Blue Jays land Molina

MIKE RUTSEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

General manager J.P. Ricciardi added one for the thumb.

The Blue Jays general manager yesterday put the final touch on his off-season makeover when he signed free-agent catcher Bengie Molina to a two-year deal.

Molina will receive $4.5 million US in 2006 with a mutual option worth $7.5 million in 2007. The deal also includes a $500,000 buyout if the Jays don't pick up the option.

"I'd definitely say it's a bonus," Ricciardi said last night of finalizing the contract with Molina. "It's something that came together late. It's something we've been pursuing for a while."

Molina, 31, is a two-time Gold Glove winner (2002 and 2003) while playing as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He can also swing the bat. Last year the right-handed hitter batted a career high .295 with 15 homers and 69 RBIs in 119 games. He also hit .393 (48-for-122) vs. left-handed pitching, tops in the American League.

Molina, who hails from Puerto Rico, is the fifth major player to be added to the Jays roster this winter. In December, Ricciardi signed free-agent pitchers A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan and later traded for first baseman Lyle Overbay and third baseman Troy Glaus.

Molina had been seeking a three-year, $18-million contract and just a week ago announced he would sit out the 2006 season rather than sign for a lesser amount.

The signing of Molina bumps incumbent Gregg Zaun into a backup role. Zaun, who hit .251 with 11 homers and 61 RBIS in 133 games last season, will earn $1 million in 2006, the final year of his two-year contract.

"The addition of Molina puts us in a better position, it allows us to be more flexible," Ricciardi said. "Let's say we're going against a tough left-hander. We can now put (Shea) Hillenbrand at first, have Molina DH and have Zaun catch. The players we have now gives Gibby (manager John Gibbons) a lot of flexibility."

The surprise is that a player of Molina's ability could have remained unsigned for such a long period of time.

"He has been a catcher on a World Series team (Angels in 2002), has a lot of experience and is excellent defensively," Ricciardi said. "He has been one of the better catchers in the American League and he makes us a better team."

The Jays originally offered Molina a one-year deal worth $4 million.

"At first we didn't think we'd have the money to sign him," Ricciardi said. "But it worked out, we got it done and we're at our budget of $75 million.

"I think we've maximized our money. I think we got a big bang for our buck."


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