ST. PETERSBURG — For most of the past three seasons, Rays officials insisted veteran catcher Jose Molina's ability to frame pitches and coax extra strikes from umpires offset other deficiencies in his game.
But no longer, as the Rays, with Matt Silverman now heading baseball operations, decided to cut ties, designating Molina for assignment at Thursday's midnight deadline to set their 40-man roster. They have 10 days to trade Molina or release him and eat his $2.75 million salary for 2015.
They also made a trade, sending veteran reliever Joel Peralta and prospect Adam Liberatore to the Dodgers, and former boss Andrew Friedman, in return for pitcher Jose Dominguez and minor-league pitcher Greg Harris.
So by the end of the long night, the Rays announced at 12:30 a.m. they had added six players to their 40-manroster, protecting them from being taken in next month's Rule 5 draft: Dominguez plus catcher Justin O'Conner, outfielder Mikie Mahtook, infielder Ryan Brett, and pitchers Matt Andriese and Grayson Garvin.
To make room, they also designated infielder Cole Figueroa and recently acquired pitcher Michael Kohn.
"Joel's significance to the Rays transcended his on-field performance. He was a clubhouse leader who always sought ways to make the organization better," Silverman said in a statement. "We thank him and Jose Molina for their contributions and veteran leadership, and we will wish them well in their futures."
Dominguez, 24, made the Dodgers' opening day roster but spent much of the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, going 1-2 with 10 saves and a 3.24 ERA (33⅓ IP, 12 ER) while missing time with an injured shoulder, though he returned to pitch in the minor-league playoffs. He will compete for a spot in the Rays bullpen but has options and could open at Triple-A Durham. Rays vice president Chaim Bloom cited his "electric stuff.''
Silverman described making a trade with long-team colleague and close friend Friedman, who left the Rays after 10-plus years last month, as "smoothly awkward.''
"When evaluating a deal you often try to put yourself in the other person's shoes,'' Silverman said, "and in this case that wasn't very hard to do.''
O'Conner, known most for his tremendous arm, made it to Double A last season (hitting .278 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs between Class A Charlotte and Montgomery) and just concluded a solid Arizona Fall League season, though is still a couple of years away. Mahtook, a first-round pick in 2011, made a successful jump to Triple A last season (.292, 12 homers, 68 RBIs) and could see time in the majors this season if there were injuries.
Andriese, acquired from San Diego in the same deal that netted Brad Boxberger and Logan Forsythe, pitched at Triple A (11-8, 3.77) and could be a candidate for the open rotation spot at the start of the season, or to fill in during. Brett hit .303 with a .794 OPS at Double-A Montgomery. Garvin was 1-8, 3.77 for the Double-A Biscuits in 20 starts, having battled injuries.
"The roster deadline is always a busy day, and today we added six new players with very bright futures to our 40-man roster," Bloom said.
Molina started 70 games last season for the Rays, and played in 80 total, throwing out only 12 of 50 base stealers and batting .178 with only two extra-base hits. His .187 slugging percentage was the lowest for any major-leaguer with at least 200 plate appearances since 1968.
The Rays have Ryan Hanigan as their primary catcher and Curt Casali as a potential backup, though seem likely to look for a more experienced option.
There was some question last month whether the Rays would pick up Peralta's $2.5-million option given the plans to lower payroll, but they have may have done so eyeing a possible trade. Liberatore had a tremendous season at Triple-A Durham, posting a 1.66 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 65 innings, and was a candidate to be added to the Rays roster. Harris , 20, was 7-6, 4.45 ERA in 22 games (16 starts) for Class A Great Lakes.
• The Rays this afternoon are expected to trim the 10-man managerial field and bring in a yet-to-be-disclosed number of candidates for in-depth, in-person interviews. A final decision seems unlikely until after Thanksgiving.
The 10 candidates to interview are former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta, Indians bullpen coach (and Tampa native) Kevin Cash, Brewers special assistant Craig Counsell, former big-leaguer/ESPN analyst Doug Glanville, not-yet-retired Royals outfielder/DH Raul Ibanez, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, current Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, Triple-A manager Charlie Montoyo, former Mariners manager/Royals coach Don Wakamatsu and Giants bench coach Ron Wotus.
• Triple-A pitching coach Neil Allen is a finalist for the Twins pitching coach job on new manager Paul Molitor's staff. Allen, 56, has been in the Rays organization for eight seasons, the last four in Durham, and has earned raves from pitchers at all levels. Allen interviewed in the past with the Red Sox and Phillies.
• Third baseman Evan Longoria returned to the lineup and homered as the MLB all-star team wrapped up its 10-day tour of Japan with a 6-4 exhibition loss. Longoria left Tuesday's game after being hit by a pitch on the left forearm, but was said to have only a bruise.
New commish gets deal: Rob Manfred was given a five-year term as commissioner when he succeeds Bud Selig in two months. Owners voted the term at their meetings in Kansas City, Mo., their first meeting since electing Manfred on Aug. 14.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.