and there were chants of ''Ya-di! Ya-di!'' before he grounded a single back up the middle.

Molina's previous deal called for a $14 million salary this year and a $15 million mutual option for 2018 with a $2 million buyout. But neither side had any interest in messing with the option, preferring an extension of their long-running partnership.

Under the new contract, the 34-year-old Molina will make $20 million in each of the following three seasons.

''There has been a lot written about this being a legacy contract,'' general manager John Mozeliak said. ''To me, this is much more than what he's done. What it means to me is what he's going to do. In a way, today is just the next chapter in our future.

''We believe he can compete at the highest level and we still feel that Yadi is one of the greatest catchers in the game.''

Since Molina's debut in 2004, St. Louis has made nine playoff appearances and won two World Series titles. Molina hit .285 with 108 homers and 703 RBIs in his first 13 seasons in the majors, but his biggest value to the Cardinals likely is on the defensive side.

Molina is an eight-time Gold Glove winner - only Ivan Rodriguez (13) and Johnny Bench (10) have more among catchers. The seven-time All-Star also has played an integral role in the development of the Cardinals' pitching staff.

''He has set the standard for defensive excellence during this generation. ... There is no question he is without equal in managing a pitching staff,'' Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said.

Molina's importance to the Cardinals was evidenced by the support of several teammates who showed up for the announcement. Molina also had his family on hand, including his brother Bengie, a former major league catcher.

Before heading back to the locker room, ace right-hander Adam Wainwright waited for Molina to get through a couple of pictures before grabbing the catcher for a brief hug.

''I think you can lump him in there with Albert Pujols as being the greatest players of our generation for the Cardinals,'' Wainwright said. ''He's a guy, as a player, we always want to see those kind of players start and end with the same team.''

Mozeliak was the scouting director of the Cardinals when they selected Molina in the fourth round of the 2000 amateur draft. An injury for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny helped open the door for Molina's major league debut.

''When I think about my time running the draft, it was Pujols and Molina that I think you know sort of maybe helped set my own path,'' Mozeliak said.

Molina had said he wanted a new deal finalized before the start of the season, not wanting to be a distraction for the team, and it was announced hours before the Cardinals' opener.

St. Louis went 86-76 last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. But Molina played in a career-high 147 games last year and hit .307 with eight homers and 58 RBIs. It was his highest batting average since he hit .319 in 2013.

''This is a great organization, a winning organization,'' Molina said. ''I'm a winner player. I see myself doing good stuff from now on, especially winning another World Series. One or two more, three more, four. That's my idea. We got a great team.''


More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball


Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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