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Should the Tampa Bay Rays Release Jose Molina?

By Robbie Knopf
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November 20th is the deadline for teams to finalize their 40-man rosters prior to the Rule 5 Draft. The Tampa Bay Rays are running out of time to make room for all the prospects they want to protect, and extraneous players from their roster will have to go. One player that may jump out as not being worth his spot is Jose Molina. Molina’s 22 OPS+, an astounding 78% below league average, was the third-worst by any player since 1919 minimum 240 plate appearances. Why should the Rays possibly keep Molina after a season like that?

The complicating factor here is that the Rays owe Molina $2.75 million for this season, but maybe that shouldn’t matter. The Rays are going to pay it basically no matter what–no team is crazy enough to take it on–and they might as well just get it out of the way now. Before we say that releasing Jose Molina should be a foregone conclusion, though, there are two factors to consider: how the Rays would use his roster spot and who would be their backup catcher.

Currently the Rays’ 40-man roster stands at 38, and they have four prospects that clearly need to be protected: Ryan Brett, Justin O’Conner, Matt Andriese, and Mikie Mahtook. Beyond them, they would also like to keep Grayson Garvin, Adam Liberatore, and Taylor Motter from the Rule 5 Draft if possible. Clearly, the Rays have some players to designate for assignment, and the players whose jobs are most in jeopardy may be Steve Geltz, Brandon Gomes, and Cole Figueroa.

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Geltz got an opportunity in September and squandered it, Gomes has continuously failed to establish himself in the big leagues, and Figueroa has little upside as a backup infielder with no power or speed. The Rays have the relief depth to lose Geltz and Gomes, and Figueroa even seems likely pass through waivers. Just by getting rid of those three, the Rays would have room for five prospects, likely the first four above along with Garvin. Saying goodbye to Molina on top of that would allow them to protect Liberatore as well–but is that really worthwhile?

If the Rays added both Garvin and Liberatore, they would suddenly have a bevy of lefty relievers or potential relievers on their roster. In addition to Jake McGee and Jeff Beliveau on their big league team, they would have Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery, C.J. Riefenhauser, and then Garvin and Liberatore. It’s always nice to have depth, but Liberatore has clearly worse stuff than everyone in that group and really doesn’t give the Rays much at the end of the day.

Maybe then it would make sense for the Rays protect Motter over Liberatore, but the Rays’ righty-hitting backup pitcher is just as full. Motter would find himself behind Brandon Guyer, Sean Rodriguez, Logan Forsythe, and Tim Beckham just among righty-hitting bench players. Even if the Rays did prefer Motter to Liberatore, the difference still isn’t large enough to make losing Molina a no-brainer.

The Rays should only be getting rid of Jose Molina if he would give them no value at all this season. However, there is reason to think that he could give them something. Catcher is a more sparse position for the Rays at this point, with Ryan Hanigan and Curt Casali being the only other big league catchers the Rays have. Luke Maile could be ready before the season is through while Justin O’Conner may be the future of the position, but for right now, the Rays would have a worse situation without Molina.

Curt Casali looked overmatched at the plate last year and lacks much defensive upside thanks to poor arm strength. He could use more time at Triple-A to continue working on his offense, and it doesn’t make sense to hand him the backup catcher job. The Rays could bring back Chris Gimenez as a minor league free agent, but with middling defense and offense, he lacks a defining skill that help the Rays’ as much as Molina’s pitch-framing.

Molina, at the very least, gives you value defensively and can’t possibly be any worse at the plate. All the Rays need is a bridge for a few months until Casali or Maile is ready to be Hanigan’s tandem partner, and Molina can still give them that. It will not take much for Jose Molina to give the Rays more value than his 40-man roster spot would by itself. More poor performance this year could end his career, but it makes sense for the Rays to keep him for now.

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