MLB rumors roundup: Cards' contingency plans for Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina played 136 games for the Cardinals last season. Billy Hurst/USA TODAY Sports

Yadier Molina remains optimistic that he will be in the lineup on Opening Day. But what will the St. Louis Cardinals do if the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover is not ready?

Molina tore the ligament in his left thumb while applying a tag at home plate against the Chicago Cubs late last season and needed a pair of surgeries. “We'll have to wait and see, but I'm going to try to do my best to be in the Opening Day lineup," Molina told reporters Monday.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports the Cardinals are open to the idea of acquiring another catcher, but will give backup Brayan Pena a lot of work with the starting pitchers. Signed to a two-year deal in November, the 34-year-old Pena owns a career .260/.300/.352 slash line but has never had more than 348 at-bats in a season.

Any move would have to come via a trade, since this winter's free-agent crop already has dried up.

Even if Molina answers the bell in early April, Pena still could end up with more at-bats in order to give the 33-year-old Molina some additional rest. Molina’s OPS slipped for the third straight year to .660 in 2015, the second lowest total of his career. Given their uncertainty behind the plate, the Cards also signed Eric Fryer to a minor league deal. Fryer has spent the last three seasons in the Twins’ organization and totaled 140 at-bats.

According to Goold, prospects Michael Ohlman and Carson Kelly also could see additional innings behind the plate during Grapefruit League games because of Molina’s recovery.

Here are more rumors making the rounds with spring training almost here:

  • Ryan Braun: After trading Khris Davis to Oakland over the weekend, the Brewers are open to the idea of moving Braun back to left field and installing Domingo Santana in right field, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel. The Brewers moved Braun from left field to right field prior to the 2014 season as a way to get Davis into the lineup. The 23-year-old Santana was one of the prospects acquired from the Astros last summer in the deal that sent Carlos Gomez to Houston. After debuting as a third baseman in 2007, Braun was a left fielder from 2008 through 2013.

  • James Shields: The right-hander could become valuable trade bait for the San Diego Padres as the Aug. 1 deadline approaches, says Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. While Shields is a workhorse, Cafardo says the Padres had trouble moving him because of the league-high 33 home runs he allowed despite pitching his home games in spacious Petco Park last season. Shields is on the hook for $21 million each of the next three seasons but can opt out after 2016, which could complicate any trade. While Shields would be walking way from over $40 million in guaranteed money, he could be tempted to enter what is expected to be a weak free-agent market.

  • Cleveland Indians: Cross the Tribe off the list of potential suitors for Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel, the brothers who recently defected from Cuba. The Indians have scouted the Gourriels but do not have the “kind of money” that it will take to sign them, predicts Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com. Yulieski, 31, is considered the best player in Cuba and would be a viable option at third base for a major league team, while Lourdes, 22, likely needs some minor league seasoning. Ben Badler of Baseball America suggested last week that it might be 2017 before the Gourriels make it to the majors.

  • Vincent Velasquez: The right-hander enters spring training as the favorite for the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation, says MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. A key piece in the trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston, Velasquez made his big league debut for the Astros last season and had 58 strikeouts in 55.2 innings. Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, also acquired in the Giles deal, would be next in line if Velasquez is not ready.

  • Wrigley Field: Commissioner Rob Manfred dropped a hint over the weekend that the All-Star Game could be coming to the renovated home of the Cubs sometime after the 2018 season. “It makes sense the Cubs get an opportunity ahead after the new renovations are complete,” Manfred told Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago. San Diego’s Petco Park will host the 2016 game, followed by Marlins Park in Miami and Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Wrigley Field last hosted the game in 1990.