Francisco Mejia, the primary catcher for the Rays following Mike Zunino’s season-ending injury that resulted in Thoracic Outlet Surgery this month, is now also on the shelf.
Mejia has appeared in 59 of 97 games this season, essentially manning a 50/50 split at backstop. On offense the switch hitter has an astonishing 166 wRC+ vLHP (52 PA), but also an underwhelming 68 wRC+ vRHP (132 PA) — on the whole that’s a 95 wRC+ this season.
The injury prognosis comes courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times:
“Totally fine after the game. Totally normal,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Then he woke up and called us and said it was barking a little bit. He went and got checked out (by a doctor). We’re confident it’s an impingement. Hopefully it’s just, I’m going to say two weeks.”
Following the injury to Zunino, the Rays acquired Christian Bethancourt from the Oakland Athletics to man the battery behind the plate. Like Mejia, he too has a 95 wRC+ on the season and performs better against left handed pitching. After a hot-hitting month of June, he’s cooled to a 104 wRC+ in 33 PA in the month of July.
In the short term, the replacement for Mejia will be Durham catcher Rene Pinto, who made his major league debut this season with a 52 wRC+ in 55 PA thus far. In the long term, with the trade deadline looming on August 2nd, it’s possible the injury to Mejia adds fuel to the fire for a trade acquisition of another bat that can fill in behind the plate.
With that in mind, the obvious trade candidate is Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who received a standing ovation in what was likely his last home game at Wrigley Field yesterday.
Nothing but love for Willson pic.twitter.com/x94aW27MxX— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) July 26, 2022
In fact, there were so many hugs one might have thought he had already been traded.
The 30-year old catcher is a league leader in Max Exit Velocity (98th percentile), xwOBA (92nd), and HardHit% (91st) according to Statcast. On defense he is graded below average in framing (32nd), despite a positive defensive reputation in previous seasons; however, the bat is strong enough that Contreras is an every day player, making the return of Mejia palatable in this trade scenario.
UPDATE — AUGUST 1
The Athletic is reporting the Rays are still in on Willson Contreras, with a package deal looming for the Cubs that could solve multiple roster problems for Tampa Bay:
It’s only a matter of time before the Cubs trade All-Star catcher Willson Contreras and righty reliever David Robertson. But will they be packaged together or traded separately? The Mets, Padres, Astros and Rays are all in play for Contreras, with the Mets and Padres more likely to acquire Contreras and Robertson in a package deal than the Astros or Rays.
The opportunity to acquire Contreras alongside former Rays high leverage reliever David Robertson is a tantalizing possibility ahead of tomorrow’s 6 PM trade deadline.