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I’m With PoPo: Molina Returns to the Giants

The embattled executive liked the older performer. He’d done well for them in the past. Sure, the “critics” were getting sick of the older guy’s schtick, but the executive appreciated all that he’d done for the organization. Still, it was clearly time to move on. After all, they had a much more talented younger guy waiting in the wings as a replacement.

Once the younger guy did get his chance, onlookers (and the younger guy himself) probably thought it was a permanent arrangement. The older guy seemed resigned to his fate and was moving on. Sure, his new spot seemed like it was going to be a total disaster, but you take what you can get, and the money certainly didn’t look too bad. While some older fans might have wanted to old guy back, the younger, hipper crowd certainly understood that the younger performer was the wave of the future. Maybe the executive, who had squandered his resources so often in the past, was finally getting it.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the executive decided to bring the older guy back in a way that could only mean a demotion for the younger guy. And the hipper crowd was understandably up in arms. The once-proud organization quickly became a laughingstock (again).

At least NBC and Jeff Zucker could point to the ratings. What is Brian Sabean’s excuse?

While the rough analogy to the Late Night situation could apply to the Giant’ whole Ryan GarkoAdam LaRocheAubrey Huff fiasco, it is more apt with regard to the decision to bring catcher Bengie Molina back for a reported one-year, $4.5 million, months after Giants General Manager announced that the ‘ship has sailed‘,” thus (apparently) paving the way for the promising young catching prospect Buster Posey to be the starter in 2010. It was not to be.

It’s not as if Molina is without his uses. CHONE’s context-neutral projection for Molina is .259/.286/.419, or 15 runs below average per 150 games in context-neutral linear-weights. That seems to be the general consensus: ZiPS projects Molina at .271/.298/.424, and I have him at .259/.287/.417. The line is ugly, but not that unusual for a catcher. CHONE’s projection for Molina’s defense is also below average at -3. Altogether: -15 offense -3 defense + 12 positional adjustment +20/150 replacement = 1.4 WAR, adjusted for 130 games to account for a catcher’s playing time, we get 1.2 WAR. After removing the replacement salary (about $400,000), the contract implies about $3.5 million per marginal win, pretty much in line with the market this off-season. So, in a vacuum, this is a decent signing.

The problem is, of course, that Molina is projected to be worth the money… but only if he gets about 130 starts in 2010. And the Giants already have someone in the 11:30 slot: Buster Posey, the fifth overall pick of the 2008 draft. Based on impressive minor league performances, CHONE‘s 2010 projection for Posey at is .265/.341/.402 (ZiPS has Posey roughly the same at .263/.343/.398), or -5/150. Defensively, CHONE projects him at -1. Over the same 130 games as Molina: -5 offense, -1 defense + 12 position +20/150 positional = 2.6 WAR, over 130 games that’s about 2.3 WAR.

In other words, San Francisco can get their (projected) money’s worth out of Bengie Molina, but only at the cost of giving him the majority of starts and blocking the younger, more talented, and, yes, less expensive player.

Maybe this makes sense of a level I haven’t explored: given the average age of the 2010 Giants’ starting position players, perhaps Brian Sabean simply prefers Jay Leno’s demographic.