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07/22/07 12:58 AM ET

Yankees acquire Molina from Angels

Veteran backstop comes in trade for right-hander Kennard

NEW YORK -- The Yankees moved to bolster their catching depth on Saturday, acquiring backstop Jose Molina from the Angels for right-handed pitcher Jeff Kennard.

Molina, 32, is expected to help shoulder the load behind veteran All-Star catcher Jorge Posada, who is enjoying one of his finest offensive seasons for New York.

In a corresponding roster move, the Yankees plan to designate catcher Wil Nieves for assignment as soon as Molina joins the team in New York.

"We felt we upgraded ourselves, based on the fact that Molina had more experience," said manager Joe Torre. "He's been a regular at times. We just think [we needed a trade] for the long haul here this season, especially when we get into August and September, knowing how important those days are for Jorgie."

Molina was batting .224 (28-for-125) with no home runs and 10 RBIs in 40 games (37 starts) at catcher this season. He is expected to join the Yankees on Sunday, flying to meet the team from Minnesota, where the Angels are playing a series against the Twins.

"He can catch and throw extremely well, and he really shuts down the running game," general manager Brian Cashman said. "He's a quality backup catcher, at the very least, and he's a guy with some everyday experience as well. We just feel like we've upgraded, and that's obviously the name of the game."

One of three Molina brothers playing in the big leagues, Molina hit safely in 25 of his 37 starts for the Angels, throwing out seven of 25 basestealers (28 percent) this season. The Angels have a surplus of catchers in their system, including everyday backstop Mike Napoli.

"It's still a shock," said Molina, a longtime Angel who was on the 2002 World Series club. "It's hard sometimes to take it. I've been here so many years. You always expect to end up where you're at. What can you say? New York is one of the best places to play."

The Yankees have carried Nieves as Posada's understudy to this point, with Nieves having won the backup job over non-roster challenger Todd Pratt in Spring Training.

The Yankees plan to trigger the move designating Nieves as soon as Molina joins the team, which leaves open the possibility that Nieves could be on the roster for Sunday's series finale against Tampa Bay.

Pitchers enjoyed working with Nieves -- particularly right-hander Mike Mussina, who saw his ERA plummet from 6.52 to 4.61 over a period in which he worked exclusively with Nieves -- but the 29-year-old struggled offensively.

Ironically, Nieves' finest work at the plate came on the night of the trade, as he clubbed two doubles and drove home two runs in the second game of a doubleheader with the Devil Rays. He finished the game batting .164.

"That always seems to happen when they've got to send somebody down or release somebody," Nieves said. "They have their best game of the year. So it happens to me today, but that's the last thing I thought was going to happen when they called me to the manager's office.

"It's just business and I really want this team to go all the way to the playoffs and, hopefully, win the World Series. They're a bunch of great guys. I love them, Torre and all those guys. They can improve the backup catcher and they're bringing in Molina. He's a great catcher, too."

Kennard, 25, was 1-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 31 relief appearances for Double-A Trenton of the Eastern League this season. A 40th-round selection by the Yankees in the June 2000 First-Year Player Draft, he allowed 49 hits and 22 runs (16 earned) in 52 2/3 innings for the Thunder, walking 17 and striking out 47.

Cashman doesn't consider himself optimistic that the Yankees would make another trade before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but said that the organization remains open to possibilities.

"If we can upgrade our club, we'll pursue it if it makes sense," he said. "If this was an opportunity I could have done earlier, I would have done it, but this opportunity didn't present itself until officially now. We're open and have been to any ideas if [they] makes sense."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.