“Gator” Mike Zunino will again be the Rays primary catcher in 2022.

After making a series of moves last week, the Tampa Bay Rays made the easiest decision of the offseason on Monday, picking up “Gator” Mike Zunino’s $7-million team option.

Left-hander Ryan Sherriff, who had been placed on waivers early last week, was claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies. The southpaw performed to a 5.52 ERA and a 3.65 FIP across 14.2 innings with Tampa Bay in 2021.

The also Rays placed four pitchers on outright waivers — all of which cleared. Oliver Drake and Cody Reed — both of whom were plagued by injuries the last two seasons — elected for free agency. Meanwhile, right-handers DJ Johnson and Chris Mazza were outrighted to Triple-A Durham and also chose free agency.

The four hurlers could still sign minor league deals with the Rays at some point in the near future. For context, Tampa Bay passed Andrew Kittredge through waivers before inking a minor league seal with the righty last season, and it worked out well for both sides.

Meanwhile, 24-year-old catcher René Pinto was added to the 40-man roster on Sunday. To make room on the roster, the Rays designated left-hander Adam Conley for assignment.

Tampa Bay subsisted with just two catchers on the 40-man roster in 2021 — Mike Zunino and Francisco Mejía — and had they not put Pinto on the roster on Sunday, he would have become a minor league free agent.

Pinto was on the postseason taxi squad with Tampa Bay after putting up his best campaign since signing with the Rays. In 93 games between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, hitting .274 with 20 home runs, 60 RBI, and a .825 OPS.

Pinto is also a good defensive catcher with a cannon for an arm. He has thrown out 40% of would-be base stealers in his minor league career, including 38% in 2021.

Aside from those moves, pitchers Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow, Colin Poche, Jeffrey Springs, and Ryan Thompson were reinstated from the 60-day Injured List. The 40-man roster is currently full. Beeks, Chirinos, Poche, Springs, and Thompson are all expected to return at some point in 2022.

As for Zunino, after a poor showing in 2020, the Rays declined his $4.5-million club option for 2021. They re-signed him to a new deal that paid him $2-million for the season, which included a $1-million buyout on a club option for the following season.

Last season, Zunino clubbed 33 home runs and slashed .216 BA/.301 OBP/.559 SLG/.860 OPS. On top of that, Zunino posted strong defensive numbers and boasted a 4.5 fWAR — just shy of his personal best of 4.6 from 2017. All of this combined to make it a no-brainer to keep Zunino around.

I’m really excited, Alyssa and the rest of the family are extremely excited. Just the whole atmosphere, from top to bottom, the openness. Just the family aspect of it, it’s a no-brainer.

…It’s cool to be part of a process for a long period of time. There’s so many times in this game where you’re for just a year or so. So to be able to see something through for multiple years and hopefully try to continue the next step every year, it’s fun to be a part of and I’m looking forward to hopefully making that jump again.

— Mike Zunino

The next important date on the Hot-Stove calendar is November 19th, when the Rays must protect other minor league players who would be eligible for the Rule-5 Draft.

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