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Rays place Jose Molina, master pitch framer, on release waivers

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays' primary catcher since 2012 was placed on release waivers, along with Rays utility infield prospect Cole Figueroa. The former is without a home on a crowded Rays bench and I wish him the best, but he's not the surprising release by Tampa Bay.

Yes, the Rays have not only designated their catcher for assignment, they have released Jose Molina.

Either player could be claimed by another team for the price of $1. That team would then assume the player's salary for 2015 and need to add him to the 40-man roster. Otherwise, each can accept an assignment to Triple-A and keep his salary, or opt for free agency and forsake his contract with the franchise.

In the case of 39-year old Jose Molina, the difference here is $2.75 million, a hefty chunk of change for the Rays to pay for an expiring contract sitting as depth in Durham.

Likely destinations for Molina, should he opt for free agency, could be St. Louis to join his brother Yadier, to the Rangers behind former Rays prospect Robinson Chirinos, or possibly to another team that would be comfortable ditching their current back up.

Joining other former Rays in Los Angeles is not out of the question, as Friedman's new catcher tandem is questionable, with starting man A.J. Ellis's glove below average, and back up Drew Butera's bat 40% below average.

Maybe Molina's career is truly over, though. There have been two Fangraphs articles drawn to the gravity of Jose Molina's release this week. The first reminding us how valuable framing can be. The second detailing how historically bad his offense has been. He may have reached a level of offense that his glove can no longer carry, and frankly that's a little bit sad. Perhaps that is what led the Rays to release him, but let's re-live the glory days.

***

A long, long time ago, friend of the site Bradley Woodrum published his case for Molina to have been the most valuable player on the 2012 Rays, speculating that Molina's framing skills saved the Rays possibly 25 runs. This was before the the framing runs calculation became readily available at Baseball Prospectus and other stats outlets, and Woody was generally laughed out of town by readers and commenters.

Later on, Joe Maddon himself had this to say about why the Rays were using the former back-up catcher in a primary role:

Well, I could reveal to you a stat that I just got today that I think would really blow some people's minds up. I don't know exactly how it's calculated or formulated, but it was concluded that [Molina] saved us 50 runs this year. And that's highly significant.

[Rays Radio]

Fifty! Double what Woodrum had so appallingly suggested.

In response, Ben Lindbergh published an article called The 50-run Receiver confirming these numbers, adding all the favored GIF analysis that makes a smile broaden on your face, but missing this favorite:

"Add 50 runs, or five wins, to his tally," Lindbergh wrote, "and his total rises to 5.2, which would make him the most valuable Ray and tie him with Adam Jones and Giancarlo Stanton at 12th overall."

The Rays found that value shortly after the initial studies on framing were published by Mike Fast. They're releasing that value, possibly out of fear the glove can't sustain the other aspects of his game. That's their call to make, but it's also a shame.

Molina's greatest talent was recognized in the twilight of his career, and though the stat nerds have been championing him since the Rays brought him on three years ago, he'll likely go down in history under appreciated.

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Watching the sunset of Molina's career has been a joy.

The anticipation would build with every at bat, waiting to see which player would be baffled by the widening strike zone that the umpire never intended. Sure, the rest of his defense was shoddy, and balls would skip past his glove on the ground, but that's nothing compared to that skill with the glove in the air.

It's for that reason I truly hope his career is not done. I want more of the gifs and videos of slamming bats and helmets, and all the futile umpire arguments that have made watching Molina a joy for three seasons.

Here's to hoping.