Blue Jays keep Molina behind plate
Club exercises $1.2 million option on veteran catcher for 2011
The Blue Jays answered one of the questions about their catching situation on Wednesday afternoon, choosing to keep veteran catcher Jose Molina in the fold for the 2011 season.
Toronto exercised the $1.2 million club option included in Molina's contract, retaining the catcher for one more year. The Blue Jays also have highly touted catching prospect J.P. Arencibia in the picture, as well as an upcoming free agent in All-Star catcher John Buck.
Prior to announcing the club's decision to retain Molina, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos called Buck and discussed the situation. On Tuesday, Anthopoulos spoke with Buck's agent. In both cases, Anthopoulos expressed that Toronto still has interest in re-signing Buck, but the matter of playing time and the possibility of three options still needs to be sorted out.
"I think John's exact words were, 'It sounds like a great problem to have,'" Anthopoulos said on Wednesday.
For now, the only certainty is that Molina will be back with the Blue Jays, most likely serving as a part-time catcher or pure backup option. Much depends on Buck's status and whether he opts to seek a full-time job elsewhere or decides to return to Toronto for a follow-up to his breakout showing last year.
Buck knows as well as the Blue Jays that Arencibia's time as a starting catcher is coming. Whether that time is 2011 remains to be seen and Anthopoulos sounded hesitant to declare Arencibia a legitimate option as the starter behind the plate come Opening Day.
"I do know that we're very high on J.P. Arencibia," Anthopoulos said. "We think he's going to be a very good player. Like most young players, I don't know when it's all going to come together for him and he's going to emerge as a front-line guy."
Molina, 35, hit .246 with six home runs, four doubles and 12 RBIs in 57 games for the Blue Jays in 2010. Serving as the primary backup to Buck, Molina threw out 40.6-percent of potential basestealers this past season. Toronto had until Nov. 1 to make a decision on his option.
Coming off a breakout season, in which he hit .281 with 20 home runs and 66 RBI, Buck might be in line for a multi-year deal through free agency. Buck has expressed interest in remaining with the Blue Jays, but he also wants to be in a situation where he is the No. 1 option behind the plate.
Buck projects to be a Type B free agent, meaning he will be worth one compensatory pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft if he declines arbitration and signs with another team. If Buck does sign elsewhere, Anthopoulos is not certain the Jays are content with heading into next season with Molina and Arencibia as the only options.
"It's tough to say," Anthopoulos said. "That's something that I'm going to continue to talk to [Blue Jays manager] John Farrell about. There's no question with the year that John Buck had last year, being an All-Star, to lose him it's hard to say you're a better team doing that. John brings a lot to the table.
"With any young player, it's hard to count on them. But at the same time, J.P., at some point has learned everything he can in the Minor Leagues and he needs to be challenged at the big league level."
The 24-year-old Arencibia was the Pacific Coast League's Most Valuable Player with Triple-A Las Vegas and got a brief taste of the Major Leagues last year with the Blue Jays. Due to the presence of Buck and Molina, Arencibia's playing time in Toronto was sporadic.
In 104 games with Las Vegas this season, Arencibia hit .301 with 32 home runs, 36 doubles and 85 RBIs. It marked his second full season at Triple-A and fourth year in the Jays' Minor League system since being selected in the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
Anthopoulos said it was still being determined whether Arencibia's immediate future was as a backup or a part-time player. The Blue Jays general manager also noted that Arencibia, or the club's other catchers, could possibly see additional playing time in the designated hitter role.
No matter what happens, the Blue Jays at least protected themselves by keeping Molina in the mix.
"We really don't have the answers right now," Anthopoulos said. "But ultimately, not knowing what was going to happen with John, not knowing where the market was going to lead, and we expect it to be a very strong and healthy market, [retaining Molina] was one of those things [where] we couldn't allow ourselves to be left naked at that position."