Rays backstop Mike Zunino had the best season of his career in 2021, and his durability and strong production behind the dish have upped the price it’ll cost Tampa Bay to retain him in 2022. Zunino re-signed with the Rays on a one-year deal with a $4MM club option this past offseason, but as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times points out, it was reported at the time of the deal that Zunino’s option would increase from $4MM to $7MM if he appeared in 100 or more games this season.
Zunino topped that mark by reaching 109 games, and he swatted a career-best 33 home runs in the process. That mark, reached in 375 plate appearances, matches Zunino’s combined home run total from 2018-20 (778 plate appearances). The 30-year-old still strikes out at a prolific rate (35.2 percent in ’21), but he also posted the second-base walk rate of his career (9.1 percent) and played his usual brand of strong defense (7 Defensive Runs Saved, plus framing marks — albeit with a league-leading 10 passed balls). Overall, Zunino’s .216/.301/.559 batting line translated to a 134 wRC+.
It’s probably not realistic to expect Zunino to repeat that offensive season in 2022. His 30.3 percent homer-to-flyball ratio was the highest of his career by more than six percentage points and tied for the 19th-highest single-season mark of any player with at least 350 plate appearances, dating back to 2010.
That said, Zunino’s power surge doesn’t look like a total fluke, either. Statcast shows that his average exit velocity jumped from 88.9 mph from 2018-20 to 90.7 mph in 2021. His rate of barreled balls exploded from 12.8 percent in 2018-20 to 24.3 percent this past season, and his hard-hit rate jumped by more than five percentage points to 46.5 percent — second-best of his career. He’d be hard-pressed to repeat that showing across the board, but it’s reasonable to expect a middle ground between Zunino’s big 2021 and the underwhelming three prior seasons.
Regardless of the increased price, Zunino’s option looks like a relative bargain. The Rays owe him a $1MM buyout regardless, making it a net $6MM call on their end, and the free-agent market isn’t deep with alternatives. None of the available names can match Zunino’s blend of power and defense, and it stands to reason that were he set back out into the open market, he’d top the price of next year’s option with relative ease.
The Rays do have a potential successor on the roster already, as switch-hitting 25-year-old Francisco Mejia posted a solid .260/.322/.416 slash in a career-high 277 plate appearances this year. He’ll be arbitration-eligible this winter — as will a whopping 18 other Rays — but the combination of Zunino and Mejia should still be an affordable and productive pairing. (Anecdotally, keeping both for the 2022 season also curbs Mejia’s playing time and thus curbs future arbitration raises, though that’s unlikely to be a major part of the calculus.)
At the end of the day, any notable increase in salary (or potential salary) for a Rays player is worth mention, because the Tampa Bay front office makes surprising decisions driven by perennial payroll constraints every offseason. It’s tough to imagine moving on from Zunino after a 33-homer, All-Star season, but the very fact that it’ll cost them a few extra million dollars could also lead to some tougher decisions elsewhere on the roster.
I don’t get it. Hits .216, a total of 72 hits in the season. Strikes out at a prolific rate of 32% yet had a strong season at the plate? What bc he had 33 hrs. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. This guy while a great defensive catcher is literally nothing but that.. he’s a scrub at the plate.
Scrubs don’t hit 35 homers while also being an elite defensive catcher.
…or post a 138 OPS+.
And in only 109 games.
wRC+ isn’t cumulative. The number of games is irrelevant.
