Blue Jays sign former Yankee Molina

Blue Jays sign former Yankee Molina

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays understand that the coming season will be integral in the development of their young starting rotation. Bringing in short-term solutions behind the plate -- catchers known for their game-calling and defensive abilities -- is one way to help groom the talented crop of arms.

On Friday, the Blue Jays implemented that approach again, signing veteran catcher Jose Molina to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract. Molina will compete against Raul Chavez for the backup catching role behind John Buck, who was also signed to a one-year deal over the winter.

All three catchers are heralded for the way they call games and work with young pitchers. That is something that is important for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos during a period in which Toronto's youthful pitching staff is relatively inexperienced.

"Jose Molina, what he's known for is his defense, his game-calling, his leadership abilities," Anthopoulos said on Friday. "We got rave reviews from a lot of players who have thrown to him. What he does for a clubhouse, what he does to help young guys along, those are things that don't necessarily show up in a box score or on a stat sheet."

Last season with the Yankees, Molina served as the primary catcher for New York's A.J. Burnett, who pitched for the Blue Jays from 2006-08. Overall, the 34-year-old Molina hit .217 with one home run and 11 RBIs over 52 games with the Yankees in '09, throwing out runners at a 28-percent clip.

Over parts of 10 years in the big leagues, Molina has hit .235 with a .292 on-base percentage in stints with the Cubs, Angels and Yankees. He is not known for his skills in the batter's box, though. Defensively, Molina has posted a 37.4 caught-stealing percentage of 554 career games in the Majors.

With the Blue Jays, Molina is guaranteed only $400,000, but his salary will increase to $800,000 for 2010 if he makes Toronto's Opening Day roster. The one-year pact also includes a club option worth $1.2 million, giving the Blue Jays the insurance of added depth behind the plate if Molina performs well.

That aspect is important, considering Chavez is only under contract on a Minor League deal and Buck is only signed through 2010. Behind them, and now Molina, the Blue Jays' top catching candidate is prospect J.P. Arencibia, who is expected to begin this season with Triple-A Las Vegas.

"Any time you can get a club option on a deal, it certainly doesn't hurt you," Anthopoulos said. "It's just more flexibility for the club. There's obviously upside for the club should the player make the team and have a good season."

First, though, Molina will be aiming for a good spring.

Like Molina, Chavez is known for his defensive ability. Last year, the 36-year-old Chavez also entered Spring Training with the Blue Jays on a Minor League contract, but he eventually worked his way up to Toronto as the team's primary backup catcher. In 51 games for the Jays in '09, Chavez hit .258 with two home runs, 15 RBIs and a 38-percent caught-stealing rate.

Anthopoulos said manager Cito Gaston will ultimately have the final say on which catcher heads north as the Blue Jays' backup at the end of Spring Training.

"Raul Chavez did a great job for us last year, too," Anthopoulos said. "So it'll be an interesting competition in camp."

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