Giants opt against arbitration for Molina

Giants opt against arbitration for Molina

SAN FRANCISCO -- Reflecting apparent economic uncertainty surrounding the free-agent market, the Giants declined to offer salary arbitration Tuesday to catcher Bengie Molina.

San Francisco thus will receive no compensation in next June's First-Year Player Draft if another team signs Molina, the only catcher classified as a Type A free agent in the Elias Sports Bureau rankings. Had the Giants offered Molina arbitration, his departure would have guaranteed them either a first- or second-round pick -- depending on the team's first-round position in the draft order -- and a "sandwich" choice between the first and second rounds.

Given Molina's desire for a multiyear deal and the Giants' belief that he'll secure one, San Francisco had been expected to offer him arbitration, since he conceivably would spurn the one-year, non-guaranteed contract that would come with the arbitration process.

But the Giants' braintrust concluded that some risk exists that Molina might opt for arbitration. Molina is coming off a three-year, $16 million contract that paid him a base salary of $6 million last season, and he almost surely would receive a handsome raise in arbitration -- perhaps approaching or even exceeding the value of some two-year contract offers he might receive.

Due to top prospect Buster Posey's imminent entrenchment as San Francisco's top catcher, the club is unwilling to offer Molina more than a one-year contract. But arbitration could limit the Giants' ability to fit Molina's salary within their budget. Retaining Molina at an expensive, arbitration-induced one-year wage would challenge San Francisco's ability to manage other potentially burdensome salary issues, most notably the astronomical raise that two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum will receive in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

"You don't want to get surprised by acceptance of arbitration at a salary level beyond what you're able to support," Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said.

Evans, who said that the Giants continue to believe that Molina will command a multiyear contract somewhere, didn't ridicule the widely held assumption that the team would offer the 35-year-old arbitration. But until salary scales for this offseason's free-agent crop become more defined, conventional wisdom won't apply.

"These are uncertain economic times for ballclubs," Evans said. "It's unclear what the market will support, even for a player of his caliber."

Widely considered the top offensive catcher in free agency, Molina hit .265 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs this year, bringing his three-year averages with the Giants to .278, 18 homers and 85 RBIs. The corresponding per-team averages this season for Major League catchers were .254, 16 homers and 73 RBIs. The Giants remain eligible to negotiate with Molina, though an accord seems unlikely.

As expected, the Giants also refused to offer arbitration to their three Type B free agents on the Elias list: left-hander Randy Johnson, outfielder Randy Winn and right-hander Bob Howry.

Johnson, 46, is said to be pondering whether he truly wants to return for a 22nd Major League season. As a free agent last offseason, he left the D-backs to sign a one-year, $8 million contract with the Giants.

Johnson secured his 300th career victory on June 4 while finishing 8-6 with a 4.88 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 96 innings. But he injured his throwing shoulder on July 5 against Houston in his 17th start of the season, which proved to be his last. Johnson recovered in time to make five relief appearances in September, but clearly felt uncomfortable with the role.

Winn, 35, batted .290 in 4 1/2 seasons with the Giants, but slumped to .262 with two home runs and 51 RBIs in 2009. The switch-hitter batted .292 left-handed, but just .158 right-handed last season.

Howry, 36, was 2-6 in 63 relief outings, but trimmed his ERA from 5.35 in 2008 to 3.39. Opponents batted .214 off Howry, the third-lowest average he has allowed in his 11-year career.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.