The Blue Jays capped an eventful offseason by signing Bengie Molina on Monday, inking the catcher to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2007. The 31-year-old will earn $4.5 million in 2006, and the option year is worth $7.5 million.
Molina, who will supplant Gregg Zaun, is coming off the most productive offensive season of his career. The two-time Gold Glover posted personal bests in home runs (15), batting average (.295), on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.446) in 2005. Molina has spent his entire career with the Angels, and this move allows him to stay in the American League.
"I think we're better up the middle -- and that's with Molina and Zaun," said J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto's general manager. "Anytime you add a Gold Glove catcher, it's a plus, especially one coming off a career year offensively. I can't say there's a downside to adding Bengie Molina."
The backstop was one of the last quality free agents available, a fact that piqued Toronto's interest beyond where it may have been otherwise. Molina had previously hoped to land with Baltimore or New York, but the Orioles signed Ramon Hernandez and the Mets traded for Paul Lo Duca. Reports indicate that the Dodgers were the other finalist for his services.
"It wasn't something that was in the works for a long time. We talked around a month ago," said Ricciardi. "They asked if we were interested and we said we didn't have much money left, but we can be as creative as we can be."
Molina has played particularly well against left-handed pitchers over the last three seasons, notching a .316 batting average with a .352 on-base percentage and a .537 slugging mark. All of those statistics are significantly better than his numbers against right-handed pitchers (.272, .303 and .389, respectively).
The move is the latest in Toronto's offseason remodeling, a winter that saw the Blue Jays add two heavy bats (Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay) and two live arms (A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan). The Jays haven't been to the playoffs since last winning the World Series in 1993, and they've only had one winning record in the last five seasons.
"You go into the offseason with an idea and a plan, but I can't say I thought we'd get all these guys," said Ricciardi. "It's been a very productive offseason, but it's not really productive unless it translates to wins on the field."
Zaun shifts back into a reserve role, a job he became accustomed to over the first 11 seasons of his career. The switch-hitter revitalized his career with the Blue Jays, starting for most of the last two years. In fact, Zaun set career highs in home runs (11), hits (109), RBIs (61) and runs scored (61) in 2005.
Burnett, in Toronto for a charity function with the Jays, was enthused about his new team's catching tandem.
"He's a great catcher from what I hear," Burnett said of Molina. "With Gregg Zaun, we have two of the best catchers in the league."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. John Matthew, a marketing producer for MLB.com, contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.