Zunino among matches for Rays at catcher

Tampa Bay could eye right-handed backstop as everyday player or platoon

November 7th, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays fans have seen this one before: There are concerns about the team's catching situation.
Tampa Bay has two catchers on its 40-man roster, Michael Perez and Nick Ciuffo. While the team likes the abilities of both, the pair has combined to play in 40 Major League games. On top of that, both bat left-handed. Not exactly the stuff to inspire confidence in the catching situation.
Now the Rays must decide whether they want an everyday catcher or a seasoned right-handed-hitting receiver to platoon with either Perez or Ciuffo.

Rumors about Tampa Bay trying to improve at the position began this week. After reports that the Mariners are looking to begin a makeover, buzz began to circulate about the Rays making a deal for Mariners catcher Mike Zunino.
Based on the assumption that this will be an offseason full of rumors about Tampa Bay's catching intentions, here are five options that might work for the Rays.
Mike Zunino
Zunino, 27, is a right-handed hitter who batted .201 with 20 home runs and 44 RBIs in 113 games last season. In addition, his 1.7 defensive WAR ranked eighth in the American League. Zunino made $2.975 million in 2018 and is heading into his second year of arbitration. He does not become a free agent until after the '20 season.
Tampa Bay and Seattle have often been trade partners, so this option might make the most sense. The Rays would likely have to give up a Major Leaguer plus prospects, perhaps even Ciuffo or Perez. Obviously, if the Rays acquired Zunino, he would do the bulk of the catching.
J.T. Realmuto
Realmuto, 27, also hits right-handed, and he hit .277 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs in 125 games for the Marlins last season. His 4.9 offensive WAR tied him with Freddie Freeman for seventh in the National League in 2018.
Realmuto made $2.9 million in 2018 and is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility. He will also become a free agent following the '20 season.
A trade for Realmuto would have a similar cost to what acquiring Zunino would require. And, like Zunino, Realmuto would be the Rays' everyday catcher.

The Rays will likely have money to spend this offseason, which might allow for the return of "The Buffalo."
Ramos, whom the Rays traded to the Phillies on July 31, made $10.5 million last season. The 31-year-old hit .306 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs in 111 games with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia last season.
The Rays would likely have to catch a break to bring back Ramos. If Ramos goes through the offseason and does not get much interest, he might become available for Tampa Bay to sign him to a one-year deal. Don't count on that, though.

Suzuki, 35, spent the past two seasons with the Braves before becoming a free agent after hitting .271 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs in 105 games.
Suzuki made $3.5 million in 2018. Signing him would bring the Rays a right-handed hitter, who would likely platoon with either Perez or Ciuffo.

The Rays acquired Chirinos in a January 2011 trade that sent Matt Garza, and to the Cubs for Chirinos, , Chris Archer, and . The Rangers purchased him from the Rays in April 2013.
Chirinos, 34, who hits right-handed, made $2.25 million in 2018 while hitting .222 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs in 113 games for Texas. If Tampa Bay was to bring him back, he'd likely be used in a platoon situation.