Carson Kelly was happy to hear the news on Sunday that Yadier Molina had signed an extension with the Cardinals through the 2020 season. 

By Rob Rains

Nothing that happened in St. Louis on Sunday changed Carson Kelly’s plans for the day. He woke up in his hotel room in Memphis, had breakfast and then went to AutoZone Park for the Redbirds’ workout and a team dinner.

Whether something changes in the next four years is a story still unwritten.

Upon hearing the news that Yadier Molina had agreed to a three-year contract extension which will keep him with the Cardinals through the 2020 season, Kelly had the same reaction as most of Cardinals’ Nation. He was happy.

“It’s an awesome thing to see,” Kelly said in a telephone conversation. “He’s definitely deserving of this. He’s been so helpful to me in my career. I’m very happy he’s going to be with us.”

Kelly did have a vested interest in the outcome of Molina’s contract talks this week. Molina had set a deadline of the first pitch of the season Sunday night for negotiations to be completed or else he would have exercised his right to be a free agent at the end of the year.

That outcome likely would have led to Kelly becoming the Cardinals’ starting catcher next year.

Kelly doesn’t like to think about “what if’s.”

“Nothing’s changed for me,” Kelly said. “I continue to focus on each day and not about what’s going to happen in four years. Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. All I know is I can focus on what I can do here and how I advance in my career.”

Signing Molina for four years could, at least in the opinion of some Cardinal executives, actually help Kelly’s career.

He is only 22. He has been catching for just four years. Even though he already has won a minor league Gold Glove and is considered by most scouts the best catching prospect in the minors, Kelly is still very much a work in progress.

"The way I see it is at some point, Carson will get his opportunity to be here,” General Manager John Mozeliak said on Sunday. “But in a lot of ways, he's going to have a great mentor when that time comes. So I don't really see any down side in that at all. Clearly, had this deal not worked out, maybe there would have been different dynamics there. But he's still growing as a catcher, as a player. But now he can learn from one of the best."

The plan for this season already was in place no matter what happened with Molina’s contract this week. Kelly will be the everyday catcher in Memphis, playing his first full season in Triple A. He will be up in the majors again in September, ready to continue his learning curve at Molina’s side.

“When I got up there in September he was very helpful,” Kelly said. “My locker was right next to his, and he answered any question I had. I look up to him and the way he goes about his business. I also consider him a friend and mentor.

“It’s going to be great to see him in a Cardinal uniform the next few years and I look forward to continuing our relationship on and off the field.”

The experience Kelly will get in Triple A this season will go a long way toward getting him ready for the majors. What will be interesting will be to see how the Cardinals decide to share the playing time at catcher over the next three years.

It should be a gradual progression, going from a two-thirds to one-third split next year in favor of Molina to the other way around by 2020 in Kelly’s favor, making it a smooth and natural progression.

That will be fine with Kelly.

“The way I work and the way I focus is day by day,” Kelly said. “I’m just going to continue to put myself in a good position to learn so when my name is called I’m prepared and ready to perform and contribute.

“Whatever scenario it might be I’m going to take it the way it is and make the best of it. That’s what’s in my control. That’s how I live and how I go about my business.”

There is another scenario which could develop, however. Other teams in need of a catcher could call up Mozeliak and make him a trade offer for Kelly. Mozeliak will listen, but it likely would have to be an overwhelming deal for him to consider trading Kelly.
Catching prospects as good as Kelly don’t come along every year, or every five years, or even every 10 years for that matter.

Neither does a catcher like Molina, however. The word “iconic” was tossed around again at Sunday’s news conference announcing the extension. So was the word “legacy.” Securing Molina’s place in history was a big part of the Cardinals’ decision to get the extension completed.

Another factor which should not be overlooked in the new contract is that it will continue Molina’s leadership and influence over the next wave of young Latin players who will be progressing through the minor leagues toward the Cardinals. At least four of the Cardinals’ top 15 or so prospects are Latin players, including shortstop Delvin Perez and outfielder Magneuris Sierra. They too will benefit from being around Molina for the next four years. So too will the players who are already here, like Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes. And his influence extends beyond just the Latin players.

Kelly is a student of the game. He understands, and appreciates, what Molina has meant to the Cardinals. He knows how weird it would have been to see him playing in another uniform next year.

He also has confidence in himself, and he knows his time will come. For now, he will be patient, keep learning and wait – and hope that trade offer that Mozeliak can’t resist doesn’t come.

“I stay away from that kind of stuff (trade rumors),” Kelly said. “It it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. All that stuff takes care of itself. I feel I’m ready to play at the big league level. I understand I need to get my work in here. There’s other things that go with it. Whatever my opportunity is I’m going to make the best of it.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains


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