It's taken some time for the Tampa Bay Rays to finish the deal, but from all reports, the Rays have finally signed catcher Jose Molina. According to Jon Heyman:
Jose Molina signs with #Rays. Solid pickup. They know their defense down there.
Rays deal with Jose Molina guarantees him $1.5 M in 2012, plus $1.5M team option or $300,000 buyout in 2013.
Based on this news and the timing with the recent trade of John Jaso, it looks like the Rays really are swapping out Jaso for Jose Molina. And if that's the case, well, just look at this comparison of their average defensive runs saved:
Pitch framing data came from Mike Fast's recent research; blocking data came from Bojan Koprivica's Hardball Times study; and the stolen base runs came from FanGraphs. I had to convert all the runs allowed to the same scale -- per 120 games (1000 innings) -- so the numbers in some cases are slightly different than what you find looking at the studies themselves.
Remember, all this data is imprecise and should be taken as estimates of their defensive abilities; it's not set-in-stone gospel. But even if you are generous and give Jaso the benefit of the doubt, it still looks like Molina's defense is around a four win improvement over Jaso's. That's a massive difference, and the equivalent of signing David Ortiz (4.2 WAR in 2011) to play DH for the Rays. Yet something tells me Ortiz won't be signing for a mere $1.8 million...
There are some qualifiers to this, though. Molina isn't going to catch 120 games, and his offense will undoubtedly be worse than Jaso would provide. So the total improvement that the Rays will see will likely be more around 2-ish WAR: smaller, yet far from insignificant. The Rays seem to be hoping that catcher defense is one of the market inefficiencies currently out there, and they're jumping on Molina before other teams figure it out.
With these two relatively minor transactions -- signing an aging catcher, and trading for a reliever -- the Rays are filling two holes at once and improving their 2012 team, all while barely breaking the bank. The Rays' front office strikes again.