Earlier this offseason, the Rays opted to not exercise a $3.2 million club option to retain Kelly Shoppach and they traded John Jaso to the Mariners on Sunday night, leaving Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos as the main candidates for the job. By signing the 36-year-old Molina, Tampa Bay has brought in a well-schooled catcher in the art of nurturing pitching staffs and throwing out would-be basestealers.
During his career, Molina has thrown out 153 of 410 attempted basestealers. His 37.3 percentage is fourth best among active catchers (minimum 500 games) behind Ivan Rodriguez (41.7 percent), Henry Blanco (40.8 percent) and his younger brother, Yadier Molina (39.3 percent).
"Jose has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball over the past decade, and his presence will bring even more stability to our defense, and he will, of course, be a great asset to our young pitchers," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
During Molina's career, pitchers have combined for a 3.94 ERA when throwing to him, fifth best among active catchers (minimum 500 games) behind Carlos Ruiz (3.73), Russell Martin (3.75), Yadier Molina (3.81) and Brian McCann (3.91).
A memorable highlight of Molina's career came while playing for the Blue Jays against the Rays on April 25, 2010, when he threw out four runners attempting to steal (Carl Crawford twice, B.J. Upton and Sean Rodriguez) in the first four innings of a 6-0 Toronto loss at Tropicana Field.
Molina's presence should help the learning curve for the other catchers in camp this spring.
"I don't hold anything to myself. I always give everything that I have to everybody," Molina said. "This time it will happen again. Whatever they need from me, and if I see something different from them, I will let them know. And I know [manager] Joe [Maddon] will give me that chance to talk to them, because he knows I've been around the league a lot. I've been around the league for many years, so he knows I can help them, too."
The most likely scenario will see the right-handed-hitting Molina in a platoon role working with the switch-hitting Lobaton. His most extensive action came in 2008, when he started 81 games for the Yankees after Jorge Posada missed much of the season with a shoulder injury. Molina was asked if he could catch 100 games if he needed to this season.
"I'll be ready to catch 162 games, put it that way," Molina said. "I'll always be ready to go every day. ... If Joe needs me for 162 [games], I'll be ready for 162."
Molina made $1.2 million playing for the Blue Jays in 2011, when he hit a career-high .281. Since Molina is a Type B free agent, Toronto will receive a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Molina has played in parts of 12 Major League seasons for the Cubs, Angels, Yankees and Blue Jays. He is a .241 career hitter in 666 Major League games.
Molina and Maddon were together for five seasons with the Angels when Maddon served as the Halos' bench coach.
"He's awesome," Molina said. "I've known Joe since 2001 with the Angels, and Joe always helped me in different ways. Just having a chance to play for him ... I know it's going to go well. I have more experience than the first time I met him. I know it's going to be a great year for both of us."
A native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Molina's older brother, Bengie, was also a Major League catcher, for 13 seasons before retiring after the 2010 campaign. Yadier Molina has spent his entire eight-year career with the Cardinals. At least one of the brothers has been to six of the past 10 World Series: 2002, '04, '06, '09, '10 and '11.