The games is in ref to the HR total
And usually batting 8th/9th, which robs him of an AB/game
And only 375 plate appearances
The Mets "Missed WAR"
wRC+ should be taken with a grain of salt because it’s not cumulative. Sometimes I wonder whether all these wRC+ fanatics would go crazy over a player who had 1 career plate appearance and happened to hit a home run. According to wRC+ and OPS+ that would make him the greatest hitter of all time. I figure they probably wouldn’t because it’s one plate appearance. It’s just weird though because obviously a line has to be drawn somewhere that makes a hitter pretty useless if he doesn’t walk up to the plate enough to make a real difference over the course of a 162 game season. I guess everyone has to draw their own line but it’s a matter of opinion what the minimum number of plate appearances should be that make the stat viable. People still ramble on about the stat all the time without considering the fact that fewer plate appearances makes the stat less meaningful. Counting stats may be harder to accurately predict because some luck is involved. They are definitely more meaningful when it comes to what a player has already accomplished. wRC+ is great but it doesn’t win games. Runs scored and runs driven in are what actually win games. wRC+ and OPS+ are really just used to predict how many runs a player can create. You don’t really have to do that if you know how many runs the player created already. It really doesn’t matter at all what a hitter does if he doesn’t score or drive in a run in the plate appearance. Those are the only plate appearances that really matter. I don’t care what any player does if it fails to produce anything. No one should really. Unless they are meaninglessly playing fantasy baseball in their mind and trying to imagine what they player might have done on a different team or in a different situation. That’s not what happened though so who really cares?
RamMac14 – Home runs and walks make any player a superstar nowadays, look at Joey Gallo. Mediocrity rules baseball. It is very rare that players can hit their weight, so batting averages don’t count. It ruins ANALytical formulae. Selected stats are justified by ANALytical equations that are routinely calculated with variables that help to make these guys sound as if they are stars.
With that said, I do like that Zunino did reach his incentives, though the bar was set low, but he did do it.
The Rays are so dumb. Why wont they look at batting average? Maybe then they’ll start winning some games.
They already won most in their division.. the comments are laughable
What a idiotic comment, they won the most games in the AL dumb-ass
100 not enough? Rays are out because of stupid game management, not the players.
Rays started three rookies in four games of the playoffs. I know they are good pitchers but it’s tough to win when starting three rookie pitchers. It was a valuable experience for the Rays pitchers to see how the post season is different. The future is bright for that organization.
Umm I think he was being sarcastic ⚾️
Yeah the manager who managed the team to a 100 games suddenly forgot to manage in the playoffs. Imagine criticizing these guys after they lead teams you people didn’t have a chance at making the playoffs. Listen Cash I know you managed this team perfectly during the season but now we’re in the postseason change how you manage. Leave the starter in! Even though that’s how you won all year change the entire philosophy. What a ridiculous take.
Looking at batting average? What is this the 90’s? The Rays are perennially successful because they look at stats beyond average.
What?!? Sarcastic? How dare you?!? This is an outrage!!!
I blame the Cancel Culture. If people aren’t allowed to be funny, how are kids going to understand sarcasm?
While I agree a lot is off base, if you want to compare in season vs off-season take a look at Brandon Lowe. At the end of the season, Lowe was benched vs LH starters. I didn’t care to go back too far, but the last 3-4 matchups vs lefties he rode the pine. Now, playoff elimination game he’s batting 3rd vs E-Rod? No surprise he went 0-4 and 3K. I get resting one of your best bats, but don’t ice him end of season vs lefties and then expect him to come through in playoffs.
I’m hoping this is more sarcasm, Joe. Please don’t leave me hanging…
Rays are out because of the 3,795 pitchers on the IL this season.
Jerry national coming out day was yesterday. We accept all now in today’s society.
Jerry Bird is the perfect old guy name to make an out of touch comment
Could it be that WAR over values walks and home runs?! Could it be that WAR doesn’t value average enough?! Rob Deer is not the g.o.a.t.
People are going to pile on you for this awful take.
there are many ways to provide value to a team. Catchers in general have the lowest bar (besides pitchers) in terms of adding value at the plate. So Zunino just simply added enough power that in comparison to other catchers, he out performed many of them
Agree 100%.. he will never touch those numbers again .. 99% change Rays let him walk.. some other foolish team will take him on and have all those passed balls & K’s to deal with
So you don’t get how bad the average catcher is with the bat?
Rays need to add Correa. They need that one guy like a Rendon or Betts to have a chance in the playoffs
For Love of the Game
That would be half their payroll!
