Being selected as the personal catcher for A.J. Burnett was one of the best things that happened to Jose Molina last season with the New York Yankees.
It was also one of the worst.
The move by New York manager Joe Girardi stirred up a controversy heading into the playoffs, as it meant less playing time for five-time all-star Jorge Posada - a superior hitter whose regular-season batting average of .285 was almost 70 points higher than Molina's.
While the move allowed Molina to play in the postseason and win the second World Series title of his 10-year career, he believes it also resulted in him becoming persona non grata in New York after the year was out.
The Yankees didn't tender a contract offer to Molina, and he was left in the cold until February, when he signed a one-year, $400,000 (U.S.) deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I think that was the key behind me leaving," Molina said. "I think Jorge was one of the guys who didn't like it. I don't think he had anything against me, but he probably didn't like the situation."
Molina is one of three catchers at Toronto's spring training camp vying for two openings on the 25-man roster.
John Buck (.247, eight home runs, 36 runs batted in, 59 games with Kansas City Royals last season) signed a one-year, $2-million contract as a free agent last December, and will be Toronto's main catcher heading into the 2010 season.
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston says Molina (.217, one homer, 11 RBI, 52 games) and Raul Chavez (.258, two homers, 15 RBI, 51 games with the Jays) are in a heated battle for the No. 2 gig this season.
But Molina is already talking like the job is his.
"What I've heard, Buck is the No. 1 guy and I'll be the backup," he said. "I know how to do my job."
As for Buck, he has no job security issues.
The 29-year-old has played six seasons in the major leagues, all with the Royals. He is highly regarded for his defensive skills but not so much his bat (.235 career). He comes in as the No. 1 catcher, whose job will be to help mould a young and mostly inexperienced pitching staff as the Blue Jays enter a rebuilding phase.
Last season, the Blue Jays employed 12 starting pitchers over the course of the season, and five of them - Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Robert Ray, Marc Rzepczynski and Brad Mills - made their major-league debut.
In the off-season, Toronto continued to stockpile young hurlers believed to have huge upside, including the likes of Kyle Drabek (part of the Roy Halladay trade to the Philadelphia Phillies) and Brandon Morrow (in a trade with the Seattle Mariners).
After Buck signed, he had the team to send him video on all the pitchers, so he could get a head start on trying to learn their tendencies. And now that he is seeing them live, Buck is impressed.
"It will probably be a couple years down the road, but I could see it being very exciting," Buck said. "Maybe an Atlanta Braves-type of thing. They really have the arms here."
Buck is also struck by the work ethic he has witnessed, which he believes is a legacy from the Halladay days.
"Doc may not be here but I can feel just what he's left here, the work ethic," Buck said. "Coming in at 6:30 in the morning, and I thought I was going to impress some people here, and some of the pitchers were walking out. They were done with their workouts, and that was pretty encouraging."
Buck said it is exciting to be able to help nurture a young pitching staff like Toronto's.
"The task at hand is nothing compared to what we were in Kansas City," he said. "The guys are ready right now. They may be young, they may be lacking experience, but they're ready. They have an idea, they know what works for them, they know what doesn't."
Gaston confirmed yesterday Romero will get the start in Toronto's first Grapefruit League game, tomorrow against Detroit Tigers.
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