The Rays have finalized their deal with Jose Molina to the tune of two years, $4.5M, according to Marc Topkin.
When #Rays deal w/ Jose Molina is official this week (pending physical), hearing it's salaries of $1.75M in '14, $2.75M in '15; total $4.5M— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) November 24, 2013
Jon Heyman first broke the news that the contract was complete Sunday afternoon. Despite earlier speculation, the second year of the contract is in fact guaranteed, and not an option like his previous contract allowed.
Molina is 39 years old, and according to Topkin is expected to fill a back up role as Jose Lobaton transitions into the primary catcher. The Rays are fortunate that Molina was not ready for retirement, as he should continue to add an incredible value behind the plate.
Lovingly referred to as Most Valuable Molina around DRaysBay (abbreviated MVM), the veteran backstop generates the lion's share of his value from his ability to frame pitches inside and out of the strike zone, often leading to reactions like this:
As a brief history lesson, the Rays first signed Jose Molina to a two-year $3.0M contract shortly after Mike Fast published a study on Baseball Prospectus regarding the value of framing pitches.
The study indicated that, from 2007-2011, Jose Molina was the most skilled catcher in the game at this task, and the Rays their contract with the ACES client 23 days later Mike Fast would be hired by the Houston Astros the following January.
Marveling at his first season with the team, Bradley Woodrum published a study on DRaysBay speculating that Jose Molina was worth 2.5 wins above replacement simply by framing the strikezone, thanks to an estimated 24.4 runs prevented, and thereby a contender for Team MVP -- hence "Most Valuable Molina." Brad would receive harsh criticism in the comment section, and shortly after we found out he was incredibly wrong.
According to calculations by Max Marchi and further investigation by Ben Lindbergh, who dedicates much of his research to catcher framing, Jose Molina was able to prevent 50 runs from scoring over the course of the season, worthy of five wins above replacement -- double Woodrum's estimate, and again, using the strikezone alone.
Fast-forward another off-season, where Jose Molina is once again a free agent. This time, on a list shared by Brian McCann -- also considered an expert framer -- along with well known names A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The catching market was sure to get expensive.
Bradley Woodrum ran the numbers, this time for Fangraphs for 2011-2013, and calculated the following values for free agent catchers and Framing Runs Above Average (RAA):
*including framing value
Given the state of the market (as we would see, Brian McCann signed a deal with New York that could total six years, $100M), the Rays would need to act fast to find a suitable replacement for Molina.
The initial speculation would be that Tampa Bay could trade with the Reds to acquire respected backstop Ryan Hanigan, who has one year remaining of arbitration, but Andrew Friedman and company would make what would be a considerably early move in the off season for them, re-signing the aging Molina.
Molina's new contract is 150% the value of his previous two-year deal, and this time fully guaranteed -- but without suitable organizational depth to fill the void left by Molina, and presuming upon excellent health, the ability to bring back Jose Molina is a victory for the front office.
One might speculate that the higher cost this time around resulted from a bidding war, but considering the value of a win is placed between $5-7M, taking a risk for two years below the range of a single win should not be troubling.
Welcome back, Jose!