After missing out on Travis d’Arnaud, the Tampa Bay Rays opted to sign Mike Zunino to a 1 year deal with an option for 2021.
The deal between the Tampa Bay Rays and Mike Zunino which was first reported by Juan Toribio of MLB.com is reportedly worth 4.5M with a team option for 2021 also worth 4.5M that could grow to 5.25M with incentives.
With the non-tender deadline approaching, uncertainty surrounded Mike Zunino’s future in Tampa Bay due to his sub par year at the plate last season. Now, after missing out on Travis d’Arnaud, the Rays have re-committed to the University of Florida product.
Despite the offensive shortcomings last season, Zunino is an outstanding defensive catcher, which is something the Rays put a lot of stock in. This investment in Zunino shows that they have faith that he can return to the power threat he was in Seattle prior to their acquisition of him last offseason.
Last season, Zunino played in 90 games and slashed .165/.232/.312 with a .544 OPS. He hit 9 bombs and drove in 32 runs. His high strikeout percentage (33.9%) may raise eyebrows, but it is nothing out of the ordinary as his career K% is 34.2%. This is something the Rays have seemingly come to grips with and will sacrifice contact at the plate for the upside of power and defensive prowess behind the plate.
The Rays are surely hoping for a return to his 2017 form when he slashed .251/.331/.509 with 25 bombs and 64 runs batted in, and if he does find his 2017 swing, 4.5M is a bargain.
Across a shortened 2016 season and full 2017 season, he hit a combined .238 with 37 bombs across 179 games. If he can find a middle ground between last season that stretch, their investment will be well worth it.
The question that now remains for the Rays is whether they will lean on Michael Perez to be the backup catcher or if they will go out and sign Robinson Chirinos or Jason Castro to a 1-2 year deal to pair with Zunino in 2020 and possibly 2021.
Juan Toribio said this regarding the above scenario:
"With Zunino secured, it’s still likely that the Rays will look at the trade or free-agent market to improve at the position. Tampa Bay has Michael Perez on the roster, but he doesn’t have much Major League experience and could start the season in Triple-A Durham as a quality depth piece at the position."
It will be something to keep an eye on, but for now it appears as though the attention this offseason will turn to finding some power from the right side of the plate and further solidifying an already strong bullpen.