The Rays are making at least a fallback move for a backstop. Veteran catcher Jose Molina, a 36-year-old who spent last season with Toronto, was set to sign a contract with the Rays just before or after Thanksgiving, according to multiple media reports.
In Molina, the Rays have a veteran who is strong defensively and can play at least a backup or a platoon role as they seek to acquire a front-line catcher. If not, they say they are content to go into the season with a tandem, and they can pick the other member from a cast of returnees that includes John Jaso, Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos.
Molina, who reportedly will sign a one-year deal with an option, ranks fourth among active catchers in throwing out 40 percent of attempted base-stealers and is known for his handling of pitching staffs. He has played on several winning teams, including the 2002 champion Angels, for whom Rays manager Joe Maddon was the bench coach.
Molina hit a decent .281 last season for Toronto in 55 games. However, his career average is .241, and he has never hit more than six homers in a season.
--C/DH/OF Stephen Vogt, who led the Rays organization with 105 RBI while splitting time between Class AA Montgomery and Class AAA Durham, was among three players added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft. Vogt, who hit .305, could have a shot to make the 25-man roster given his versatility. Also added were prospects RHP Alexander Colome, a 22-year-old who went 12-9, 3.82 for Class A Charlotte and Montgomery, and RHP Wilking Rodriguez, a 21-year-old who was 1-4, 5.00 for short-season Hudson Valley and low Class A Bowling Green.
--RHP Adam Russell, the least successful of the three relievers acquired by the Rays in the December 2010 trade that sent SS Jason Bartlett to San Diego, signed a minor league deal with the Braves. Russell made Tampa Bay's Opening Day roster but struggled much of time -- though ending up with a decent 3.03 ERA for 36 appearances -- and was designated for assignment on July 28 and outrighted to Class AAA. He became a minor league free agent at the end of the season. The Rays also acquired LHP Cesar Ramos and RHP Brandon Gomes in the Bartlett deal.
--RHP Jeremy Hellickson is not satisfied with his 2011 performance -- a 13-10 record and 2.95 ERA -- that resulted in the AL Rookie of the Year award. "You really have to improve on everything," Hellickson said. "I started doing a better job this year of holding the runners. I think that had a lot to do with my success this year. I worked on my pitches during the year, made some of my pitches better -- you have to improve on everything. You can't ever be satisfied, so I'll keep working on everything this offseason."
--C Kelly Shoppach had interest in staying with the Rays even after they declined his $3.2 million option for 2012, but that possibility is apparently over with the expected signings of veteran C Jose Molina. Shoppach hit just .176 for the Rays but was praised for his defense and game-calling.
--Team president Matt Silverman was not ready to immediately assess the impact of the new labor agreement on the Rays, who seem likely to be hurt by the limitations placed on draft spending. "This is the first we are all seeing of the agreement," Silverman said in a statement issued by the team. "We will need time to read and digest it before we are in a position to discuss its impact on the Rays."
--LHP Scott Kazmir, an All-Star with the Rays who struggled after being traded to the Angels, is on the comeback trail. Kazmir, released last season, will pitch in the Dominican winter league, according to an ESPN report.
BY THE NUMBERS: 26 -- Major league teams that had fewer complete games this year than the 11 thrown by Tampa Bay RHP James Shields.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If I am half as successful as he is right now in five years, I'll be happy." -- RHP Jeremy Hellickson, after becoming the first starting pitcher to win AL Rookie of the Year since Detroit's Justin Verlander in 2006.