With the Braves signing catcher Travis d’Arnaud yesterday, it was pretty clear that he was very well-liked by his Rays teammates. He was widely praised for his work with the pitching staff and on the field in addition to his positive influence on the clubhouse. For a Rays team that nearly shocked the overwhelmingly favored Houston Astros in the playoffs, it appears as though d’Arnaud’s teammates considered him to be an important part of their success.
However, the bigger issue is that this move left the Rays in need of a catcher. Given that this is the Rays were are talking about, they were never likely to spend a lot in free agency or give up a ton in a trade to fill that need, that left their options somewhat limited. As it turns out, they did not have to look far.
BREAKING: #Rays working to finalize deal to sign Zunino to 1-year contract for $4.5M, with 2021 option worth $4.5-5.25M. Clearly banking on offensive rebound from former #Mariners catcher. Announcement possible later today. More soon on tampabay dot com.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) November 25, 2019
Mike Zunino has had a bit of an, well...the nice way to say it is an up and down MLB career. He generally grades out reasonably as a defender and he remains as one of the catchers in baseball with the greatest pop in his bat.
The problem is with his hit tool which is....suspect. Outside of 2017 which saw him put up a career year and bat .251, he generally hits around .200 with some decent power numbers. Last year was particularly rough as he put up a .544 OPS in 90 games with the Rays and saw his playing time diminish over the course of the season.
However, the Rays clearly think that it is possible for him to bounce back and potentially be a positive force in their lineup. Given the financial commitment, the team isn’t risking much by giving him a shot.