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Cubs’ Willson Contreras ASG starter, but Cards catcher still feels like the man

Yadier Molina was a happy guy Tuesday as he discussed his late addition to the National League All-Star roster. Next week in Washington will be All-Star appearance No. 9 for the great Cardinals catcher.

“I’m glad to be part of this team,” Molina said at Guaranteed Rate Field before the Cardinals opened a two-game series against the White Sox. “It’s a great honor for me to be a part of this game.”

He was a happy guy, that is, until a real nudnik of a reporter started in with questions about his controversial Instagram post — way back in January, it was — directed at Cubs catcher Willson Contreras.

“Respect the ranks, rookie!” was the gist of what Molina wrote next to a photo of himself with the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Royals’ Salvador Perez at the 2015 All-Star Game.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina had nothing but good things to say about Cubs counterpart Willson Contreras. (John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star via AP)

Actually, the controversy started when Contreras, 26, proclaimed at Cubs Convention that he was going to become a better player than Molina and eventually be the “best catcher in the game for a long time.” And, technically, it only became a controversy when the very same nudnik reporter, to whom Contreras had made those remarks, wrote about it.

So sue me.

Considering Contreras is this year’s All-Star starter behind the plate, I was going to ask Molina for an update on his relationship with the Cubs hotshot anyway. But after it was discovered Tuesday afternoon by a Sun-Times sleuth that Molina had actually taken down the aforementioned Instagram post, well, inquiring minds first had to know what the heck that was all about.

“I don’t remember,” Molina said. “When did that happen, January?”

But why? Why did he remove the post?

“I don’t know why you keep asking the same question.”

Because I’m a nudnik?

“Why did I take it down? Because I wanted to.”

So that settles it.

As for his relationship with Contreras, it certainly appears that all is well.

“Yeah, why not?” Molina said. “Yeah, yeah, I’m always going to pull for him. He’s a great kid. He’s got great talent. I’ve got nothing against him.”

The Cardinals have had a healthy respect for Contreras’ ability since the first start of his career, which came in June 2016 against the Cubs’ division rivals at Wrigley Field.

“He’s obviously a talent,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s got a dangerous bat, a lot of power. Got a cannon of an arm. You can see that he has a lot of energy back there, a lot of things that he does well. The first time that we watched him, we realized that he was probably going to be around for a while.”

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Yet, will Contreras rise to the level of, as he put it, “the best catcher in the game for a long time”? And does the fact he’s starting in his first All-Star Game signify he’s the best in the NL right now?

Cubs manager Joe Maddon says Contreras is the top catcher in all of baseball. According to Maddon, if a scout graded every catcher in the game in all areas — hitting, arm strength, blocking pitches, running the bases, tenacity, aggressiveness, you name it — Contreras would come out No. 1.

“After a certain amount of time, somebody else has to ascend to the throne,” he said.

But many would say 31-year-old Posey is the best. There’s buzz as well about the Marlins’ 27-year-old J.T. Realmuto, who, like Contreras, will be making his All-Star debut. Of course, many others would throw their support behind Molina, who turns 36 on Friday.

That’s where Matheny — himself a four-time Gold Glove-winning catcher — is at.

“I’m extremely biased because we get to see every day all the little things he does that’ll never find a category,” Matheny said. “You can’t have metrics on some of the things that he does that help this team. To me, it’s just very rare what he has done. Just look at the impact a player has — I don’t know if there’s a more impactful player for a team.”

You know who else still puts Molina right at the top of the heap? Molina does. He’s feeling young and doing his usual workhorse thing. He’s batting close to his career .284 average, leading the league at his position with 13 home runs and still excelling defensively. Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, 24, called it a “privilege” to share the field with the potential Hall of Famer.

Contreras is the All-Star starter, but Molina still sees himself as the man.

“In my mind, I feel that way,” he said. “But right now, I’m worried about staying healthy and trying to help my team win. I’m not worried about anything else.”

Least of all a six-month-old social media post.