Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina likely to become one of the highest-paid catchers ever

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Just three catchers in big-league history have signed contracts worth in excess of $10 million per season. That’s about to change.

Yadier Molina heads a class of four free-agent-to-be catchers, all of whom could find themselves in eight-figure territory with big 2012 seasons. Molina is probably the one sure thing in the bunch to draw that much money, but Miguel Montero, Mike Napoli and Russell Martin are candidates as well.

Brian McCann, a free agent after 2013, is also likely to join that club if the Braves want to sign him to an extension before then.

Molina, 29, rates the highest of the class of free agents mostly because of defense, but he also had his best season offensively last year, coming in at .305/.349/.465 in 475 at-bats. He nearly doubled his previous career high in homers by hitting 14. Durability also weighs in his favor. While he battled injuries earlier in his career, he’s now topped 130 games three straight seasons (he failed to do so in any of his first four years).

The Cardinals have been trying to lock Molina up with little success so far. His last deal was a huge bargain for the team, as he’ll have earned a modest $21.25 million for what would have been his three arbitration years and first two free agency years. He clearly wants to make up for that this time around.

And the Cardinals can’t claim poverty in this case, not with Albert Pujols’ salary off the books. They’ll free up another $32 million as the contracts of Lance Berkman, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook expire after the season.

Molina may never again hit as well as he did in 2011, but he’s a top-five catcher anyway. Baseball-reference WAR and Fangraphs WAR agree that he ranks fourth among catchers over the last three years, trailing Joe Mauer, McCann and Napoli (though B-ref WAR has him tied with Carlos Ruiz).

And that would seem to be worth $11 million-$12 million per year, given that Molina is still in his prime. For as often as they get dinged up, catchers don’t age too badly, generally. If the Cards can sign him for $44 million over four years, they should do so now.

Oh, and in case you wondering, here’s that list of biggest contracts for catchers:

Joe Mauer (Twins) – 8 yrs, $184 mil – $23 mil per year
Mike Piazza (Mets) – 7 yrs, $91 mil – $13 mil
Jason Kendall (Pirates) – 6 yrs, $60 mil – $10 mil
Jorge Posada (Yankees) – 4 yrs, $52.3 mil – $13.1 mil
Ivan Rodriguez (Rangers) – 5 yrs, $42.5 mil – $8.5 mil
Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers) – 4 yrs, $40 mil – $10 mil
Jason Varitek (Red S0x) – 4 yrs, $40 mil – $10 mil
Joe Mauer (Twins) – 4 yrs, $34 mil – $8.5 mil

Report: Padres trade Matt Kemp to the Braves for Hector Olivera

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 06:  Matt Kemp #27 of the San Diego Padres talks in the dugout prior to the start of the game against the Atlanta Braves at PETCO Park on June 6, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
Kent Horner/Getty Images
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Update (7:01 PM EDT): David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the deal has been completed.

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ESPN’s Keith Law reported on Saturday evening that a bad contract swap involving the Braves’ Hector Olivera and the Padres’ Matt Kemp was “getting close.” Olivera has been pulled off the field, per Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that only a last-second medical would kill the deal at this point, and that the Padres will be sending money to the Braves.

Kemp, 31, will have $64.5 million remaining on his contract through 2019 after this season, but the Dodgers will pay $3.5 million annually over those remaining three years, so the $64.5 million is really $54 million. The veteran has compiled a .262/.285/.489 triple-slash line with 23 home runs and 69 RBI in 431 plate appearances for the Padres this season.

Olivera, 31, will have $28.5 million remaining on his contract through 2020 after this season. The outfielder was handed an 82-game suspension, beginning on May 26, for his involvement in a domestic dispute on April 13. The suspension is up on August 2. He has a .501 OPS in 21 major league at-bats this season and a .278 OPS in 37 PA at Triple-A.

Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Padres will consider designating Olivera for assignment. The trade is all about the salary dump for the Padres, as they’d rather give outfield playing time to prospects Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot.

Athletics trade Billy Burns to the Royals for Brett Eibner

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 13: Billy Burns #1 of the Oakland Athletics waits on deck to bat during the fourth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 13, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Brian Blanco/Getty Images
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The Athletics and Royals swapped outfielders on Saturday. The Athletics sent Billy Burns to Kansas City and the Royals sent Brett Eibner to Oakland.

Burns, 26, doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, but he runs the bases well and plays solid defense. He was hitting .234/.270/.303 with 11 doubles, four triples, and 14 stolen bases in 274 plate appearances.

Eibner, 27, was batting .231/.286/.423 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 85 plate appearances. He has spent most of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he’s put up a .902 OPS in 219 PA. Eibner played the outfield corners in the majors, but racked up a ton of time playing center in the minors, so his versatility will be valuable to the A’s.

Burns will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2017 season while Eibner has hardly accrued any service time, which might explain part of the motivation behind the trade for the small-market Athletics.