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How do you grade the Mike Zunino contract?

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The Rays return one of their catchers for 2020, with an option in 2021.

2019 ALDS Game 4 - Houston Astros v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Mike Zunino, the former Florida Gator acquired in an exchange built around Tallahassee native Mallex Smith just over a year ago, has signed a one-year contract with the Rays for $4.5 million. The contract includes an option for 2021 at the same cost, with up to $750,000 in incentives.

Zunino appeared in 90 games (78 starts) for the Rays in 2019, batting .165/.232/.312 with 10 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI. Over seven seasons in the majors, he is a career .202/.271/.395 (435-for-2,151) hitter with 104 home runs and 273 RBI, including a combined 45 home runs over the 2017-18 seasons with Seattle.

He also missed some time here and there, on the paternity list, April 19-21, for the birth of his first child, son Rhett Michael, and the 10-day IL, May 9-30, with a left quad strain.

Zunino threw out 34.1 pct. (14 of 41) of attempted base stealers, the third-best eraser rate in the majors behind J.T. Realmuto (43.0), who won the National League Gold Glove at catcher, and Cleveland’s Roberto Pérez (37.0), the American League Gold Glove winner.

According to FanGraphs, Zunino’s 10 Defensive Runs Saved ranked third among AL catchers, behind Pérez (29) and Toronto’s Danny Jansen (12). In general it was another strong showing defensively for the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at catcher for the 2018 season.

But that’s not his only historical accolades. Back in 2012, Zunino earned the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Trophy and Johnny Bench Award, and was selected by the Mariners in third overall in the following Draft as the highest-drafted player in UF history.

Zunino broke out of the minors in 2013 before finally settling in at the plate in 2016 when he put up a 117 wRC+ (192 PA), and followed it up with a 126 (435 PA) the following season. The last two seasons, however, his wRC+ has fallen below league average as the catcher has played through injury.

The Rays committing to Zunino instead of releasing the player is, in part, betting the player will bounce back in the batter’s box, but as a back stop there’s plenty to still like.

Using Baseball Prospectus’s catcher framing metric (FRAA_ADJ), Zunino rose to a Top-10 catcher last season after three years in the top-25 range. His relationships with the pitching staff has been a strength of his game, and Zunino was trusted regularly to take over defensively in late innings if he was not the starter.

In an offseason where there has been a run on catchers, here’s where Zunino’s contract stacks up:

  • Yasmani Grandal (White Sox) - 4/$73 - $18.25 AAV
  • Travis d’Arnaud (Braves) - 2/$16 - $8 AAV
  • Mike Zunino (Rays) - 1/$4.5 (with team option at $4.5 min) - $4.5 AAV
  • Tyler Flowers (Braves) - 1/$4 (after $2 buyout) - $6 AAV
  • Stephen Vogt (Diamondbacks) - 1/$3 (with team option at $4) - $3 AAV
  • Dustin Garneau (Astros) - 1/$650k

Among those names, Flowers is the easiest comparable for Zunino given the length of time in the majors, although Zunino (28) is younger by five years. Flowers was ninth on BP’s catcher metrics, Zunino 10th. Neither was hitting for league average last season, both are capable of carrying the majority of catching appearances if needed for an organization.

Flowers did the Braves a favor by taking a $2 million buyout on his $6 million contract option, and then agreeing to a $4 million deal to help the Braves with their luxury tax calculation which is totally not a cap.

Likewise, this contract for Zunino comes is a team friendly deal in that it both buys out arbitration (saving the team energy on negotiating with the player in the future), keeps the catcher in a Rays uniform up to three consecutive years at essentially the same salary, and gives the team all the power by making 2021 a team-option.

Given the market for catchers, the Rays need for a primary and secondary backstop in 2020, the continuity for the franchise after losing d’Arnaud to the Braves, and the team friendly nature of the contract, it’s hard not to love what the Rays have done in securing this contract.

It will not — or perhaps I should say “should not” — be the biggest move of the offseason, but it’s a good one. The Rays are likely to find another backstop for 2020 soon to compliment Zunino. You can find our pick here.

Overall, for the player and the roster need, I give this contract an “A” for the Rays.

What say you?


How do you grade the Mike Zunino contract?

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  • 11%
    (30 votes)
  • 40%
    (108 votes)
  • 27%
    (75 votes)
  • 9%
    (26 votes)
  • 10%
    (29 votes)
268 votes total Vote Now