Yadier Molina now open to new team if Cardinals not option

In January, Yadier Molina was resolute.

With his three-year, $60 million contract set to expire after the 2020 season, Molina, who turns 38 in July, had decided he wanted to play several more years -- but only in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

That was before the coronavirus pandemic.

"I previously said that if it wasn't with St. Louis, that I would go home. If we were unable to come to an extension agreement, that I would retire. But the situation with this pandemic has changed everything. Right now, I'm thinking of playing two more years," Molina told ESPN during a phone interview.

"Obviously, St. Louis is my first option. But if they don't sign me, then I'm willing to go into free agency. This situation has changed my mentality, and all I want to do is play."

Molina did not mince words in stating he wants to continue exploring an extension with the Cardinals that reaches through 2022, but he is open to options elsewhere if no agreement is reached.

"Before this terrible situation happened, I thought there was a 50/50 chance that the 2020 campaign would be my last. Not now," he said. "The most important thing right now is people's health and getting past this pandemic. It's a very difficult situation. After we accomplish that, after we're able to start the 2020 season, then I'd like to have that conversation."

The 2020 season would be Molina's 16th as the Cardinals' starting catcher. He has caught 1,947 games in his career, the most with a single franchise in Major League Baseball history.

No matter what form the 2020 season takes, if there is a season, it would seem an impossibility for MLB to fulfill a 162-game schedule. Molina's legs would benefit from a shorter season, a factor in his decision to pursue at least two more years.

"The reality is that this business is difficult for a 38-year-old catcher; my window is smaller," said Molina, who is staying in shape in his family home in Jupiter, Florida, near the Cardinals' spring training complex. "But I feel ready to keep on playing. I'm in good physical shape. My knees are good; my mind is great. Physically, I'm fine. That's why I've made the decision to play two more years."

He added: "I had in mind that if St. Louis didn't sign me, I would retire after this season, at 38. With this situation, obviously, we probably won't have a chance to play a full season; we may not be able to play a lot of games. I think it will feel like unfinished business. Any player that says that they're not going through a difficult time and not worried about what the 2020 season will look like is lying."

Molina is widely considered one of the top catchers of his generation. He has won nine Gold Gloves in his career, the third most among catchers, trailing only Hall of Famers Ivan Rodríguez (13) and Johnny Bench (10). Molina's nine Gold Gloves are third most in Cardinals history, tied with Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson.

"I think we're going to play. I'm optimistic that we will have a [2020] season," Molina said. "But health is first and foremost, and the safety of everyone, of all the fans. But I feel optimistic that we'll have a season. But like I said before, the priority right now is handling this pandemic. After we get a handle on that, then we can take care of business.

"I'm confident that St. Louis and my agent, Melvin Roman, will come to an agreement. But the most important thing right now is everyone's health and we'll talk business later on. Now there are much more important things."