Rays News

With d’Arnaud gone, who will the Tampa Bay Rays turn to?

By Austin Reimann
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MARCH 29: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros reaches for a throw that pulled him off the base and lead to Mike Zunino #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays being safe at first base in the third inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field on March 29, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MARCH 29: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros reaches for a throw that pulled him off the base and lead to Mike Zunino #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays being safe at first base in the third inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field on March 29, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) /
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With their former catcher Travis d’Arnaud signing a two year deal with the Atlanta Braves, what will the Tampa Bay Rays do behind the plate in 2020? Here are a few options:

It was reported by Marc Topkin that the Tampa Bay Rays were remaining in talks with Travis d’Arnaud, but shortly after, the former Rays catcher signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Braves for a total of 16M. With Yasmani Grandal and Travis d’Arnaud both off the board, the Rays will have to get creative in finding a solution behind the plate in 2020.

If the season started today, Mike Zunino and Michael Perez would serve as the catching duo but it is unclear if the Rays will cut ties with Mike Zunino and his projected 4.9M arbitration salary after an underwhelming offensive campaign last season. If they do indeed cut ties with Zunino there are a few intriguing free agent options that the Rays could turn to, but they also could turn to the trade market as well.

Option 1: Zunino and Perez 

There is a chance that the Rays stick with what they have in Zunino and Perez heading into 2020, although it seems unlikely due to the fact that they were reportedly showing interest in Travis d’Arnaud. With that in mind, they are probably in discussions with other free agent catching options and could also be canvasing the trade market as well.

Zunino caught 90 games for the Rays last season and while he was a solid defender, his bat was a major disappointment and is cause for concern on a team that struggles to score runs.

After making a strong first impression in 2018 , Perez was lost in the shuffle last season after the emergence of Travis d’Arnaud. He also battled injuries and only managed to appear in 22 games with the Rays in 2019, spending most of the season in Triple-A. Perez though can provide the Rays with quality time off the bench and depth in Triple-A if they choose to find a pair of new catchers or someone to pair with Zunino.

Option 2: Jason Castro 

MLB Trade Rumors Projected Contract: 2 years – $10 million

With d’Arnaud no longer an option, the most likely free agent catcher the Rays would sign may be Jason Castro. The nine-year veteran played in 79 games last season for the Twins and slashed .232/.332/.435 with 13 bombs. A defense-first catcher, Castro has never really been known as a threat at the plate and as a result the Rays may choose to stick with Zunino and hope for an offensive resurgence.

His strikeout rate is similar to Zunino’s and may lead the Rays to look into other options if they are more interested in offense, which would be the primary reason for non-tendering Zunino.

Option 3: Robinson Chirinos 

MLB Trade Rumors Projected Contract: 2 years – $10 million

If the Rays choose to sign an offense-first catcher this offseason, Robinson Chirinos would be the guy. Chirinos, who made his debut with the Rays in 2011, has carved out a nice career for himself playing primarily for the Rangers and most recently the Houston Astros last season.

Entering his age 36 season, Chirinos may be looking at another one year deal similar to the one he signed last offseason with the Astros for 5.75M. He played in 114 games, slashing .238/.347/.443 with 17 bombs. He was worth 3.8 bWAR, but his defense has taken a back seat as he has aged. His strikeout percentage is lower than Zunino’s (28..6% vs 33.9%) and his walk percentage is higher (11.7% vs 6.9%).

This could lead the Rays to think about Chirinos as a possible replacement, but his lacking defense may be too big of an obstacle for the Rays to look past.

Option 4: Trade for Wilson Contreras

Possibly the most radical option for the Rays this offseason, trading for Wilson Contreras could prove to be worth the presumably hefty asking price. The Cubs are rumored to be open to trading their all-star catcher this offseason in an attempt to prolong their window of contention.

An all-star for the second time in as many seasons, Wilson Contreras has steadily progressed to be one of the most talented catchers in the game, and if he is indeed available, the Rays should make every attempt to snag him.

Last season he slashed an impressive .272/.355/.533 with 24 bombs and 64 runs batted in with a lower strikeout percentage and a higher walk percentage than Zunino. While his defense is still a work in progress, there is a consensus that he is improving behind the plate as he matures.

Even more appealing than his bat, is the fact that he is under team control through 2022, making the steep asking price (one that Rays can easily afford) worthwhile. Not only could he provide the power from the right side that the Rays are searching for, but he can provide the stability at a position that the Rays have struggled to find over the duration of the franchise.

This may be the most radical choice, but it is a route the Rays must explore aggressively this offseason.

Of course, the Rays will exhaust every resource as they look to maximize the talent on the 25 man roster and they surely have their eyes on other options behind the dish as well. What we will know is whether the Rays intend to stick with Zunino due to the fact that they will have to make a decision by December 2nd, the non-tender deadline.

Next. Just how cheap are the Rays?. dark

Once they make a decision regarding Zunino’s future in Tampa Bay, we will have a clearer view of what the Rays plan on doing to address the catching situation. Until then, all we can do is sit back and speculate.

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