By: Jim Tsapelas
The injury demons which plagued the 2015 National League Central Division Champions, St. Louis Cardinals, have reared their ugly heads in an attempt to re-infect the 2016 season of the Redbirds.
Tuesday, Cardinal Nation learned that perennial eight time Gold Glove winner, seven time NL All Star, and four time Platinum Glove Award winner, Yadier Molina had a second surgery to repair an injury to his left thumb.
On September 20, 2015, during a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Molina reportedly tore a ligament in his thumb. Molina was attempting to apply a tag on Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo on a close play at home. Rizzo’s foot clipped Molina’s glove and damaged his thumb. It was a clean play on both Rizzo’s and Molina’s intentions and attempts. However, unfortunately for Molina and the Cardinals it effectively ended his regular season.
Being the gritty veteran and team leader that he is Molina, who is thirty-three, attempted to play through the injury in the NLDS against the Cubs. Molina had been fitted with a special supportive brace in an attempt to protect his thumb from further injury.
The three games in which he appeared in the NLDS, Molina was largely ineffective, offensively; and demonstrated some difficulties defensively. Molina sat out the Cardinals’ post-season ending loss in Game Four. The next day, Molina experienced his first thumb surgery of the 2015 post-season which has proven to be unsuccessful.
Medical experts I have consulted advise me that the need for a second operation, for any reason, is never good news. Some of the physicians I contacted emphasized a particular concern for an identical, second operation, involving the same body part, due to the first operation having failed.
This makes the signing of Brayan Pena even more significant to and for the Redbirds. Pena had bounced around MLB for approximately a decade, without ever achieving two hundred-fifty plate appearances in a season.
Signing with the Cincinnati Reds in 2014, Pena topped three hundred fifty plate appearances in both 2014 and 2015; with three hundred seventy-two plate appearances in ’14 and three hundred sixty-seven appearances in ’15. The much traveled Pena’s previous high plate appearances came as a member of the Detroit Tigers; when he made two hundred forty-three appearances in 2013.
Tony Cruz, now of the World Champions Kansas City Royals, had been an adequate back-up to Molina for the past five years. Since the 2011 season, Cruz has appeared in two hundred and fifty-nine games, mostly as Molina’s back-up. Cruz spent limited time in left-field and at third.
Pena, a switch-hitter, offers the Cardinals a different type of offensive back-up catcher for Molina. Defensively, Pena is on parity with Cruz. Offensively, Pena is an upgrade over Cruz. Cruz performed admirably as Molina’s stand-in during the closing days of the 2015 regular season.
Molina has been a workhorse of a catcher since his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2014. Molina has appeared in one thousand four hundred and sixty-four games in his MLB career, all with the Cardinals. Catching, more than any other MLB player position, takes quite a toll on the player’s entire body.
Pena, who is thirty-three, has a lifetime batting average of .273. Other than the Cardinals’ Front Office stating Molina shall miss the entire Grapefruit League season, there has been no word or speculation as to his return.