Molina trade clears way for Giants’ Posey

The Bengie Molina trade not only marks the beginning of a transition for the Giants, but also could serve as the precursor to an even bigger deal for the Rangers.

The Giants traded Molina to create more playing time at catcher for their top young hitter, Buster Posey.

The Rangers acquired Molina without adding payroll, and are pushing hard for Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee, according to major-league sources.

Yes, the Rangers are in bankruptcy while awaiting the completion of their ownership transition. Yes, they are receiving financial help from the other 29 clubs.

Doesn’t mean they can’t make creative trades.

Molina for right-hander Chris Ray and a Single-A pitcher to be named is just that.

The Giants will pay the rest of Molina’s $4.5 million contract, while the Rangers will pay the rest of Ray’s $975,000 deal, sources say.

Lee’s salary is twice as high as Molina’s, so the Rangers would require even greater financial gymnastics to fit him into their budget. General manager Jon Daniels has said the team can increase payroll, but only slightly.

No matter.

The Rangers are so loaded with prospects, perhaps they can pull off another cash-neutral deal for Lee, persuading the Mariners to cover most or all of the pitcher’s remaining salary in exchange for better talent.

Heck, even if Daniels fails to get Lee, imagine what he might do when prospective owners Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan finally take over the club.

Daniels, working under similar restrictions last off-season, acquired Ray from the Orioles for right-hander Kevin Millwood, then used the savings to sign free-agent right-hander Rich Harden. To this point, Harden has been a bust, but now Daniels has used Ray to acquire Molina and fill the Rangers’ void at catcher.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden, the team’s supposed catchers of the future, are in the minors. Journeyman Matt Treanor and rookie Max Ramirez have formed a reasonably effective tandem, but neither can match Molina’s ability to handle a pitching staff.

That’s the danger of the deal for the Giants is turning over their gifted staff to Posey and Eli Whiteside, who has served as little more than the personal catcher for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.

Still, the move just might work.

Molina doesn’t get on base, doesn’t hit for power, can’t run. His offensive deficiencies will be less of an issue with the Rangers, the AL’s third-highest scoring club. The Giants are painfully slow, grounding into more double plays than any team in the NL by a wide margin.

The question is whether the Giants will gain enough offense to compensate for the loss of Molina’s defense. Manager Bruce Bochy, a former catcher, staunchly supported Molina, recognizing his value behind the plate.

Posey struggled to handle velocity in the Arizona Fall League, and sinkers also give him trouble, scouts say. Whiteside might need to catch right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the team’s hardest throwers. But one way or another, Posey’s bat should now be in the Giants’ lineup virtually every day.

Against right-handers, the Giants can start Travis Ishikawa at first and Posey at catcher. Against lefties, Whiteside can catch and Posey can play first. Both Posey and Whiteside are right-handed hitters. Aubrey Huff, who started the season at first, presumably will remain in the outfield.

Bochy will need to juggle his lineup daily for the optimal defensive and offensive alignments, and Posey figures to be a work in progress behind the plate. But the Giants, who were looking to stabilize their bullpen, also could benefit from the addition of Ray.

Not that Ray is great. His 3.41 ERA is deceptive. He has issued the same number of strikeouts and walks, 16, in 31 2/3 innings. His .206 opponents’ batting average on balls in play indicates that he is benefiting from good luck. But he’s two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and moving from a hitter-friendly park in the AL to a pitcher-friendly park in the NL.

In other words, worth a shot.

The deal is more of a gamble for the Giants than the Rangers, who probably could not have traded for a better catcher than Molina. The winner of a trade, however, often is deemed to be the team that acquires the best player.

The Giants might have done just that by creating a greater opportunity for Buster Posey.