The Tampa Bays recently traded John Jaso to the Seattle Mariners for Josh Lueke, and they have since signed Jose Molina to a one-year deal worth a measly $1.8 million. Molina has spent the last four-and-a-half seasons in the AL East with the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, and the rumblings of him signing with the Rays are about a week old. The deal is finally official, and the 36-year-old catcher will likely split time with the 27-year-old Jose Lobaton.
While Molina isn’t as good as he used to be in the field, he can still gun down a runner or two behind the plate. His reputation as a defense-first catcher is well deserved, and it’s not entirely because he is a poor hitter. Molina is easily the best catcher in the league at framing pitches, and he saved 73 runs from 2007-2011 just by decreasing the size of the strike zone according to a study by Mike Fast. I am a bit skeptical to say the least, but that would be an incredible and underrated defensive addition if Fast’s data is indeed true. Molina played in 333 games during that time span, and Bill James projects him to play in 84 next season. Since he saves about .2 runs per game from pitch framing, he should add 18.4 runs in those 84 games.
However, nobody will dispute the fact that Jose Molina just isn’t very good offensively. He did have a 109 wRC+ last season, but it was totally BABIP-driven as his batting average on balls in play was an unsustainable .363. I expect his wRC+ to be around 75, which is better than his horrible career average of 66. I don’t expect him to be worth 1.3 WAR in 2012, because he was a very lucky man for the most part. His plate discipline numbers were actually worse in 2011, but he did have a strange season for the most part.
Molina is going to be a consistently poor hitter who provides tangible value behind the plate. Pitch framing is indeed a skill that is undervalued, but I don’t know if Molina really can save 18 runs just by decreasing the strike zone. I’m guessing it’s true- Mike Fast is the far superior baseball guru- but we all have our doubts. $1.8 million dollars is barely anything in this market, and Molina has to be worth just a paltry 0.4 WAR to make good on this no-risk contract. He’ll be able to do that in a part-time role at catcher, and this was a shrewd, small move by Andrew Friedman. On a side note, I really hope the guy sticks with the Rays and keeps the ball rolling. Does he really want to be the GM of the Astros?
A bigger signing took place, and this was the Royals acquisition of former star closer Jonathan Broxton. The Royals gave the maligned reliever a one-year deal worth $4 million dollars. This deal carries a low-risk deal for a reliever who was once one of the best ten closers in the game. Broxton’s last season with at least 50 innings came in 2010, and that was his “down” year when he earned the “unreliable” tag. However, a lot of his struggles were do to a .366 BABIP and his 3.01 FIP told the story of a pitcher who was better than the statistics indicated.
We can’t draw any legit conclusions from Broxton’s 12.2 innings last season, so the only years that can be used are 2008, 2009 and 2010. Broxton was simply lights-out in 2009 with a 2.8 WAR thanks to a 1.97 FIP (2.02 xFIP). He struck out 13.50 batters per nine, but it is also important to note that his BABIP was .263. In 2008, Broxton’s BABIP of .315 was right in line with his current career average (.314). He was worth 2.2 WAR on the strength of a 2.26 FIP and a lucky 3.8 HR/FB% (which led to a 2.90 xFIP).
The Royals will unwisely move Aaron Crow to the rotation, but they really didn’t have much of a choice. Joakim Soria is best left as the closer, because there is still a risk with Broxton- hence, the one-year deal. The addition of Broxton gave the team some added flexibility, and they decided to utilize this by moving Crow to the rotation. Although Broxton should bounce back just fine and provide a nice one-two punch with Soria in the ‘pen in 2011, Royals fans still hope that the team signs another starter. A one-two punch in the rotation consisting of Jonathan Sanchez and Bruce Chen hardly qualifies as a punch, but this Broxton signing was a smart, low-risk move that should pay dividends. After all, the Royals bullpen wasn’t exactly the greatest in 2011.
Broxton should be able to be worth 1.5 WAR- and more likely 2 WAR, which means that the 1 WAR-type contract of $4 million is definitely worth it. A win is actually more valuable now with the addition of a second Wild Card team, so this deal is definitely worth the risk. Kansas City could also deal either Broxton or Soria during the middle of the season if they want to- provided Broxton plays well- and further benefit from this already good signing.