They’d never sign those guys nor would they want to sign there.
Yah, his name is Wander
Jared Walsh for Shane Baz would be beneficial for both
You’re probably right but I would hate to lose Walsh.
Ahhh yes a team that just won a 100 games who lost a coin flip series against another good team needs to change their entire philosophy on team building. It’s not like the Rays didn’t have any bad breaks against them in game 3 either.
Nice to see Zunino earn the extra dollars. Just my opinion, but I think escalators should be a large part of every contract. Too many free agents seem to slow down once they sign a big contract. They sometimes do a good job and then during the last year of the contract, they give it every possible amount of energy in order to get another deal.
Spot on Jerry! Couldn’t be more right!
The market dictates free agent contracts, fantasy land “fairness” doesn’t matter
The Rays will release him. They’re the Rays.
No, they will pick up his option then trade him for 3 pitchers no one has ever heard of, who will then become All Stars in their own right. That’s how the Rays operate.
Yeah because the Rays always cut valuable assets while getting nothing back
Charlie Morton waving at you from Atlanta.
All that matters in baseball is the core three. Rollins, Howard, Utley. Bryant, Baez, Rizzo. Bogaerts, Betts, Devers. Correa, Altuve, Bregman. Posey
That’s it. If you’re stuck with a losing core it doesn’t matter what you surround it with
Franco, Lowe, Arozarena isn’t going to get it done
What a brutal take. Franco a guy with less than 400 abs in mlb is known choker who won’t get it done in the playoffs. Everyone is now dumber having read that ridiculous take.
In fairness, brutal takes are Camden’s specialty.
What stupid comment…big surprise
I doubt they release him. The ms would gladly give them back Mallex Smith and eat the 7m that would save the Ray’s the 1m buyout
That is the more likely path. Not to the Mariners who seem covered at catcher, but a trade in general. $7M for a starting catcher is minimal, except perhaps for the Rays.
I’d be surprised if the Ms don’t kick the tires looking for a catcher.
Source- me as an ms fan
Murphy, Torrens, and Raleigh. M’s have behind the plate pretty well covered
I think he would be great on the Rockies. Swap him for Elias Diaz. Maybe add a prospect or two on both sides to even things out.
Interesting trade there, wonder how Coors would affect Zunino???
At coors all 72 of Zunino’s hits would be Home Runs
I’m not comfortable predicting more than 70.
I would imagine his batting average would go up since more balls tend to fall in as hits in the large Coors outfield. The strikeouts wouldn’t change unless he is a fastball hitter. Since breaking balls don’t tend to break the same at altitude, pitchers tend to throw more fastballs and sinkers. I haven’t watched Zunino play much, but if his weakness is breaking balls, he would do better with the Rockies. I doubt his homers would go up much, if at all, since Coors is not really that much more prone to homers than many other fields. Coors is definitely known for more base hits, but the homer rate is not drastically above league average.
I don’t know but Correa, Lindor, and Baez on the Mets will be championship caliber
And then Cano is back. Syndergaard will likely take the QO. It’s gonna be lit
If that happens it would be something…
Please don’t embarrass other Mets fans by suggesting that Cano will help. Even the thought of the Mets signing Correa and Baez along with Lindor isn’t as crazy as that.
Cano is the victim of ageism and his contract. His bat is still sharp. He’s still on point. Incredible balance and swing still
I don’t know how much that has to do with PEDs but he was not bad at all in 2020. He hit .316/.352/.544 in 2020
He’s old and he has a big contract. That has nothing to do with how good the guy actually is
Ok, you’re probably not going to get a huge season to match his contract. But that doesn’t mean he still isn’t capable of above average production
Cano is awful lmao his “productive” season in 2020 was because he was cheating. He is a fraud and the Mets are better off releasing him. He’s done.
Why would you release him now? Take advantage of what the PEDs did for his rehab. Why waste a perfectly good suspension?
lot of freakin money to dispense of there
Yeah but Cohen has said he’ll blast over the salary cap, but not if it’s just one guy and slightly over.
