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01/21/08 2:55 PM ET

Cards lock up Molina for four years

New contract helps St. Louis avoid arbitration with catcher

ST. LOUIS -- After parting with two core members of their club in the past month, the Cardinals identified a new cornerstone on Monday. The team agreed to a new four-year contract with Yadier Molina that includes a club option for 2012.

The pact locks up the catcher throughout his arbitration seasons and buys out at least one and possibly two years of free agency. Molina would have been eligible for free agency after the 2010 season.

"The first thing was my family, and the second one is I love being here," Molina said at a news conference at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis. "I love being a Cardinal. So we made a good deal. I had to take it because I love being here."

Molina took a few questions from media, then headed out to sign autographs at the annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up, where he was one of the featured attractions. He joins Chris Carpenter as the two Cardinals signed the longest into the future. Carpenter, like Molina, is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012. Albert Pujols is signed through 2010 with a 2011 option.

The Associated Press reported that Molina's contract is worth a guaranteed $15.5 million. According to the AP, Molina receives a $250,000 signing bonus, $1.75 million in 2008, $3.25 million in 2009, $4.25 million in 2010 and $5.25 million 2011. Molina's club option is worth $7 million with a buyout at $750,000.

"You look at what he's done with our pitchers and our pitching staff over the last few years, and when you look at what he's done as a pure catcher, he ranks up there at the top if not in the top two," said general manager John Mozeliak. "So with that said, he's definitely a cornerstone of this club moving forward. I really think he has been the last couple years as well."

The deal was announced 11 days before the beginning of arbitration hearings, but neither side had any intention of going to a hearing. The Cardinals and Melvin Roman, Molina's agent, had been discussing parameters of a potential multi-year deal for nearly a full year.

"I wanted to do it," Molina said. "We both wanted to do it. I'm happy for it, because I love being here. I love playing here in this beautiful city with the best fans. Anybody can take that deal. It's great. I feel happy."

On Friday, team and player exchanged arbitration figures. The Cardinals offered $1.85 million, while Molina filed for $2.75 million. Molina was arbitration-eligible for the first time. He made $525,000 in 2007.

Molina, 25, enjoyed a career year with the bat in '07, batting .275 with a .340 on-base percentage and a .368 slugging percentage. He once again fell short of a Gold Glove despite having the best throwing arm in the National League.

Hot Stove

The signing surely helps assuage an agitated fan base. Many Cardinals fans had expressed concern about the direction of the franchise in the wake of the trades of icons Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, as well as the departure of free-agent shortstop David Eckstein.

"I do think this is a very positive move for the Cardinals," Mozeliak said. "It's one that, when you look at some of the moves we've made this offseason, I think this sends a great message to our fan base and to our young players."

The only young player who might have a concern is Minor League catcher Bryan Anderson, who batted .298 with a .350 on-base percentage and .388 slugging percentage at Double-A Springfield in 2007. Anderson, barely 21 years old, is recognized as one of the organization's top prospects.

Mozeliak said the signing is no indication of dissatisfaction with Anderson, nor a harbinger of a position change for the lefty-swinging youngster.

St. Louis has only one remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible player. Right-hander Todd Wellemeyer asked for $1.325 million, with the Cardinals offering $875,000. Arbitration hearings begin on Feb 1.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.