ST. LOUIS – Yadier Molina enjoyed going through the process of free agency for the first time in more than two decades as a pro.
He was even happier that he wound up returning to the Cardinals.
The 38-year-old catcher signed a $9 million contract for the upcoming season Tuesday, ensuring the nine-time Gold Glove winner would remain with the only organization for which he's played for an 18th season.
“I have a bunch of stuff going on here in Puerto Rico with my basketball team. I'm playing winter ball. But it was fun — fun to be part of the free-agent process," Molina said, “but in my mind, it was always St. Louis. We did everything we could to get the deal done and I'm happy to be back here again."
Molina hit .262 with four home runs in 42 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, his last under a $60 million, three-year deal. Molina ended up making a prorated $7,407,407 of his $20 million salary last year, sending him into his first offseason on the open market since the Cardinals drafted him in 2000.
He received interest from several other clubs, but none of them had the sentimental pull of St. Louis.
“The city, the franchise, the teammates, the coaching staff — all those players, they wanted me back,” Molina said, “and I wanted to be back here. Obviously free agency is a process. It's a slow process. You understand that. But in my mind, St. Louis was my first choice.”
Now, he's back with his longtime batterymate, 39-year-old Adam Wainwright, who agreed to an $8 million deal for the upcoming season, as the Cardinals make another push for what would be Molina's third World Series title.