Column: Why the Padres should sign Yadier Molina

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Here’s a Parents campaign I’m happy to lead:

Yes on Yadi.

Catcher Yadier Molina, a tremendous defender and leader with a decent bat, would be a good, if not easily quantifiable addition, should Padres General Manager AJ Preller sign the likely future Hall of Famer and longtime St. Louis Cardinals leader out of free agency.

Molina, like a baseball Sherpa, would be a great fit for a good team wanting to go to the next level, such as a Padres club trying to build upon the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2006 and first victorious playoff series since 1998.

He can still play, even at 38. His body is supple. Sharp reflexes were evident two months ago, when he had six hits against the Padres in three playoff games.

For understanding the game as it unfolds and adjusting from one pitch to the next, it’s doubtful the Padres employ anyone more astute than Molina.

He would be especially good for the team’s pitchers.

Brilliant at handling a pitching staff, he played a big role in the Cardinals winning three pennants and two World Series trophies between 2006 and 2013.

No one still playing has caught more games than Molina, who with nearly 2,000 outings behind the plate is sixth all time at the position. And that doesn’t include 101 postseason games there.

He loves the grunt work, grinding out game after game even in the sweltering Midwest summers.

For 15 consecutive years starting in 2005, I have logged more than 100 games started at the sport’s most demanding position. This year’s pandemic-shortened season limited him to 42 of the 60 starts.

He’s not a bad hitter, so don’t think of him as a wiser version of former Padres defensive star Austin Hedges.

He batted .262 this year with a .303 on-base percentage, a year after batting .270 with 10 home runs and 24 doubles en route to a .711 OPS.

He’s not a slugger, a near-crime in today’s power-driven game.

But, five times he has beaten .300 or better for a season. He’s a .281/.333/.404 career hitter, despite countless hits at below-average footspeed.

When pitching gets stronger, nor does he vanish. In the postseason he has batted .280 with 27 walks and 42 strikeouts.

Fluency in Spanish and English are other assets that Molina, who grew up in Puerto Rico, draws upon while shepherding pitching staffs that, on 11 occasions, he took into the postseason.

Of course his age will scare off some teams. Molina will be 39 in July.

Rickey Henderson, though an outfielder, would be a good Padres comparison. His core skills from him aged well as he drew upon similar traits Molina owns: Rare durability in health and hand-eye coordination, smarts and love for competition.

Henderson was 37 when Kevin Towers signed him in 1996 to a team looking to break through. He responded with a .410 on-base percentage and 110 runs scored for the most exciting Padres team in a full season, which ended with the West-clinching victory at Dodger Stadium in the 162na game. A year later Henderson reached base at a .422 clip across 88 games before he was traded to the Angels. Even four years later, he provided a .366 OBP after Towers brought him back at 42.

The Padres, if interested, seem a potentially inviting No. 2 candidate for Molina amid signs the Yankees may not be a fit. The Cardinals seem the favorite to sign him. A Cardinals draftee in 2000 who has 17 years with their big-league team, the nine-time All-Star seems likely to be bronzed outside of Busch Stadium, wherever he finishes his career.

Presumably he’ll have to take a large pay cut from the $20 million salary he was set to get in 2020, the final year of a three-year $60-million deal, and it won’t be surprising if he and longtime Cardinals teammate Adam Wainwright, a starting pitcher, signs with the same club.

Here’s how Molina could fit with the Padres: Pencil him for about 70 percent of the starts, ensuring he’ll work with all of the starting pitchers. Versatile Austin Nola, who became the primary catcher late in the 2020 season, could fill in at catcher, first base, second base and as a designated hitter.

Molina wouldn’t be blocking a Padres prospect because none are on the verge of commanding a starting job.

The Padres need to strengthen their pitching, and Molina would help on the field and as a recruiter. Yes on Yadi.