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What Bengie Molina Represents

At the risk of repeating myself, one of the most important things that fans and players alike can remember is this:

When fans boo players or curse them out, it is almost always an editorial comment on the decision by the front office or manager to put the player in the position he’s in.

There are exceptions, of course. Armando Benitez was just an unlikable tub of goo. There are players who don’t try their hardest, don’t run out groundballs, or who curse the fans out. Those players earn their boos. Most of the time, though, a player is getting razzed because he shouldn’t be out there. When Marvin Benard would break in, back, up, and then back again to run after a fly ball, the boos didn’t translate to "Marvin Benard is a bad human being, and I object to his presence on this planet", it translated to "Jeez, guys, can’t you scrounge up a better centerfielder?" We’ll just ignore the concept that Benard would probably one of the best options to hit in the middle of this lineup.

Now Bengie Molina isn’t getting booed. On the contrary, most fans are still enamored of him, his veteran presence, and his leadership. But if this site made sounds, Molina would be getting some pretty loud boos. Actually, I could do a week-long series about what would happen if this site made sounds, but I digress. Every time Molina allows a passed ball, hacks at a pitch two feet off the plate, or grounds into a double play, the comments in the GameThreads are less than cordial.

It isn’t just this site, though. It’s fans all over the internet, from Extra Baggs comments to Facebook status updates. The internet baseball nerd demographic is a little tired of Bengie Molina. Here’s my best guess as to why:

What Bengie Molina represents

  • An organizational philosophy that was proven to be ineffective. Plugging each and every lineup hole through free agency isn’t cost effective, and it’s likely to leave the team with overpaid, declining players
  • A reminder that the front office values on-base percentage much, much, much lower than it should. I don’t think that Brian Sabean or Bruce Bochy are unaware that Molina has the worst on-base percentage in the National League, I just think they are able to justify it somehow. They’re able to say, "yeah, but his RBI/clutch presence/power makes up for it," and that’s a very specious argument. Dead wrong, even.
  • A reminder that the front office has been unable to find an acceptable cleanup hitter by any means necessary for several years now

Every time Molina is up, these things are at least tickling our subconscious. He’s a walking metaphor. Wait, he doesn’t walk. He’s a hacking metaphor. He’s everything that led us down the dark post-Bonds days, and he’s everything that’s keeping this fantastic pitching staff out of the playoffs. Not him personally, of course, but as a representation of the flawed organizational approach to roster construction. He’s still a worthwhile player. His defense isn’t as bad as a lot folks make it out to be; I’d dare say it’s quite good most of the time. And his bat plays at catcher. He’s right in the middle of the pack of catchers.

But he’s not a cleanup hitter. He’s not an offensive centerpiece. Heck, he’s not even someone who can contribute to a lineup other than the occasional home run, but even that limited value is almost completely negated by his penchant for making outs. And now there’s a golden boy in the wings, and it’s really easy to poke at Molina.

What Buster Posey represents:

  • An organizational commitment to the draft, including a willingness to draft the best player available, regardless of bonus demands
  • The possibility of an honest-to-goodness high on-base percentage hitter
  • An organizational commitment to building through the farm system, which is cost-effective and a way to put the team in a position to overpay for last-piece-of-the-puzzle-type free agents. It’ll be a lot easier to justify overpaying for, oh, Prince Fielder next year if the rest of the infield is homegrown and far away from free agency

So maybe it was a little goofy to think that Posey would get a lot of at-bats under Bochy. It was a little premature to think that a rookie catcher could/should just jump into a playoff race and replace the cleanup hitter and caddy to the league-best pitching staff. But this is why we’re anxious. This is why folks are starting to grumble about Molina being overly sensitive, or why people are counting the days until Molina’s not on the team.

He’s been a good Giant. He’s lived up to his contract, and then some. I'm sure every member of the pitching staff that's kept us in contention this year will tell you that Molina's been a huge part of the success. I’ll have fond memories of a lot of Molina moments. He’s just the old way of doing things. Now that the Giants are (almost) out of the playoff race because of the old way, it’s only natural to look forward to the new way with an almost irrational exuberance.

Thanks for having been a good Giant, Bengie. The past tense used in that last sentence, though, is entirely necessary.