The Rays made the gutsy decision to bet on a bounceback from catcher Mike Zunino in 2020, opting to avoid arb with the former Gator via a $4.5MM deal while Travis d’Arnaud headed for richer pastures in Atlanta. Zunino has never been what one would call a complete hitter, but 2019 represented a personal low from a performance standpoint, with the former top draftee managing just a .165/.232/.312 (45 wRC+) output through 289 plate appearances. Now, the likelihood of a Zunino rebound at the plate may rest on the work of hitting coach Chad Mottola, suggests Josh Tolentino of The Athletic (link).
As Tolentino notes, Mottola was instrumental in helping d’Arnaud find offensive consistency and also helped pull shortstop Willy Adames out of an early-season funk in 2019. Zunino’s real value will likely always lie with the glove (he did record 8.3 Fielding Runs Above Average in limited work in 2019, per Baseball Prospectus), but a return to his 2017 levels (126 wRC+ and 25 homers in 124 games) would certainly be a welcome development. The Rays also hold a $4.5MM option on Zunino for the 2021 season.
More notes from around the American League…
- The Rangers’ decision to draft two third basemen, Josh Jung and Davis Wendzel, with their top two picks in the 2019 draft led many to believe that the future of that position was well in hand, but the toolsy Sherten Apostel should not be counted out as a long-term answer, opines Levi Weaver of The Athletic. Originally acquired alongside Taylor Hearn in a 2018 deadline deal that sent Keone Kela to Pittsburgh, Apostel is likely to start 2020 at High-A Down East alongside Jung. Despite his 6’4 frame, organizational observers are bullish about his ability to stick at the hot corner, and his prodigious raw power prompted Single-A Hickory manager Matt Hagen to credit the 20-year-old Curacao native with “man-child” strength. Apostel managed a .251/.339/.440 slash line and 19 home runs across 478 plate appearances between two levels last year. Of course, the position could be addressed via a long-term signing this offseason, with our writers settling on Texas as a realistic destination for free agent Josh Donaldson in early November.
- While much has been made of Gerrit Cole’s professional relationship with agent Scott Boras this offseason, observers should take note that Cole previously shown a tendency to direct his own fortunes, reminds Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America. When Cole was a first-round draftee of the Yankees back in 2008, it was Cole and his father, according to Ringolsby, who made the ultimate decision to pursue a collegiate career at UCLA. Cole’s first-round signing bonus that year was expected to land around $4MM, but the Cole family apparently believed that the intangible value of an education–to say nothing of another chance of entering the draft at a higher slot–outweighed the benefits of an early payday. Obviously, it doesn’t register as news to be reminded that agents are entrusted to work for the best interests of their clients, but it may be worth considering, given their working history, that the former Astros ace and his representatives likely have more in mind this offseason than pure dollar value alone.