Adding Correa and Baez and others is what he wants to do. He wants to go up to 280 million but only if it makes sense. Correa and Baez does make sense
They can probably cut the Cano contract out also
actions speek louder than wprds
Cohen did not say that. As I’ve said from the beginning (and many other people have as well) he’s not, nor will he ever be George Steinbrenner. He’s a businessman first and won’t lose unnecessary money. He didn’t become a billionaire by playing the field based on his emotions.
Billionaires become billionaires by cutting 40 million dollar sunk costs? Questionable
Yankee Clipper, George was a businessman, and an extremely successful one at that. Personality wise he was was mercurial, but a businessman he certainly was. He took control of his family’s shipping business in the early 70s, greatly increasing its fortunes, which he then used to purchase American Shipbuilding Company, which he then turned into one of the country’s largest shipbuilders. He then used a relatively small amount of his own personal money (approximately $150K) to purchase the Yankees, and then over a period of years consolidated his ownership. He was first to recognize the changing landscape free agency bought to the game, and instead of fighting it, used it to restore the Yankees to the premier sports organization. Under his tenure, he launched the YES Network with funding from Goldman Sachs, which became (and remains) the most successful RSN in the country. He also restructured the team’s assets in YES Global Enterprises, a tactic to diversify the team’s profits, a tactic since copied by other teams. His investment of less than $200 grand eventually made him a billionaire and a member of Forbes wealthiest businessmen. While he used the shipbuilding business as his entry into sports, he made his real wealth owning the Yankees. That’s very different than pretty much every owner, who made their wealth outside of baseball. Yes. George was an extremely successful businessman and his children still benefit from him to this day. Cohen is a hedge fund owner. It remains to be seen if he can operate a baseball team anywhere near as well as Steinbrenner. He also was a jerk. I’ve had the fortune (and sometimes misfortune) to work with many very successful business people, including billionaires. Being a supreme jerk often comes with the territory.
But Steinbrenner hired George Costanza. How smart could he have been?
He hired someone who wasn’t afraid to speak out against him and someone who wasn’t a “yes” man. On paper, that’s smart.
Thor looked horrible last “season”. 2 whole innings and he got lit up the second appearance. He may or may not be a major league quality pitcher next year. Lindor sucked big time last year. And Cohen ain’t that stupid. He already gave a huge boatload of $$ to Lindor and got little in return.
I was for awhile afraid of escalators when I was a child… and I didn’t even know that they could make baseball players more expensive.
I’m glad the Rays were eliminated. Now it’s time for Boston to fall.
It’ll be Red Sox Giants and the Red Sox win
October 11, 2021 the day moneyball officially died. Affordable role players can win you games from April-September but you need star power to win in October. The only way the Rays will ever win the WS is if they either increase their payroll or start using their deep farm system to trade for established stars
They just need to add Correa or other legitimate leader. It’s just like the Dodgers adding Betts. They need that one guy
The only way the Rays sign Correa is if the 29 other teams chip in and pay his salary for the entirety of the contract. They will never spend $100 million+ of their own money on anyone.
The Rays have Wander Franco to play SS for the next several seasons. If the Rays are going to invest big money on a player it would have to be a 1B, 3B, or corner Outfielder
Yeah, no. They made the WS last season and The ALDS this season and poised to have an amazing, athletic team again next season. They can win they just need a couple starters with a bit more experience under their belt. They can win a WS.
Ellis I’m not saying the Rays won’t be good next year I’m just saying this year was their best chance to win the WS. Three other teams in the division won 90+ games including the team that just knocked them out. It’s reasonable to think those three teams could be even better next year. If the Rays sit on their hands and don’t make a big move then winning 100 games and the division will be a lot harder next year
As long as teams are making the playoffs with a money all formula it’s not going to die, no matter how much you ignorant fans think. Keep cheering for your favourite team to spend money while the Rays spend less and less and kill your team every year. Losing a short coin flip series doesn’t kill moneyball lmao.
