3:01PM: The Rays have announced the move. The escalators within the 2022 club option are broken down by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, as Zunino can increase the option to $5MM if he appears in 80 games. Ninety games played raises the price to $6MM, and it tops out at $7MM if Zunino appears in 100 games or if he gets traded.
12:26PM: The Rays have agreed to a new deal with catcher Mike Zunino, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (Twitter link). It is a one-year contract for the veteran backstop, with a club option for the 2022 season. Zunino is represented by Jet Sports Management.
Zunino will get $3MM in guaranteed money, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets. According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter), that $3MM breaks down as $2MM in salary and a $1MM buyout of the club option. The exact value of that club option will vary based on Zunino’s playing time, but it will fall somewhere between $4MM-$7MM.
Tampa declined its $4.5MM club option on Zunino following the World Series, though there was mutual interest between the two sides in a new contract. Zunino will now return for a third season with the Rays, and he’ll help fill a sizeable void behind the plate, as the AL champions also parted ways with Michael Perez and Kevan Smith.
It’s probably safe to assume that the Rays will continue to look for more catching help even with Zunino back, as his lack of offensive production over the last two seasons makes him an imperfect fit as a starting catcher. Zunino has hit only .161/.233/.323 over 373 PA in a Rays uniform, though he did bolster that resume with a big performance in the 2020 ALCS to help Tampa Bay win the pennant.
Earlier in his career, it seemed as though Zunino would develop into an offense-first catcher if anything, as he slugged 90 homers with the Mariners from 2014-18. Apart from an overall strong 2017 season, however, Zunino generally posted low batting averages and on-base totals, and detracted from his power with a lot of strikeouts. Defensively, Zunino is well-respected as a game-caller and a handler of pitchers, but Statcast hasn’t been impressed with his declining framing ability over the last two seasons.
Zunino’s new deal removes another name from the list of free agent catchers. The Rays were one of many contenders known to be looking for catching, and while Tampa obviously wasn’t shopping at the top of the backstop market (i.e. J.T. Realmuto or James McCann), removing Zunino from the next tier down further narrows out an already pretty thin collection of available talent for teams in need of a catcher upgrade.