Yadier Molina, Cardinals beat the clock on reported three-year extension

The contract, as reported, will make the 34-year-old veteran the highest-paid catcher in MLB by average annual value.

Yadier Molina made clear his desire to have a contract extension in his back pocket before the 2017 season begins.

With the clock ticking, the Cardinals obliged and on Thursday were finalizinga new three-yeardeal with their longtime catcher, Fox Sports first reported. Molina, who turns 35 in July, will earn between$55 million and $65 million over the life of the contract, the report said, surpassing the Giants' Buster Posey asthe highest-paid catcherin MLB per annual value.

Molinawasentering the final year of a five-year, $75 million contract with a club-playermutual option for 2018. But the veterantold Cardinals general managerJohn Mozeliakhe wouldn't sign an extension during the regular season, leaving open the possibility he could walk away from the only franchise for which he's played through a 13-year career.

The seven-time All-Star got his wish with about 72 hours to spare before the Cubs stroll into Busch Stadium for Sunday's opening night.

“I think it’s a great thing if you can have an iconic player like Yadier Molina begin his career and finish his career with the Cardinals," team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said earlier Thursday on 590 The Fan. "He’s had a long career. But he’s in great shape. He was terrific in the World Baseball Classic. He’s got a lot —as he said —a lot of fuel in the tank. If we can add additional years on, that would be quite a career."

As news of the deal broke Thursday evening, Molina celebrated accordingly, smashing a home run during an exhibition game against the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis.

Molina, entering his 14th MLB season, is still among the best catchers in baseball, but the extension doesn't come without risk.

He'll be 38 when the deal expires in 2020 and has already begun to see regression in production both offensively and defensively.

In 2016, Molina batted.307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and caught a career-high 1,218 1/3 innings. And though he's lauded for pitch-framing — a metric that's helped him earn eight Gold Gloves — Molina threw outonly 21 percent of would-be base stealerslast season, a career worst that's well below his42-percent average.

Still, the Cardinals would be hard-pressed to replace Molina in the clubhouse, even with celebrated prospect Carson Kelly waiting in the wing.

Now they won't have to find out.

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