This morning, Buster Olney tweeted that the Cardinals might be pursuing a swap of brothers after learning that their All-Star backstop, Yadier Molina, will be out 8-12 weeks with a torn thumb ligament. Olney indicated that the Cardinals are interested in pursuing the Rays’ Jose Molina to replace their own Molina. Jose does not have Yadier’s bat, but Jose equals if not surpasses his brother’s reputation for pitch-framing and calling a game behind the plate. If the rumors prove to be true, should the Rays deal their backup catcher?
If this rumor popped up two weeks earlier, I suspect that most Rays fans would see it as a gift. Perhaps, as they rejoice for the opportunity to be rid of a player hitting well below the Mendoza line, they would also wonder about the mental well-being of Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak. What do the Cardinals see as valuable in Jose Molina?
Now that the Rays are on a little run, and it seems at least fractionally less of a sure thing that David Price will get traded, is it worth separating him from his preferred battery-mate? And, yes, Jose is batting .187 on the season, but over the last ten games his average is, rather startlingly, .324. He has raised his batting average by 35 points since June 20. Meanwhile, Ryan Hanigan has slumped recently at the plate, batting a meek .125 in the past 10 games. If the Cardinals are in fact interested in Jose Molina as a short-term replacement for Yadier, could the Rays actually work a prospect out of the deal? Surely not one as high-caliber as those names in play for Price, but they might not be just looking for prospects out of Molina.
Recently the Rays have been financially penalized for exceeding the international spending allotment for their signing of 16 year-old SS Adrian Rondon even after trading for signing slots from the Miami Marlins. If the Rays deal Molina, that might be a sign that they are sure to also deal David Price (more on this below). Perhaps the two could be bundled for some significant prospects from the Cardinals (one of the likely suitors of Price), but if Price is traded elsewhere, the Rays may seek nothing but cash from the Cards as some recompense for recent uncommon spending. Jose is getting$1.75 million for this season, and is under contract through next season for $2.75 million–more than enough to recoup the million-dollar tax the Rays will have to pay for exceeding the international signing limit. In other words, if the Cardinals at least throw some cash into the deal, then you could see a trade of Jose Molina as paying for their hopeful shortstop of the (admittedly distant) future.
If Jose Molina is traded, then the Rays would be faced with a less-than-enticing bind to replace him. Ali Solis and Curt Casali are the Rays two Triple-A catchers. Solis should be familiar to fans who may have seen him earlier in the season when Hanigan was on the DL with hamstring issues. Solis was without a hit in 6 at-bats at the major league level, and is hitting a slight .205 in 146 triple-A at-bats. The other triple-A option would be to call up Curt Casali. Casali hit in Montgomery to a tune of .314, but is having less success in Durham (.248/.341/.376 line in 174 plate appearances). The lesson here might be the Casali needs to mature more at the plate at Triple-A in order to be big league-ready, and the Rays may not be willing to start his arbitration clock during what will most likely be a losing season. But Solis returning to the majors will certainly not help out the Rays’ offense to make a second-half playoff push.
Trading Jose Molina almost certainly portends trading David Price. Given the lack of a major-league-ready backstop that could be an offensive upgrade over Molina, any trade temporarily downgrades the Rays’ catching tandem. There is, of course, the possibility of trading Jose for a non-catching bat, but where would such a bat fit in if not at catcher? The Rays are soon to have a surplus of outfielders when Wil Myers and David DeJesus are ready to return to the team, and there’s nowhere on this current infield to fit a bat (especially with Yunel Escobar returning from the DL tonight). It seems more likely that any deal, if for more than cash, would only be for a prospect, and would leave the Rays with a downgraded catching tandem. Unless other deals are made for major-league-ready pieces (via trading away Ben Zobrist or one–or a few –of the outfielders), a David Price deal would certainly follow trading Jose Molina.
The Cards may have made this trade slightly less likely by claiming George Kottaras off waivers from the Cleveland Indians this afternoon. Despite Kottaras’ good bat from behind the plate, however, his poor defensive reputation limits what he gives a major league team. With the Cardinals’ backup catcher, Tony Cruz, only being serviceable because Yadier Molina has been as durable as any catcher in baseball, the Cardinals now have two catchers, but neither is an ideal option. Neither is Molina, but at the very least, he could be viewed as a more desirable piece than the two. At the end of the day, though, even if this particular trade to the Cardinals does not come to pass, it still seems worth the time to consider the possible significance of trading Jose Molina.