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Tampa Bay signs free agent catcher Jose Molina

(Reuters) - The Tampa Bay Rays sorted out their catching needs for the 2012 Major League Baseball season by signing veteran Jose Molina to a one-year deal, the team said Monday.

The $1.5 million deal includes a club option to bring the 36-year-old Molina back in 2013 for the same salary, according to a report posted on the team's website.

Free agent Molina, an accomplished defensive catcher, hit a career-high .281 last season with the Toronto Blue Jays.

"Jose has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball over the past decade, and his presence will bring even more stability to our defense, and he will be a great asset to our young pitchers," said Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman.

Tampa Bay had created an opening for a veteran catcher by trading catcher John Jaso to the Seattle Mariners Sunday for reliever Josh Lueke, after earlier deciding not to pick up a $3.2 million club option to retain Kelly Shoppach.

Those moves left the Rays with only young catchers Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos on their major league roster.

Over his career, Molina has thrown out 153 of 410 attempted base stealers for a 37.3 percentage that ranks fourth best among active catchers who have played a minimum of 500 games.

The Rays witnessed his throwing ability first-hand in April when Molina, while playing for Toronto, threw out four Tampa Bay runners attempting to steal in the first four innings.

Molina has played in parts of 12 seasons for the Cubs, Angels, Yankees and Blue Jays with a .241 career batting average.

The native of Puerto Rico comes from a family of big league catchers. Older brother Bengie played 13 seasons before retiring after 2010, while younger brother Yadier has spent his eight-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals and won his second World Series ring with them last month.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)