Molina a Giant

Despite mainstream media reports for the past three months to the contrary, Bengie Molina did not sign with the Mets. Here’s why I am excited. Free agent catcher Bengie Molina has apparently agreed to return to the Giants on a one-year contract. Earlier in the offseason, reports were flying that Molina was going to the Mets, on either a two or three-year deal. Clearly, that did not happen. Once again, rumors of the incompetence of general manager Omar Minaya far outstrip reality.

It appears that Minaya held fast to a contract of one year and a vesting option for Molina. Perhaps Molina felt that if he was healthy and productive enough to cash in the vesting option offered by the Mets, that he could do better out on the free agent market following this season. Or perhaps he felt the Giants had a better opportunity to make the postseason than the Mets.

Bottom line is I do not care why Molina chose to sign with the Giants. Instead, I am just thrilled that he is not going to be on the Mets. While Molina may very well have been the best free agent catcher available, that does more to show the weakness of available backstops than produce compelling evidence that Molina is any good.

Why am I so down on a catcher who hit 20 HR and drove in 80 runs last year? Let me count the ways:

1. He is going to be 35 years old, which makes it hugely unlikely that he will reach 20 HR again. Only one player in MLB history has hit at least 15 HR as a 34-year old and matched or exceeded that total as a 35-year old. Ernie Whitt went from 16 to 19 HR. Everyone else, a list that includes Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Elston Howard, Sherm Lollar, Jorge Posada and Terry Steinbach (and others) saw their HR output decrease, some by as much as two-thirds.

2. His RBI total was that high simply because he hit cleanup for the Giants. He was not going to hit cleanup for the Mets and therefore his RBI numbers were going to take a hit.

3. He had a .285 OBP last year. The Mets lineup already has Jeff Francoeur and the pitcher hitting and simply did not need another OBP anchor.

4. He is no longer a good defensive catcher. The Fielding Bible had him at -9 Defensive Runs Saved.

5. He is perhaps the slowest player in baseball

6. He had an .856 OPS at home last year and a .610 road OPS.

Any one of those things would be a huge red flag. That Molina had six of them and the Mets were interested, even on a one-year contract, is a bit frightening.

But today is a day to celebrate. The Mets did not set themselves up for disappointment by signing an old catcher to a long, expensive deal only to watch him fall on his face. Odds are that they will still sign a catcher on the wrong side of 30, like Rod Barajas or Yorvit Torrealba, but those will come at a cheaper cost and unlikely with anything more than a one-year commitment.

My preference still would be to open the season with Josh Thole and Henry Blanco as the team’s catchers, with Thole getting more work as the season progressed. Thole has a poor defensive reputation and he does give up a fair number of passed balls. But Blanco is considered one of the top defensive catchers around and who better to help tutor the youngster?

But even if Thole starts the year in the minors, it will not be because the Mets signed an overpriced stiff like Molina. Now we have to see where the Mets use the money earmarked for Molina instead. Obviously they need to address their starting pitching and rumors have them interested in Joel Pineiro. I hope they sign Jon Garland and one of the reclamation projects – Erik Bedard or Ben Sheets – instead.

But no Bengie Molina on the 2010 Mets and for that, I am grateful.

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