In 2014, the Tampa Bay Rays will pay Jose Molina $2.75 million. Even better, he won’t be playing a single game for them. The Rays released Molina in November after a disastrous season that saw him to hit just a .178/.230/.187 line (22 OPS+). He managed just two extra-base hits all season, one more than Alex Cobb and two more than the rest of us. Those were the type of numbers that made us say that the Rays were better without Molina than with him.
The worst part of the whole situation was that the Rays had to give Molina 247 plate appearances despite his struggles. With Ryan Hanigan missing time from hamstring soreness, neck stiffness, and an oblique strain, Molina kept playing even though it was apparent just how bad he was. But how did he get so bad to begin with? How did he end up with his worst offensive numbers since 2003? Now we may finally now.
Molina turns 40 in June, so this is probably the end. On the other hand, Henry Blanco caught 50 big league games at age 41 in 2013, and he was never the pitch-framer that Molina was. If Molina can somehow recover successfully from surgery, there could easily be a team or two willing to offer him a minor league contract if he was willing to compete for a job.
The Rays will not be one of those teams. While they have to consider acquiring another backup catcher right now, the presence of Curt Casali and Luke Maile at Triple-A means that they should be fine before the year is through. Justin O’Conner will begin the season at Double-A, and the Rays are hoping that he will make his major league debut by September of 2016.
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The Jose Molina era for the Tampa Bay Rays is over. Its finish was horrible, but the prior two years were quite good. Before you go to Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs to find Molina’s WAR to dispute that, let me remind you that neither metric includes Molina’s pitch-framing. According to StatCorner, Molina’s framing alone was worth 2.6 wins in 2012, 1.8 in 2013, and 1.7 last season.
Molina’s pitch-framing was not enough in his final year with the team. Baseball-Reference had him at just -2.0 WAR without the pitch-framing, leaving him at -0.3 even when we add it in. Given just how bad Molina was at the plate, we probably would not have believed the statistics anyway if they had said that he contributed to the team in a positive fashion.
Especially in light of Morosi’s report, though, let’s not be too annoyed with Jose Molina. Although it didn’t always seem like it, Molina gave the Rays a solid catching situation in 2012 and 2013. Only in 2014 did Molina finally break down in his 15th season in the major leagues. Without the knee problem, Molina would have still been terrible at hitting, but he might have been just good enough that his pitch-framing would have helped the Rays again.