The Tampa Bay Rays agreed to a $4.5-Million contract with catcher Mike Zunino. He will remain under team control for the 2021 season with a $4.5-million club option.
The contract pays Zunino a bit less than he might have anticipated — he was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $4.9-million via arbitration. However, the option year includes an escalator provision that allows Zunino to augment his potential salary by up to $750-thousand based on the number of plate appearances he takes next season, according to Mark Feinsand (MLB.com, Twitter link).
Zunino was at risk of being non-tendered by Tampa Bay, yet with Travis d’Arnaud heading to Atlanta, the team decided to hang onto a known quantity to platoon with Michael Perez behind the plate.
Zunino is a valued defender who has a history of productivity in the batter’s box…his lackluster 2019 campaign precluded, of course. Zunino slashed just .165 BA/.232 OBP/.312 SLG/.544 OPS/.235 wOBA with a 45 wRC+ across 289 plate appearances. Yet in 2017, Zunino rode a .251 BA/.331 OBP/.509 SLG/.840 OPS/.355 wOBA/126 wRC+ slash line and a .355 BABIP over 435 plate appearances. Yet last season he managed only a .220 BABIP. As Jeff Todd (MLB Trade Rumors) noted, Statcast suggests the dip is the product of both misfortune (his .271 xwOBA dwarfed his .235 wOBA) and a performance downturn (36.9% hard-hit ratio, down from 46.9% in 2017).
Defensively, however, Zunino was among the best in the big leagues with a 34.1% caught stealing percentage, and third in the American League in the defensive runs saved at nine.
Tampa Bay is banking heavily on an improved performance from Zunino in 2020.
We’re pretty committed to Mike here. We don’t expect a repeat of 2019. This deal came together because we believe Mike is capable of providing more offense than he did last year, his total defensive impact is as good as it gets, he’s a great teammate, and he wants to be here.— Erik Neander
— Matt Duffy, who was designated for assignment last week, has cleared release waivers and is now a free agent.