Rays position analysis: Catcher

Tampa Bay Rays catcher's Jose Molina (left) and Ryan Hanigan (right) were the primary options during the 2014 season.

The offseason has arrived, and the time has come for the Tampa Bay Rays to study what went right and wrong from a season that ended short of October.

In the coming weeks, we’ll break down the Rays at each position. The review will include highlights and lowlights for the players who saw a majority of the action there, and we’ll touch on the possibility of their returns.

This week, we focus on catcher, where Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina were the primary options. Hanigan, gained from the Cincinnati Reds last December in a three-way trade that also included the Arizona Diamondbacks, was brought in to be the top option behind the plate. However, a variety of health issues kept him from playing as often as Rays’ leadership envisioned.

Molina, meanwhile, struggled offensively and defensively. He posted the worst numbers of his career at the plate, and his defensive performance included inconsistencies.

Here’s a closer look at the play from Rays’ catchers during the 2014 season …

RYAN HANIGAN

What he did right: When he was in the lineup, he was an improvement at the plate over any of the Rays’ other options at the position. He hit .218 with five home runs and 34 RBI in 84 games played. He also had an on-base percentage of .318, a slugging percentage of .324 and an OPS of .642. He had a WAR of 1.3. Tampa Bay’s front office envisioned him playing more this season, but when he was in the lineup, Hanigan was the Rays’ best-hitting catcher.

Tampa Bay Rays position analysis

Where he needs to improve: Can he stay healthy? Disabled list stints (hamstring, oblique) scrambled plans for Hanigan to play more often. Physical endurance is something that he must form, and the Rays could use his bat in the lineup more often in addition to benefiting from his growing comfort behind the plate with Tampa Bay’s staff. The more he avoids the disabled list, the better.

Contract status: Signed a three-year, $10.75 million deal through 2016 with a $3.75 million team option for 2017 ($800,000 buyout).

Likelihood of return: The Rays envision him becoming their primary answer at the position. Molina is in his career’s twilight, and Tampa Bay would like to consider Hanigan the future. But he has played in more than 100 games in a single season just once in his career, when he appeared in 112 with the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. He needs to offer more next season.

JOSE MOLINA

What he did right: Not much. He’s lauded for his pitch-framing ability, but he posted a negative defensive WAR for the first time in his career (minus-0.3 in 80 games played). He had a tendency to be slow and sloppy behind the plate at times, and his offensive numbers were abysmal in finishing with a .178 batting average with 10 RBI and an OPS of .417. At 39 years old, he’s in the stretch run of his career.

Where he need to improve: It’s not worth mentioning the terrible offensive numbers, because the Rays insisted Molina’s value came in pitches saved by stealing strikes. Before left-hander David Price was traded to the Detroit Tigers, Molina served as the ace’s exclusive catcher as well. Still, for someone considered to be a defensive specialist, Molina wasn’t particularly sharp in the area. He played more than expected because of Hanigan’s disabled-list stints. Still, the Rays should hope that Hanigan will be a more consistent presence behind the plate.

Contract status: Signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal through 2015.

Likelihood of return: He’ll be back unless there’s an unforeseen trade out there to be done. Molina can be a decent reserve, but the Rays should hope that Hanigan will shoulder more of the workload next season.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.