Understanding Jose Molina’s New Contract

By Robbie Knopf

We heard for a few days that the Rays were looking to re-sign Jose Molina, and that it would be a two-year deal. That was not exactly the most exciting news–instead of pursuing a trade target like Ryan Hanigan, the Rays appear to be settling for a catcher pairing of Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton for another season. Now, the deal is official, and there has to be some part of you that wants to groan. Molina’s deal is worth $4.5 million over two years–he’ll make $1.75 million in 2014 and $2.75 million in 2014. Wait a second–isn’t that a raise over the $3.3 million he made the last two seasons? The Rays are giving a deteriorating 38 year old catcher an increase in salary? Let’s try to find some context to understand why Molina got that type of money.

How should we characterize Jose Molina those days? Molina has been starting the bulk of the Rays’ games, setting a career high for plate appearances this season. He certainly isn’t a true starting catcher, but at the very least, he has reached the level of high-quality backup. Let’s find other players who received similar money to Molina’s $2.25 million per year and compare them to how they compare to Molina as players.

Looking at this group, we see halfway-decent starting catchers at the top of the list and more backup types or struggling starters as we go further down the list. That certainly makes sense because teams hope that when they sign a low-cost catcher, he can at least be a solid backup. Two interesting comparables for Molina are David Ross and Geovany Soto‘s two deals with the Texas Rangers. Both were considered clear backups yet received at least half a million more than Molina per year. You could make the argument that they got additional money because of their additional offensive potential, but especially in comparison to Soto, Molina is just as good of a player or better. Their skills are divided differently–Soto is a decent hitter and plays decent defense while Molina is a weak hitter who plays excellent defense–and that may have made all the difference. Even after all this time, Molina’s pitch-framing abilities appear to be still underrated on the open market. However, that’s where the second year of Molina’s deal comes in. The Rays had to give Molina a second year because more teams were willing to make him offers in the $2 to $3 million range seeing the types of players who have received those types of deals in recent years. The Rays paid Molina a touch below his market value as a strong backup catcher or fringe starter in exchange for the second guaranteed year.

Jose Molina is certainly far from the biggest bargain on a Rays team filled with players signed to team-friendly deals like Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Moore, and most recently, David DeJesus. He is now making right around what a player of his caliber should be making, and given that he is aging, there is a certain amount of risk involved there. Nevertheless, the Rays saw that even Molina’s market value was a worthwhile price to pay and had no hesitation doing so when it came to that. Molina has provided the Rays with so much from his pitch-framing, arm, and game-calling and there is a real chance that he provides more value to them than the numbers can indicate. Even if Molina is transitioning to a more of a backup role with Jose Lobaton or a catcher yet to be acquired ascending to become the starter, the Rays will appreciate having him in the fold for at least the next two years.