Sep 15, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; The Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Molina (28) walks back to the dugout at the end of the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Twins win 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

What Does Jose Molina’s New Contract Mean for the Rays?

Jose Molina has never been anyone’s idea of a starting catcher. But thanks his defense, specifically his talent at framing pitches, he has generated positive results for the Rays the last two years and the Rays are set to get him back for two more. The fact that the Rays and Molina were close was first reported by Buster Olney, and then Marc Topkin confirmed that they were talking about a two-year deal. There is always a chance that the deal could fall through, but the likelihood is getting higher and higher that Molina will be back in a Rays uniform. How will his impending contract affect the future of the Rays at the catcher position?

Molina may be returning, but that does not mean that his role will be the same. Molina made $1.8 million in 2013 after earning $1.5 million in 2012, and his new contract will likely be a touch below that same annual value. Even for the Rays, that is not very much money and it is a perfectly suitable price for a true backup catcher. Molina has garned the majority of the Rays’ starts at catcher the last two years, but he is aging and that ship has appeared to sail. Nevertheless, Molina’s defensive abilities are valuable enough that it is worth having him on the team for $1.5 million a year to start 50 or 60 games with another catcher ahead of him. The Rays don’t believe they can find a backup catcher better for their pitching staff then Molina, and ponying up a little cash to make that possible was an easy decision.

Catching alongside Molina the last two years has been Jose Lobaton, and with Molina settling into more of a backup role, Lobaton figures to become more of a true starting catcher. The issue with that, though, is that while Lobaton’s bat took a major step forward in 2013, his defense has noticeably below-average. Does re-signing Molina mean that the Rays are willng to deal with Lobaton’s defensive deficiencies as he transitions to a more prominent role? The answer appears to be yes–but Lobaton should not get so confident yet.

As we have discussed previously, the Rays seemed like a great fit for Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is being pushed out after the Reds signed Brayan Pena. When Molina is officially back in the fold, their catching corps will be full and they will be set for another year of a Molina-Lobaton combination. That doesn’t mean, though, that they will stop looking to upgrade at the position. Having depth is not the same as having a perfect situation. The Rays are confident that Jose Molina will do enough the next two years to be a strong backup catcher. But if the right opportunity arises to acquire a player like Hanigan who could be a better all-around starting catcher than Lobaton, the Rays are not going to simply let it pass. The Rays will assess all their options, and they could end up making two catcher trades by the end of it all: one to acquire a new catcher, and one to send Lobaton out of town. The Rays will do whatever they can to make their team as strong as possible for next season. Jose Molina coming back does nothing to change that.

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Tags: Jose Lobaton Jose Molina Tampa Bay Rays

  • phattitudes

    Love it. It takes us out of the catcher bidding war that will go on this off season and yet creates an opportunity to even improve from here. Another benefit is that it frees up more $$$ for addressing 1B. Last year’s Rays team was the best team the Rays had ever put together, at least on paper. It is going to be a very similar team this year. Losing Price will take it down a notch or two although last year was not one in which he contributed greatly. However, it could well be that David Price does not get traded this off season. There doesn’t appear to be that one difference maker available. Assuming 1B is addressed successfully. We could well make one more run at it with this team. That would indeed make for a fun 2014. A turn around year from Price makes him even more valuable and could carry to Rays well into the post season. It’ll all come down to $$$ and Andrew’s ability to squeeze the max out of them.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Price’s trade value was at its highest point after his Cy Young Award, and it’s only going down as his time under team control decreases. Unless the offers just don’t come, it is really hard for me to see them holding onto him. The Rays are never about “one more run”–it’s about sustaining success. If the return is right, trading Price is a way to do that.

      • phattitudes

        The question is “what is the right return”. The Shields trade was not straight up, however at a minimum the Rays received the “Minor League Player of the Year” and a top 30 pitching prospect. They were proven AAA level prospects that were as close to sure things as you are going to find. Price is younger, more accomplished, and left handed. These are all attributes that would dictate his “right return” to be higher, considerably higher. That sets an extremely high bar that is painful and difficult for teams to reach. There will be a lot of offers but only a few teams could put together the package that is justified. The Twins could do it but why would they. They need what they have to rebuild. The Cardinals could do it if they are willing to part with a couple of their rookie contributors from last year. Would they do that? The Dodgers are talked about but the package does not include any “can’t miss” prospects. The Cubs might be able to do it but there in a similar boat as the Twins. The Pirates have the prospects but will they part with them? The Reds could possibly do it, but they already have a strong pitching staff. Bottom line is that the asking price may be too high for teams to reach. So you either accept a “low ball” offer just to trade him or you keep Price for one more year. You get a year of production from a Cy Young winner on a playoff caliber team. That is not all bad. When the year is over, Price’s value will have dropped to a more achievable range. A much less valuable Dickey drew a nice package with one year of control left. If the Cards or Pirates want him, they can get him. I just don’t see any other teams that can do it. Like you say it all comes down to getting the right return.