Sounds like cope. You’ve clearly never experienced the epic highs and lows of high school football or the joy of a World Series parade in your city
The only way the Rays will ever win the WS is if they either increase their payroll
I think it goes without saying that richer teams have better overall chances than poorer teams.
But that was never an issue or a discussion. For some reason, people think Billyball precludes a team from spending. It doesn’t. The thing that keeps teams from spending is low attendance and revenue.
And large revenue streams don’t preclude teams from employing certain facets for Billyball. It’s not the LAD dismiss fielding and OBP and rotation, etc., just because they have more money.
This is definitely not an either/or model. I hope the RS continue to focus on small, value-added moves, while also hoping that they sign Syndergaard.
Lmfao Rays manager and continous lineup/pitching changes finally cost them big haha! It’s funny because they finally had the most potent middle of the order in years yet flopped.
Lmfao yeah the thing they did all season long that made them win all season long finally cost them. Another guy is mad the low payroll Rays out smart and out play their team yearly. Haters gonna hate.
Did you miss the part where a large market team who was supposed to be rebuilding just eliminated the Rays in the ALDS in what was likely their best season in franchise history? If just being a postseason participant is the Rays goal then yes they’re succeeding. However the goal should always be to eventually get over the hump and win it all
Only one time wins every year… they lost to another great team. Every postseason short series is a coin flip.
the Rays are what people said the Dodgers were. they are built to win during the regular season. they aren’t a WS team.
I agree 100%. As a Yankees fan, however, the antithesis of this model has yet to work out as well. We have the star talent but we can’t get over the hump. To me, the one aspect of the Rays the Yankees should emulate is their speed. This seems to play real dividends for that team.
Of course, they need to still fire Boone and Cashman.
oh, i certainly wouldn’t say they arent a good team or arent a model to follow in any way. the way they draft and develop players is great, and they make good deals. however, eventually you gotta open your wallet.
You mean they took a cheating Astros to 7 and lost?
Dodgers not built to win a World Series? Are u for real? Gotta be a joke
not me. some people did say that on this site prior to last WS.
Where do you people come up with these ridiculous narratives? Team loses a short series against a great team that’s a coin flip series. Every postseason series is a coin flip.
Exactly….if the ball doesn’t bounce off of Renfroe…..
Again, not enough attention gets paid to the Orioles, Pirates, Rangers et al….they use analytics too. And while there are certainly minor differences, everybody’s analyzing from the same set of facts.
The Rays don’t spend money on payroll because (a) it really doesn’t make any difference in terms of revenue and (b) more than any other team (A’s, maybe) there’s a straight line between payroll and corporate profit. Other teams have to concern themselves with the TOTAL financial impact of signing Joe Jones as a Free Agent; marketing, auxiliary sales, back page coverage. The Rays? Revenue Sharing/ Central Fund pays their bills (could very well change with the new CBA), attendance is stagnant, so the amount of money left for profit is directly a function of payroll allocation.
Really, why would they want a WS trophy? Then everybody from scouts to ticket takers feel they deserve a higher pay. More profitable to finish second or third every year. And, by accident (a lot of baseball is accident) they may win one or two.
because they’ve missed the playoffs or been out early more then they have went deep over the past sevaral years?
The rays have won more games since 2008 I believe than 25 of the 30 teams in mlb so don’t let facts get in the way of your stupid narrative.
Also post season 5 game series are coin flips. Great teams vs great teams. Winning or losing doesn’t mean the losing team is flawed.
Lmfao they won the pennant last year and had the best record in the AL this year. But a 4 game series means you’re just endlessly smarter than the Rays FO
Given their history, don’t expect the Rays to pick up Zunino’s option. Look at last year, get to the WS and let Charlie Morton go and traded Blake Snell. Their approach does keep them competitive in a tough division but isn’t enough to put them over the top. It also lines the owner’s pockets handsomely.
Which begs the question, will the Rays ever just go for it?
