Molina’s Option Picked Up by Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals took the first step of a potentially busy offseason Monday when they exercised catcher Yadier Molina’s $7 million option for 2012.

Molina had career highs in batting average (.305), doubles (32), home runs (14), RBI (65), and runs scored (55) in 2011, his final guaranteed year of a four-year, $15.5 million deal that was signed before the 2008 season.

General manager John Mozeliak confirmed at the Cardinals World Series parade Sunday that the club would officially pick up Molina’s option Monday, keeping the Gold Glove catcher in the fold for at least one more season.

It was widely assumed that the Cardinals would pick up Molina’s option. In today’s free agent market, paying $7 million for a player who reached his third consecutive All-Star Game and is regarded as one of the best catchers in baseball seems like a bargain.

Less certain is the future of first baseman Albert Pujols, who filed for free agency Sunday and can begin negotiating with other teams at 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday. Pujols likely will take several weeks before signing either back with the Cardinals or elsewhere.

The Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals will be among the teams interested in stealing Pujols away from the Cardinals.

Pitchers Edwin Jackson and Arthur Rhodes filed for free agency Sunday, as did infielder Nick Punto and backup catcher Gerald Laird.

With Adam Wainwright expected to return, a full starting rotation leaves Jackson out of the Cardinals’ plans for 2012. Laird likely won’t return, either, with cheaper rookie Tony Cruz expected to take over as the backup to Molina.

Punto and Rhodes potentially could return to the Cardinals.

Reliever Octavio Dotel has a $3.5 million club option for next season that the Cardinals must make a decision on by Monday at 10:59 p.m. CT. Should they decline, the Cardinals would owe Dotel a $750,000 buyout but could still try to re-sign him.

The Cardinals will decline shortstop Rafael Furcal’s $12 million option for 2012 but would like to try re-sign the switch-hitter at a cheaper price. Furcal helped solidify the leadoff spot when he arrived from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

Both Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman signed contract extensions with the club in September, allowing the Cardinals to cross them off their offseason checklist.

The Cardinals have $79.58 million owed to eight players next season: Matt Holliday ($17 million), Kyle Lohse ($12.2 million), Lance Berkman ($12 million), Chris Carpenter ($10.5 million), Adam Wainwright ($9 million), Jake Westbrook ($8.5 million), Molina ($7 million) and Jaime Garcia ($3.38 million).

Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs are all eligible for salary arbitration this winter.

World Series MVP David Freese, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Dan Descalso are all cost-controlled players who will return to the Cardinals next season.

Source BJ Rains

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