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Rays finalize trade of Mallex Smith for Mike Zunino in five-player deal

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New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Rays officially announced the five player swap built around Mallex Smith and Mike Zunino this morning. The full trade is as follows:

Rays get:

  • C Mike Zunino
  • OF Guillermo Heredia
  • LHP Michael Plassmeyer

Mariners get:

  • OF Mallex Smith
  • OF Jake Fraley

Mike Zunino is the prize of this trade for the Rays. Here is the relevant information on Zunino from the Rays press release:

Over the last two seasons, [Zunino’s] 45 home runs rank fourth among major league catchers behind Salvador Pérez (54), Gary Sánchez (51) and Yasmani Grandal (46). According to FanGraphs, since the start of the 2017 season he ranks sixth among major league catchers with 5.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Over parts of six seasons in the majors, he has hit .207/.276/.406 (391-for-1,885) with 95 home runs and 241 RBI.

Last night, Zunino was named the 2018 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at catcher. The Wilson Defensive Player of the Year, which honors the top defensive player at each position across the majors, is determined by a combination of traditional defensive stats and advanced metrics. With Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier, who won the award for center field, the Rays are now the only team in baseball with two 2018 Wilson Defensive Players of the Year. According to FanGraphs, last season Zunino tied for first among American League catchers and tied for second among major league catchers with 12 Defensive Runs Saved. Among qualifying catchers, he ranked fifth in the majors and third in the AL with a .998 fielding pct. He threw out 29.2 pct. of potential base stealers, third in the AL among players to appear in at least 100 games at catcher.

Zunino was born in Cape Coral Fla., where he graduated from Mariner High School in 2009. He was selected by the Mariners in the first round (third overall) of the 2012 June Draft out of the University of Florida, and remains the highest-drafted player in school history. He led the Gators to the College World Series each of his three seasons there, was named 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and in 2012 earned the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Trophy and Johnny Bench Award.

Zunino was famously rushed to the majors and started his career slowly out of the gate as a result, but has since transformed into a plus defender and plus teammate who carries a big stick.

For players and for fans, baseball is about people and relationships as much as it is about balls, strikes, and runs. Accordingly, Mallex Smith will certainly be missed, but it’s hard not to love what he’s going to bring to the Rays.

Here’s some further testimony on Zunino from the Seattle beat writer who broke news of the trade:

By all accounts, the Rays have landed a good one, and did so by getting aggressive on the trade market early.

Guillermo Heredia was one of five qualifying outfielders in the majors to record a 1.000 fielding pct., and was named the Mariners recipient of the 2018 Heart and Hustle Award. Over parts of three seasons in the majors, he has hit .244/.321/.336 (188-for-770), and saw his time in the majors split over three stints last year. He played six seasons in Cuba before signing with the Mariners in March 2016.

Heredia passes the eye test across the three outfield positions but did not see the results bear out in metrics like DRS last season. He will be valued for bringing a similar skill set as Mallex to the Rays, but with a bat that hits from the right side. He’s not expected to be an everyday player, as Mallex had become, but on this roster that should not be required.

Michael Plassmeyer was drafted in the 4th round (118th overall) by the Seattle Mariners in 2018, and signed for $425,000 out of Mizzou. Projected as a back-of-the-rotation starter with plus control, Plassmeyer proved to be a dependable starter who could go after guys at his level, striking out 44 and walking only 4 in Low-A.

Mariners bullpen coach Brian DeLunas (“who coached Plassmeyer at Premier, Pitching and Performance Academy in St. Louis”) provided the following player comparison at the time Plassmeyer was drafted:

DeLunas compared Plassmeyer to Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales, who the Cardinals drafted in the first round in 2013. Both Plassmeyer and Gonzales are lefthanders with good command of their pitches, and they mix fastballs changeups and curve balls.

[St. Louis Dispatch]

Plassmeyer doesn’t throw heat, clocking in a range of 86-92, but if he gets results perhaps velocity can come with time. His reputation in the SEC was built around a curveball that still plays, according to Baseball America (who gunned Plassmeyer up to 95 this year), while FanGraphs rates his change as the superior secondary offering. Accordingly, Plassmeyer shouldn’t break into the Rays deep top-30, but he’s a name to follow.

Jake Fraley, an early round 2016 draft pick, will prove valuable to the Mariners system (possibly in the teens), but was likely on the outside looking in at the Rays Top-30 list, despite a strong season at the plate. He ranked 40th on our site’s list a year ago.

Conclusion

This trade is great for everyone involved, and is exactly the right move for the Rays. They turned a bench player into a plus catcher, while acquiring a comparable defender who hits from the right side. Austin Meadows now slots into a full time role, alongside Kevin Kiermaier and Tommy Pham.

Mallex Smith will be missed as a person, and as a player. He exceeded all expectations filling in for the injured Kevin Kiermaier last year with improved defense, an ability to get on base, and a strong running game. This trade should benefit him by moving him from the Rays packed outfield to a team with holes to fill.

Everybody wins.