Going for it is a good way to never win, making the playoffs constantly is a far better strategy obviously.
Predicting future financial action based on how a team acted mid pandemic seems like a fools errand
Elevator shoes increased my swag.
So many interesting comments.
1-A catcher with a .316 average and 1 HR/10 ABs is a ‘scrub at the plate’.
2-Oldmansteve makes an obvious joke, followed by a bunch of commentators that had no idea he was being sarcastic.
3-Someone suggesting that the Rays need Correa, because apparently Franco, whom I never want to see again, isn’t good enough.
4-A bunch of comments that the LAD model is the only true model, by virtue of them beating the TBR because of an awful Snell decision by Cash.
Franco is going to torment both our teams for years to come. He’s not even warmed up yet!
I think one of biggest issues between the Rays 2020 vs. 2021 is they didn’t really have a go-to starter. Losing the services of Morton, Glasnow and Snell is significant. They have great young arms, but there is something to be said for having some good and experienced arms in the postseason. Their season came down to Patino in the last two games.
For less than the Braves paid for Morton the Rays got Rich Hill, Chris Archer, and Michael Wacha. Hill got traded, Archer got injured, and Wacha got lit up. Needless to say Morton would have made a much bigger difference than those three.
The Rays won 100 games and had a fantastic season. With 18 players arbitration eligible expect a fair amount of turnover but nothing says they won’t be back in the thick of things next season
Franco, Arozarena, McClanahan, Rasmussen, Baz, Patino and Feyereisen were all ROOKIES. And Josh Lowe and Brujan should be up most of next season. This team is going to hang around for a while.
JoeBrady: I’ve never agreed with you more. It is also interesting that nearly 50% of Zunino’s hits were home runs! I’m not sure I’ve seen that percentage before over the course of a season.
Losing Glasnow definitely hurt the Rays. It’s hard to criticize Cash when so many of his other managing decisions work during the season. It’s almost as if fans have no idea about probability. I’ll take the manager who can’t manage in the playoffs everyday if he’s as good as cash during the regular season. Eventually they’ll luck into a WS title eventually.
IIRC Bonds was around 57% the season he broke the record. Remember he also broke the walks record that season (and broke it twice again subsequently).
Rays would be fools to sign long term as a K machine and contract year pushed him….
He’s under contract for next year so wrong on that dumb narrative.
Zunino re-signed with the Rays on a one-year deal with a $4MM club option this past offseason
Keyword: CLUB OPTION
They would be fools to pick it up, I would trade him if I were them or just club option him out
Please data, do explain how Zunino won’t be worth 6M net and who you want the Rays to employ instead?
I think that they should pump his 33HRs and deal him
his .151 vs RHP
is pitiful and I dont see him continuing raking off LHP
The Rays will rightfully exercise Zunino’s option and he’ll promptly turn back into the replacement level player he was the past two seasons. That said, I’d be shocked if the Rays trade him. Next year’s top 4 starters were rookies this year and Baz might be the early Rookie of the Year favorite next year. They need his presence behind the plate and in practice.
I was kind of rooting for him to hit fewer singles and become the most valuable player below the Mendoza line in major league history.
The Rays need help in the starting rotation. The opener is good every now and again. They used it far more than necessary. I get it Glasnow was hurt, but dang, go out and get a couple veteran arms to handle 5 innings. Their starters averaged under 3 innings during the playoffs and they did well for those 3 innings. It wasn’t like Chris Sale having to be pulled after 1 inning. The Rays planned that.
They should have kept Rich Hill… he pitched well for them. Maybe go out and get another starter at the deadline… no, they got rid of one and their closer. I don’t get it.
Fact #1: Rich Hill had an ERA over 5.00 in the month and a half before he was traded and was pretty much average after going to the Mets.
Fact #2: Chargois was better than Castillo post-trade.
Fact #3: the minor league catcher they traded Hill for hit for a .981 OPS
Fact #4 Rays got booted out of the playoffs.