Yadier Molina has become the current face of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. After Albert Pujols packed up last offseason and headed west, Cardinal fans turned their focus to hoping Yadier wouldn't follow Albert out of town.
Talk about an PR nightmare if the Cardinals brass didn't lock up Molina on a long-term deal. Thankfully for the fans in the best baseball town in America, John Mozeliak and company did just that. Molina signed a five-year/$75 million extension during spring training in 2012.
Molina responded well to his hefty contract by having a career year in 2012. Molina hit .316 with 22 HR and 76 RBI, all career highs.
Yadi has been on the upswing at the plate almost every year since his miserable 2006 where he batted a paltry .216. But now that Molina has had a career year at the plate, is this going to be the expected norm moving forward?
Yadier was a beneficiary of a lineup that features Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Allan Craig and David Freese. Granted Molina batted sixth for most of the season, so he did not have a lot of protection behind him.
But what he did find from that excellent lineup in front of him was runners on base on a regular basis when he stepped to the plate. Molina batted .330 with runners on base with 64 RBI. With runners in scoring position, he batted a very solid .321 with 51 RBI.
What I gleaned from those numbers is that Yadier loves to hit in the moment. He found a way to get on base and drive the ball when it counted. Molina posted a career-high .373 OBP in 2012.
So the question is: Can Yadier have a similar season or better in 2013?
My guess is he can have a similar season to his 2012 output if he stays healthy. Molina has taken on a much larger leadership role with the Cardinals and as such is setting the example of what is expected when you are a Cardinal. His hard work and dedication has paid off at the plate and in the clubhouse.
That is not to say he didn't do those things before, but Cardinal fans saw a different Yadier last season.
He will start the season at 30 and turns 31 in July, so he should be right in his prime and it is showing. Molina will never be Johnny Bench or Mike Piazza at the plate, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him crank out 25 HR and 85 RBI next season and keep his average around .300.
The bar has been set high on what will be expected from Molina in 2013. But Molina should be poised for the challenge and will hopefully help the Cardinals to another extended October appearance.