The Cardinals announced the contract extension during a press conference Thursday at the team's Spring Training facility. A new five-year deal, which will begin with the 2013 season, will pay Molina $15 million per year. The contract also includes a mutual $15 million option that would extend the length a year further.
This new contract does not buy out the final year of Molina's current five-year deal, meaning that the catcher will still earn $7 million in 2012. Molina would have become a free agent next winter had an extension not been reached.
"I really admire what Yadi was willing to do," general manager John Mozeliak said. "You certainly don't know what the free-agent market might have looked like for him. His willingness to really want to be here and stay here really says a lot about his commitment to the organization."
Of all Cardinals currently signed beyond this year, the only player set to earn a higher annual salary than Molina is outfielder Matt Holliday, who is earning $17 million per year through 2016.
Signing Molina before he hit free agency was a priority for Mozeliak, who, this winter, watched Albert Pujols walk away after the Cardinals were outbid by the Angels. The Cardinals have no obvious replacement for Molina in their system, which made signing the veteran backstop even more critical.
Despite Pujols' exit, Molina said his intent to remain in St. Louis never wavered. Drafted by the Cardinals in 2000, Molina knows no other organization. He has been in the big leagues since 2004.
"I was still thinking [about] it [being] a business, but my idea was to stay here," the 29-year-old catcher said. "My commitment was to stay here with the organization. It's everything. I grew up here [as a player]. I feel good here. It was my first choice to stay here, and I'm glad we got it done."
Once negotiations began in earnest, the two sides had little trouble reaching an agreement.
Mozeliak actually began preliminary discussions with Molina's agent, Melvin Roman, early last summer, with the hope of agreeing on an extension well before now. Those talks never turned too serious, mostly because other unrelated matters -- the Trade Deadline, World Series run, managerial search and Pujols' negotiations -- took precedence.
"[Roman] had said they were interested in trying to get something done, and we said we were, too," Mozeliak said in reference to those early discussions. "We had intended on taking that a little bit further, but everything else led us to it happening now."
The two sides reopened talks in February and felt some momentum begin to build two weeks ago. That momentum swelled about 10 days ago, when Roman traveled here to meet face-to-face with Mozeliak. There was a brief stoppage in talks before the two sides came back to the table toward the end of last week.
At that point, it didn't take long for an agreement to be reached.
"The whole process went very easy," said Roman, who negotiated an extension for Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia last year. "I think it was important for him and for everybody to get a deal done. It's a win-win situation."
Molina said his goal was to get an extension in place before Opening Day.
Based on the average annual value of the deal, Molina puts himself in elite company. The only catcher in baseball history to have a contract with a higher average annual value is Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who is making $23 million a year through 2018.
While Molina is not as prolific an offensive player as Mauer, the Cardinals consider the investment justified because of what Molina offers on defense. A three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove award winner, Molina is widely considered the game's best defensive catcher.
Molina's 39 pickoffs since 2005 lead all Major League catchers, and he has thrown out 44 percent of basestealers in his eight-year career. He was also awarded the first-ever Platinum Glove Award last fall after being voted the best defensive player in the National League.
While defense can be tricky to measure in contract negotiations, Mozeliak said the club did its best to quantify intangibles. The organization even found examples of players at other positions where defense is at a premium, like shortstop and center field, in an effort to determine an accurate market value for Molina.
"I spoke with [manager and former catcher] Mike Matheny several times about this and he really thought this was a no-brainer to pursue," Mozeliak said. "Trying to really quantify these things that aren't traditionally done in our industry is difficult. We did the best we could and ultimately did what we felt was fair for both sides."
A career .274 hitter, Molina is coming off his strongest offensive season. He led the team with a .305 batting average and started more games behind the plate than any other catcher in the National League. He established career-highs in runs (55), doubles (32), homers (14) and RBIs (65).
His batting average was the highest among all National League catchers with at least 35 plate appearances.
"We certainly consider him in the category of franchise-type player," chairman and chief executive officer Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "The success this club has had since 2005 would not have occurred without his contributions. He's a great leader in the clubhouse. He's terrific with the pitching staff."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.