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

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.