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Inbox: What will Zunino's role be in 2019?

Columnist Richard Justice fields questions from fans
December 18, 2018

Thoughts on how the Rays will use Mike Zunino if they end up trading for J.T. Realmuto? -- @JohnHarrJrRealmuto obviously would be the No. 1 catcher, and considering that he has averaged 134 games over the last three seasons, manager Kevin Cash would find at-bats for Zunino at designated hitter.

Thoughts on how the Rays will use Mike Zunino if they end up trading for J.T. Realmuto?
-- @JohnHarrJr

Realmuto obviously would be the No. 1 catcher, and considering that he has averaged 134 games over the last three seasons, manager Kevin Cash would find at-bats for Zunino at designated hitter. Zunino had a .714 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2018. However, Opening Day is still a long way away, and the roster will almost certainly look different then.
Is Nelson Cruz still on the Rays' radar, especially since Michael Brantley signed with Astros?
-- @steve_dakota

Yes, Cruz is still in the mix, even though it's probably less of a priority since the trade for Yandy Diaz. There's around 1,200 plate appearances between the catchers and DHs. But a lineup with Cruz in the middle of it is still an upgrade.

When will a new stadium be built? Will it be in Tampa, not St. Petersburg?
-- @KState_Rob

You're not giving up on Ybor City, are you?
If civic leaders look at what ballpark construction did to neighborhoods in Washington, Houston, Denver and other places, they'll see it as an investment in an entire city, not just a ballpark. I'm especially familiar with how ballpark construction transformed parts of the city in Washington and Houston. It's absolutely remarkable what has happened.
As they stand, how many wins in 2019?
-- @PMc827

Right now, the Rays will win 90-plus and finish third in the AL East. Who is their competition for the second AL Wild Card berth? Anyone in the AL Central? Probably not. Anyone in the AL West? The Athletics will be competitive again, and the Angels could be, depending on how the roster shakes out.
We've given up ... what may be a franchise first baseman [Jake Bauers] and a dynamic leadoff hitter who also [plays] outfield [Mallex Smith], what did we get back?
-- @wmpbauer

Haven't you seen enough of this front office to have a little trust that they know what they're doing? In Zunino and Diaz, they got two of the players who consistently hit the ball hard, way over league average. In Diaz's case, it'll be interesting to see how he develops, and if he can elevate the baseball. If so, he's got a chance to be special.

Yep, they gave up Bauers and Smith, and I do understand why Rays fans love Bauers. In fact, the Rays love him. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.
How many turns in the rotation will be manned by openers?
-- @RichD6431

Blake Snell and Charlie Morton will pitch the first inning. There's no certainty than anyone else will be a traditional starter. Tyler Glasnow could be, and Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell are options when they return from Tommy John surgery. But the opener strategy could be used with those guys, too. If you're allowing a guy to face Michael Trout one fewer time, you'd want to do that, right?
Now that the White Sox have Yonder Alonso, can you see the Rays making a run for Jose Abreu? Is there an under-the-radar (mystery) player you could see signing with them?
-- @rzapataluyanda

Abreu fits into the Diaz/Realmuto/Cruz/Zunino puzzle in terms of at-bats at first, catcher and DH. My guess now is that Realmuto is going to end up with the Astros, and then it comes down to the cost for Abreu.
Side note: Abreu is one of the best people you'll come across in this game. He fits nicely in the clubhouse culture with the Rays.

What would be a fair package for Realmuto?
-- @RaysMario

Outfielder Jesus Sanchez is 21 years old and close to being big league ready. That's the guy the Marlins will ask for. Similarly, they've sought outfielder Kyle Tucker from the Astros. I've thought the Marlins have played this thing out too long, but if they end up with one of these players, it would have been worth it.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.