The Cardinals' 2017 season has not gone according to plan. Sitting under .500 at 50–52, St. Louis is still kicking in the NL Central race, trailing the division-leading Cubs by 4 1/2 games, but things are dire in the wild card, where the Cardinals are 7 1/2 games out of the second spot. It's also not been the best year for Yadier Molina, the venerable catcher who is hitting just .275/.307/.414 (though he did snag his eighth career All-Star Game invite regardless).
Despite his down year offensively, Molina has been his usual stalwart self behind the plate, starting 85 of St. Louis' 102 games so far—tops among all NL catchers. That's as much due to his work with the glove as it is a total lack of better options on the Cardinals' part, with backup Eric Fryer hitting only .155 in 83 plate appearances on the season. Last Friday, the team cut ties with Fryer and called up Carson Kelly from Triple A, with the rookie getting two starts since, including last night against the Diamondbacks. And when asked about that lineup move before the game, manager Mike Matheny seemed to hint that he was playing Kelly because Molina was wearing down as a result of his heavy workload.
"Yadi’s caught a lot," Matheny said Thursday. "Yesterday, just kind of watching him go around the bases, too, you could tell that he’s, you know..."
Matheny changed course mid-sentence, but he implied that Molina is tired.
That a 35-year-old player who has caught a ridiculous amount of innings over the course of his 14-year career needs a break every now and again isn't exactly a controversial suggestion (though Matheny determining that off of Molina's baserunning, which has always been just south of "slower than a cement mixer" even on his freshest days, is a bit odd). But based on Molina's response today on Instagram, he wasn't happy with his manager implying that he isn't up to the task of catching every day.
At any other time, this might be nothing more than a manager and a veteran butting heads in the dog days of the season over a non-issue. But Molina's pointed words come at a time when Matheny and the Cardinals are both feeling the pressure. Just a week ago and coming off an embarrassing loss to the Mets in which reliever Trevor Rosenthal forgot to cover first base on a game-ending infield single, team president John Mozeliak told reporters that his club might be in need of a "attitude and culture" change in the clubhouse. "Look, the manager, coaches, they have to be held accountable as well. There’s nobody that can run from this," he said.
Matheny is under contract for another three seasons after this one (as is Molina), but with his team struggling and players grumbling, the skipper may be in the position where his squad has to turn things around, and sooner rather than later, if he wants to keep his job.