Zunino returning to Rays on 1-year deal

December 17th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays’ main priority this offseason is to add multiple big league catchers to the roster, and the club began to address that need on Wednesday, bringing back on a one-year deal.

Zunino, 29, will get $2 million guaranteed, which is less than half of what the Rays would’ve paid for the veteran catcher had they picked up his $4.5 million club option last month. The Rays also have a club option for 2022 that is worth between $4-7 million depending on playing time, and it includes a $1 million buyout.

Zunino's return allows the Rays to have a veteran catcher that is familiar with the pitching staff. Over the last two seasons, Tampa Bay pitchers have sung Zunino’s praises for his ability to command a pitching staff. During the postseason, Zunino caught each of the Rays’ last 13 games.

The knock on Zunino has been his production at the plate. Over the past two seasons with Tampa Bay, Zunino hit .161 with just 13 home runs and a .556 OPS. He had more success in the postseason, though, hitting four home runs to help the Rays reach the World Series.

Zunino is the only big league catcher on the 40-man roster, but that doesn’t guarantee him the starting job next season. The Rays will remain active in free-agent and trade talks to acquire one or two more catchers this offseason after the departures of Kevan Smith and Michael Perez, who was claimed by the Pirates earlier this offseason. Rene Pinto and prospects Brett Sullivan and Ronaldo Hernandez will also continue to get looks during Spring Training.

But adding Zunino gives the Rays some stability and the comfort of knowing that they’ll have a familiar voice in the catcher’s room in ‘21. On Wednesday, manager Kevin Cash said he was confident that the team would adjust if it had new catchers next season, but that having a familiar face that has knowledge of the pitching staff is certainly a boost.

“I’m confident we’re going to have good catchers back there that will get up to speed really quickly,” Cash said.