Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Molina proves comfortable fit for Rays

Jose Molina certainly was not the best catcher on the market this winter, not even necessarily among the second-tier candidates.

Not with his advancing age (39 in June), limited offensive contributions (.594 on-base plus slugging percentage) and lack of mobility behind the plate (eight passed balls, 33 wild pitches).

But in deciding to bring him back, with a two-year deal expected to be finished this week, the Rays obviously considered Molina the best choice for them.

Familiarity obviously has its benefits. The Rays felt he was better defensively than any of the other affordable free agent options, must not have thought a trade for Ryan Hanigan or anyone else would work, and decided they had better move now — relatively early for them on free agents — before missing out.

Molina's game-calling and pitch-framing are definite benefits, and even with a dropoff to 23.3 percent, he was above average in throwing out runners. Based on Defensive WAR (wins above replacement), Molina's .5 rating was sixth best among American League catchers with 90 or more games. (Jose Lobaton was .3. Interestingly, pitchers had basically the same ERA with either — 3.73 for Molina, 3.74 for Lobaton).

There's a financial element, too, and though final terms aren't set, it seems unlikely Molina would get much more than the $3.3 million he made total the past two seasons.

Molina obviously felt the same about the Rays, as he had interest from several other teams as a backup. But he liked the competitive situation, liked playing for manager Joe Maddon, liked living in the Tampa Bay area, not far from his Puerto Rico home.

In theory, Lobaton will continue the progress he made last season and take over as the primary catcher and Molina can be used in a more suitable backup role. Last year, Molina started a career-high 87 games and Lobaton 76, so at least those numbers might flip.

Q-BALL: Matt Quatraro is excited and still a bit dazed about leaving the Rays' minor-league coaching staff for a big-league job as the Indians' assistant hitting coach. Quatraro played seven seasons and coached 10 in various roles without reaching the majors, and aside from a 2003 spring stint with the Yankees, he has worn only Rays uniforms since being an eighth-round pick in their inaugural 1996 draft.

"I'm excited about the job, but as far as actually being in the big leagues, it probably won't hit me until I'm standing on the line opening day," Quatraro said. "It's definitely exciting, and it's bittersweet a little bit because I would have loved for it to be with Tampa Bay, but the opportunity wasn't there."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Texas 1B Mitch Moreland was a trade possibility even before the Rangers acquired Prince Fielder, maybe more so now. And though the Rangers traded Ian Kinsler from their middle infield surplus, it shouldn't impact potential talks for Rays LHP David Price. … Of the additions to the 40-man roster, figure RHP Kirby Yates and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser most likely to see 2013 big-league action, with Vince Belnome, who can hit and play first, second and third, a possibility. … The spring training schedule likely will be out this week. … Next roster deadline is Dec. 2, with decisions on tendering contracts to the nine arbitration eligible players, including potentially interesting calls on INF Sean Rodriguez and LHPs Cesar Ramos and Wesley Wright. … RHP Jeff Niemann, who became a free agent last week, told mlb.com he "absolutely" would be interested in returning, though it may be midseason until he is game-ready following shoulder surgery. … Jason Cole, a writer for Baseball Prospectus who (curiously) specialized in the Rangers, was hired as a pro scout. … Two ex-Rays signed minor-league contracts, INF Reid Brignac with the Phillies, RHP Seth McClung with the Pirates.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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