Jose Molina eyes expanded role with Tampa Bay Rays

A career backup with two World Series rings, Jose Molina is

excited about having an opportunity to become an everyday catcher

with the Tampa Bay Rays.

At least as regular as you reasonably can expect at age 36.

The brother of a couple of other two-time World Series winners,

Bengie and Yadier Molina, signed with the Rays this offseason.

Manager Joe Maddon envisions a healthy ”J-Mo” starting somewhere

between 80 and 90 games as the Ray chase their fourth playoff berth

in five years.

Molina says he preparing as if he’s going to play 162, even

though he’s never appeared in more than 100 during parts of 12

seasons with the Cubs, Angels, Yankees and Blue Jays.

”I’m ready to catch 162 every year, not just this year. Every

year. Because you never know. If the starting catcher gets hurt,

you have to come in and be ready to do your job,” Molina said

Tuesday, the first day of spring training for Tampa Bay’s pitchers

and catchers.

Known more for his defensive skills than his offense, Molina

started 44 games as a backup to Toronto rookie J.P. Arencibia while

batting a career-best .281 with three homers and 15 RBIs.

He has been the toughest catcher to steal against in the majors

over the past four seasons, throwing out 62 of 170 runners (36.5

percent). He was sixth-best a year ago when he threw out 12 of 36

for a 33.3 percent success rate that enticed the Rays, already one

of baseball’s top defensive teams.

Maddon has known Molina since the manager’s days as the Angels’

bench coach. The Rays declined a $3.2 million option on incumbent

starter Kelly Shoppach after losing in the divisional round of the

playoffs in October and traded John Jaso to the Seattle Mariners

the following month.

Molina signed a $1.8 million, one-year contract with the Rays on

Nov. 28. Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos, who’ve played a

combined 42 games in the majors, are competing for the backup


Molina won World Series rings with the Angels in 2002 and 2009

with the Yankees. Bengie also part of the Angels championship team

in 2002 and won again with the San Francisco Giants in 2010. Yadier

helped the St. Louis Cardinals win titles in 2006 and 2011, meaning

one of the Molina brothers has won each of the past three World


Overall, at least one of the brothers has played in seven of the

past 10 postseasons.

The Rays pitching staff is eager to work with Molina, who’s

continuing a tour of the AL East following stints with the Yankees

from 2007 to 2009 and the Blue Jays the past two seasons.

”He’s got a lot of knowledge back there, a lot of innings back

there. … He might be the best receiver in the game. I can’t wait

to throw to him,” right-hander James Shields, a 16-game winner in

2011 said.

”From what I’ve heard from other players on other teams, his

game-calling is superb. And from what I’ve seen (from the opposing

dugout), his receiving is unreal,” Shields added. ”He gets

strikes that might not be strikes on a normal basis with other

catchers. … He knows how to catch. Any time you put a Molina back

there, you should be in good business.”

Tampa Bay’s recent success, winning two division titles and

making the playoffs three of the past four seasons, was a factor in

Molina’s decision to sign. So was a talented starting rotation and

solid bullpen that are part of the reason the Rays believe they

have an excellent chance of getting back to the postseason.

”Everybody in the league knows it’s a great pitching staff, and

they’re not afraid to pitch. You start learning that more when you

play 18 games against the same team,” Molina said, alluding to the

time he’s spent in the AL East.

He’s just as eager to begin to get to know the starters and

relievers are to work with him.

”I need to learn all of them. … That’s what spring training

is for, to work with them, talk to them regarding what they like to

do, what they expect, where they want me behind the plate,” Molina

said. ”Some guys want the catcher to be in the middle, other guys

want you on the corners. I think just talking to them will be a

good beginning.”

The catcher said he doesn’t have any preconceived notion of how

many games he can – or will – play. He stressed that whatever

Maddon decides is fine with him.

”The manager will do whatever he wants, and I will respect

it,” said Molina, who hasn’t started consecutive games behind the

plate since August 2010. ”He got his way of thinking. I won’t

change that. I can’ change that. I’ll be ready every day. If he

puts me in the lineup every day, I’ll be there.”

Molina started 81 games for the Yankees in 2008, when he

appeared in a career-high 100. Most of his playing time came while

Jorge Posada was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

”I don’t think you want to push him much further than that

because you don’t want to break the guy. I would say that’s a

legitimate number, right around 80 to 90 games,” Maddon said,

adding that he’s confident Molina will flourish in the role he

figures to play in Tampa Bay.

”He’s played on some pretty good teams, caught some pretty good

pitchers. I know how he operates. I know how much pride he takes in

what he does back there. … One thing about him, even back in the

day, he always wanted to be considered more of a regular, everyday

player as opposed to a backup.”