2010 is not exactly a banner year for free agent catchers. Bengie Molina will enter the hot stove league as the only type A catcher available*, according to Cot’s Contracts 2010 free agents list. Bengie Molina has been a standby in the league for years, but he will be 35 for most of the 2010 season.
*Assuming the Red Sox pick up Victor Martinez‘s $7M 2010 option
Bengie’s career has been a model of consistency. Since 2003, he’s put up 14.8 WAR, for an average of 2.1 WAR per season, and has always stayed within the 1.0 to 3.0 WAR range. Keep in mind, however, that our catcher WAR on FanGraphs doesn’t take defense into account. We can be relatively certain that he is not the gold glover of 2002 and 2003, though. His CS% has dropped from 40%+ from 1999-2003 to 32% for his career now. Also, the elder Molina doesn’t excel on the bases, and WAR doesn’t include non-SB baserunning, depressing his value even more.
Given Molina’s age, production, and previous contract (6M in 2009), it’s hard to imagine the Giants offering Molina arbitration, especially with Buster Posey almost ready. As such, he likely won’t have the dreaded type-A tag that doomed Orlando Hudson to a contract with a base salary of only $3.38 million.
So what can he expect? With his wOBA dropping below .310 for the first time since 2002, it’s fair to say 2009 was a down season. His BABIP of .273 was only 8 points below his career average. Still, a catcher with a wOBA of .308 is still valuable on the free agent market. However, teams will be taking into account the fact that Molina is aging and his defensive value will only drop as the years go on.
Jason Varitek, with a similar 2008 to Molina’s 2009, received a 5 million dollar contract. Molina might be able to expect something similar, but he doesn’t have the “captain” moniker to aid him. Still, he does hit for power – his .177 ISO ranked 3rd in the majors this year. If he can avoid injuries and provide near-average defense, his power will make him a 1.0+ win player, with a 4 million dollar contract or more on a one-year deal. Plenty of teams will have needs at catcher. The question is which one wants Bengie.
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