3:54pm: This agreement has now been announced.
2:22pm: The Rays are nearing agreement on a contract with backstop Mike Zunino, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). If finalized as expected, he’ll earn $4.5MM for the 2020 campaign and remain under control in the 2021 season with a $4.5MM club option.
Zunino was projected to earn $4.9MM via arbitration by MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz. That was a big enough sum that it seemed possible he’d be non-tendered by the budget-conscious Tampa Bay organization. But with Travis d’Arnaud heading to Atlanta, the Rays decided to hang onto a known quantity to pair with Michael Perez behind the dish.
The arrangement that the sides have settled upon pays Zunino a bit less than might have been anticipated, though it’s well within the range of plausible outcomes for his arbitration case. He’ll avoid the risks of the open market. The club will be able to achieve value through the option if Zunino performs as hoped. The option year includes an escalator provision that allows Zunino to boost the potential salary by up to $750K based upon the number of plate appearances he takes in 2020, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter).
Zunino, 28, is a valued defender who has at times been quite productive with the bat. But he’s coming off of a forgettable 2019 offensive season. Zunino slashed just .165/.232/.312 over his 289 plate appearances, with the departing d’Arnaud taking more of the reps over the course of the season. It wasn’t long ago (2017) that Zunino rode a .355 batting average on balls in play to a .251/.331/.509 batting output. But he managed only a .220 BABIP in 2019. 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).