In Rays news from Friday, roster changes for 2021 have started as options on Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino were declined.
Starting pitcher Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino were told by the Tampa Bay Rays Friday that options on their contract for 2021 were not going to be exercised. It is little surprise with Morton’s contract worth $15m and Zunino’s value being $4.5m.
This may not be the end of the road for the players and the Rays, but any successful negotiations will see a vast reduction in their 2020 contracts. The Rays’ payroll is traditionally small, compared to many franchises, in normal times, but on the back of 2020’s truncated season then finances will be tight in 2021.
Morton will be 37 when the 2021 season starts and has limited time left before retirement. The pitcher may decide that a World Series appearance is time to go. Morton has indicated that he would like to stay at the Rays, but free agency does give him the opportunity for one more payday elsewhere. That needs to be viewed against relocating his family from Florida.
In 2020, Morton posted 4.74 ERA from his nine games played. Not overly encouraging but the Rays were happy to trust him with game 7 of the World Series but that, as we all know, was not required. One place that Morton may end up is back at the Astros. Also, the Red Sox may be interested in the pitcher.
Zunino is a Florida native and may well want to stay at the Rays. At 29, he has plenty of years ahead of him and the Rays will not necessarily want to lose the nucleus of the team that reached the World Series.
One area that Zunino does need to improve in 2021 is his batting average. A batting average of .147 is well below his career average and was a contributory factor in the postseason for the Rays’ inability to score.
Zunino was not the only Rays pitcher to find himself released yesterday. Michael Perez was placed onto waivers and the Pirates came in for the 28-year-old. Also, number three catcher Kevan Smith cleared waivers and is now a free agent. Clearly, the Rays are looking at catching options and have cleared the way to get better value for the money. Zunino may still be included in that equation.
It is a busy start to the off-season, including Aaron Loup becoming a free agent, and there is going to be plenty of work done by Erik Neander and his team before the roster is finalized.