ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina made an appearance on the first day of the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up event, signing autographs with his right hand while his left was encased in a hard black cast. That cast, general manager John Mozeliak said, won't come off until mid-February, leaving the Cards in a wait-and-see mode as they seek to project when the veteran catcher will return to the field.
The biggest unknowns are related to strength, as the Cardinals won't know how Molina's left thumb responded to a second surgery until it's free from that cast. Instead of catching bullpen sessions and getting his swing in tune, Molina will spend the early days of Spring Training building strength. No one knows how long that process will take, nor the impact time spent rehabbing will have on Molina's preseason preparation.
The Cardinals remain cautiously optimistic that Molina can be ready by April 3, Opening Day.
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"I'm not all that concerned about Yadi, so I don't want to put this huge darkness on whether he may or may not be ready," Mozeliak said. "I think once he gets this cast off, we'll get a much better feel for when he is ready. It's going to be weak. But then the question is, 'Can he get stronger?'"
Before the Cardinals learned that Molina would need a repeat procedure to repair torn ligaments suffered during a September play at the plate, Mozeliak prioritized an upgrade at backup catcher. The club, in turn, agreed to a two-year deal with Brayan Pena, who will assume primary catching duties, should Molina be unable to play come April.
That possibility has driven the Cardinals back into the catching market, as the Cardinals attempt to enhance their depth at the catching position. It's a search that has proved "difficult," Mozeliak acknowledged.
"The hardest part is really identifying when Yadi is going to be back," he added. "It's always hard to go out and sell opportunity when you don't know, so I don't think anybody is looking at our situation as a place they hope to end up in. And that makes sense. But I do think from an internal standpoint, adding another catcher between now and Spring Training is something we don't want to ignore."
Because it may be challenging to find another backstop eager to sign with a team that can offer no defined role, Mozeliak noted that he may best address this need by making a waiver claim or snagging a catcher who has been designated for assignment. The only other catcher currently on the 40-man roster is Mike Ohlman, who has never played above Triple-A.
"The key thing for our front office" he noted, "is we're always looking to add."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.