On Wednesday night, the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants announced the swap of Chris Ray and a player to be named later for Bengie Molina. Molina’s purpose in Texas will be to improve the catching situation, which has been brutal thanks to the incompetence of Matt Treanor and the disappointing although underrated season from Max Ramirez.
The only problem for the Rangers is that Molina is not actually an upgrade. Rangers catchers have a season wOBA of .296, mostly thanks to Treanor’s .308 wOBA and Taylor Teagarden‘s 33 PAs of .139 wOBA. Max Ramirez has actually had an above average hitting season despite a .234 batting average. Thanks to his 15.0% BB rate, he’s posted a .336 wOBA this season. Bengie Molina, on the other hand, posted a .284 wOBA in the NL due to a complete lack of power, a penchant for fly balls, and possibly the slowest pair of legs in the majors.
Of course, half-season stats can only tell us so much, and it’s possible that we’re missing something about Ramirez, Treanor, and Molina by limiting ourselves to their performance so far. Treanor is likely playing over his head, as bad as that sounds. In 1,000 major league PAs, Treanor’s wOBA is .289, and his ZiPS (R) projection of .298 still leaves a bit to be desired. He does appear to be an above average catcher, according to our own Matt Klaassen’s catcher defense rankings. In those same rankings, Ramirez has been poor behind the plate, but at the plate he projects as a slightly better .306 wOBA for the rest of the season.
That’s certainly a bleak outlook on the catching front for Texas. The addition of Molina does nothing to change that, though. Molina’s .306 projected wOBA is identical to Ramirez’s and doesn’t account for the move to the better league. At best, the movement to the AL could be cancelled out by the move to the hitter’s park in Arlington, but there’s also a good chance that Molina’s poor performance will only be exacerbated by the tougher pitchers in the American League.
Molina’s defense and baserunning also leave much to be desired. Bengie ranks 82nd of 90 catchers in the aforementioned defensive rankings, at -2.5 runs already this season. His EQBRR, Baseball Prospectus’s baserunning metric, has him as an average baserunner this season. However, he was -4.5 runs last season and -7.1 two seasons ago; the chances that Molina repeats his average performance for the rest of the season are slim. Ramirez is a poor baserunner, as well, but Treanor has been above average in his last two recorded seasons, 2010 and 2008. Due to Molina’s deficiencies behind the plate and on the bases, he provides little, if anything, over Matt Treanor and Max Ramirez.
At least the Rangers didn’t give anything up to get Molina. Chris Ray is a below replacement level reliever, projected for a 4.60 FIP, and will likely perform worse, as he’s struck out 16 and walked 16 batters in 31.2 innings. However, this move likely precludes any improvement at the position. The Rangers also took on just under $2 million in salary when they probably could get similar production by recalling Jarrod Saltalamacchia from AAA. This move is just a headscratcher from Jon Daniels and the Rangers – it seems as if they’re acquiring a name more than anything else.
For the Giants, the return of Chris Ray isn’t what this trade is about. This trade is about finally opening a spot behind the plate for young Buster Posey. Posey hasn’t done much in his first 98 MLB plate appearances, but he’s been very promising in AAA and his .330 projected wOBA would make him a 3+ WAR player with upside. The Giants shouldn’t have re-signed Molina in the first place, but this is a good move by Brian Sabean to unload Molina and his remaining contract now that it’s absolutely clear that he is not a useful player. The Buster Posey era can now officially begin in San Francisco.