Christmas came early for Tampa Bay Rays’ fans this year due to the one-year, $1.8 million signing of Jose Molina. Molina is one of the famous Molina brothers; his older brother Benjamin recently retired from baseball while his younger brother Yadier is a gold-glove winner with the St. Louis Cardinals. Molina recently played with the Toronto Blue Jays where he showed that even former Ray Carl Crawford could not steal against him. In one game in 2010, Molina was able to catch a total of four Rays stealing, including Crawford twice. This is not a surprise since he has caught 62 out of 170 runners in the past four seasons, boasting the highest percentage (36.5%) in major league baseball. The Rays have had recent trouble catching runners so this will prevent teams, like the Texas Rangers, from stealing bases off the Rays. Molina is also coming off his best batting year since he batted .281, even though he only caught for fifty games. His career batting average is .241, which is about the average the Rays batted in 2011. Another plus of the Molina deal is he is signed for only $1.8 million; a pleasant surprise after the Rays wasted $6 million on Kelly Shoppach who batted under .200 with two seasons with the Rays. (The Rays declined Shoppach’s option this off-season). Molina’s veteran presence will also help prepare current minor league catchers Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos. Before spending some time with the Blue Jays and New York Yankees, he spent several years with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, thus he has worked with Joe Maddon before. The Rays’ catching problems have finally been addressed with Jose Molina.
The other Rays’ catcher, John Jaso, was recently traded to the Seattle Mariners for right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lueke. Lueke was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2007 but was traded during the Cliff Lee deal to the Seattle Mariners. He made his major debut in 2011, pitching 32.2 innings for an ERA of 6.06; though his ERA is not exactly impressive, he is known for his fast ball. In late November, Lueke was traded to the Rays in hopes of becoming a threat in their bullpen. The 2011 season bullpen was built from scratch and though a few pitchers showed prospect throughout the season, it is currently still a work-in-process that is currently being addressed this off-season. The biggest surprise of the trade was not Lueke’s ERA but his criminal history; he had faced felony charges in rape and sodomy. In May 2008, Lueke and his Class A teammates were at a bar in Bakersfield, California where they met several women. The women went back to the Lueke’s apartment that he shared with some of his Class A teammates. It was there that a 22-year-old woman claimed to have passed out drunk on the bathroom floor after vomiting. When she awoke, she was confused and felt violated. Lueke was then charged with sexual assault but he claimed he never touched her. In March 2009, DNA tests linked Lueke to semen found inside the women. Lueke changed his story and claimed that the sex was consensual and that he had only lied because he did not want his girlfriend to find out. Lueke was arrested. As the trial wore on, the victim gave her consent for prosecutors to offer a plea deal because was becoming depressed due to the stress of the trial. Lueke pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and was sentenced to the 42 days he spent in jail before posting bail and sentenced to three years of felony probation. Lueke’s criminal past is something new to the Tampa Bay Rays since the majority of players are young players with clean images unlike several major league teams known for players with big egos and tempers. It will be interesting to see if Lueke will positively impact the bullpen and if he will be accepted as a Ray by the fans.
“Catcher Molina and Tampa Bay Rays Agree,” The Washington Post
“Jose Molina Career Stats,” Baseball-Reference.com
“Josh Lueke Career Stats,” Baseball-Regerence.com
Geoff Baker, “Coach says Mariners were told of Josh Lueke’s Criminal Past,” The Seattle Times