The murmur around Tampa Bay has become that the Rays lost their ALDS playoff series with Boston due to a young pitching staff that was talented but not experienced.
That analysis may be partly true, but as the Rays move forward into 2022, it will be with that young pitching staff that has added some experience to its talent.
The question for the Rays is, “To whom will those young pitchers be throwing?”
Before the end of the 2021 season, the answer may have been simple. It has perhaps become a bit clouded. The question looms around catcher Mike Zunino.
Zunino’s current contract with the Rays has a club option for 2022 that started at $4 million but has now grown to $7 million because of incentives. The option would jump to $7 million if Zunino played over 100 games, which he did.
Zunino played in 109 games for the Rays, which seems questionable considering his slash line of .216/.301/.559 (batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage). This season, however, Zunino hit 33 home runs.
Rays catcher Mike Zunino can crush the ball
His offensive output made him the third-highest-rated catcher in the American League in wRC+. FanGraphs.com defines it as:
"Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects. League average for position players is 100."
Zunino had 134 wRC+, putting him behind only Yasmani Grandal (159) and Mitch Garver (137). Rays’ manager Kevin Cash has repeatedly praised the defensive work of Zunino, noting that it becomes a given after a while and may not even be realized.
Zunino has also been praised for his handling of pitchers, mainly because Zunino is considered selfless and primarily concerned with getting the best in pitcher performance than with himself.
Not that it also matters, but Zunino is a Florida native, having attended Mariner High School in Cape Coral and then the University of Florida, It would be nice to keep a Florida boy at home.
There was a time when a catcher who hit .216 would be anathema to me, especially when he strikes out almost 40 percent of the time.
Nonetheless, it seems like it would be an easy decision for the Rays, but as we have seen, nothing is an easy decision for the Rays. Ultimately, however, they do make the correct decision.
Considering who else is available in the market, bringing back Zunino should be an easy decision to make.