Pat Gillick and the Phillies should take a long, hard look at free agent catcher Bengie Molina. Signing him may not be as impossible as it seems.
With the focus of hot stove discussion centering around pitching, here's a friendly reminder that the future of the Phillies' catcher position is even more bleak.
Mike Lieberthal’s contract runs out after the season. He won’t be back. Sal Fasano, the current No. 2, is a career Triple-A catcher. Carlos Ruiz has never played in a big-league game. Indications are the team does not view him as the next starting catcher.
If the Phillies are to secure this position beyond Lieberthal, the answer must come from the outside. The best available catcher is Bengie Molina, and man, he’s rock solid.
Hardball Times Win Shares has Molina as the 9th-best catcher in baseball, and the 7th-best defender. Already a two-time Gold Glove winner, the bonus is that he can hit. Molina batted .295/.336/.446 with 15 homers and 17 doubles. He’s 31, and his numbers are on the rise.
But for some reason, Molina has dropped off the map of free agent discussions. According to the Angels' Web site, he's entertained one offer from the Yankees, but nothing more. His name has been bantered around at length among the Beerleaguer inner-email circle (comment guru George S. is commander of the Bengie brigade).
But on the ESPN Insider big board, he’s not even listed. Even a stiff like Rich Aurilia is listed. What gives?
Mmm. Here’s a thought. Pat Gillick gave Molina’s agent an early ring and said “Stick around. I’m trying to free some salary. I want Bengie. We need a catcher.”
What about the competition, you ask? What competition? Which teams are in the market for veteran catchers? Not the Mets; they traded for Paul LoDuca. Not the Orioles; they signed Ramon Hernandez for four years. The rest of the division doesn’t need one, or can’t afford one. Among the bigger spenders around baseball, there appears to be only a few teams in the running, including the Phillies, maybe the Yankees and perhaps the Dodgers.
There are other clues. What’s this Padilla non-tender all about? What’s this cost cutting, in general, all about? It can't be pitching, not this season, not when the free agent well has run dry.
Call me crazy, but Molina could be a bright, red blip on Pat Gillick’s radar ... and Gillick's radar alone.