The Rays are in the market for catching help, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Tampa Bay recently ruled out Opening Day backstop Mike Zunino for the remainder of the season after it was revealed he’d require thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.
That Zunino won’t return surely didn’t come as much of a surprise to the Tampa Bay front office. He’s been out since early June with TOS symptoms. He’d been trying to avoid going under the knife, but surgery has long loomed as a possibility. The Rays already addressed the position to some extent in the wake of Zunino’s absence, landing Christian Bethancourt from the A’s three weeks ago. He’s primarily paired with Francisco Mejía behind the dish, but Mejía himself landed on the injured list with a shoulder impingement a few days ago.
Tampa Bay is down to Bethancourt, René Pinto and prospect Ford Proctor — who’s struggling in Triple-A and has never played in the majors — as healthy backstops on the 40-man roster. Even if Mejía isn’t expected to miss too long, catching’s a viable target area. Both Mejía and Bethancourt have hit for some power this season, but neither has an on-base percentage approaching .300. Both are also generally regarded as fringy receivers — albeit with excellent arm strength — and Mejía typically rates as a below-average pitch framer. Currently holding a 1 1/2 game lead on the Guardians for the American League’s final Wild Card spot, the Rays figure to explore a wide range of possibilities to upgrade the roster over the next three days.
Willson Contreras is easily the top catcher who’s likely to move. It’s a virtual inevitability the Cubs will deal the impending free agent, who carries a career-best .252/.369/.460 line. He’s playing this season on a $9.625MM salary, around $3.6MM of which remains to be paid out. Longtime division rival Christian Vázquez, who’s due around $2.6MM through season’s end, would be available if the Red Sox market their impending free agents. Pedro Severino and Tucker Barnhart are less impactful options who’d come at a light acquisition cost.
As long-term solutions go, A’s backstop Sean Murphy is the top candidate on the market. He won’t qualify for arbitration until next offseason, and he’s controllable through the 2025 campaign. One of the sport’s top defensive backstops, Murphy has gotten hot at the plate this month after a slow start. He’s up to a .241/.318/.421 season mark that easily tops the .225/.294/.363 line compiled by catchers around the league. The acquisition cost would be massive given his control, but the A’s figure to at least entertain offers with top prospect Shea Langeliers nearing major league readiness. With Zunino headed for free agency at the end of the year, the Rays could inquire on Murphy as a player who’d upgrade their catching corps both for the stretch run and the next couple seasons.