In hindsight, it was the last walk-off home run Mike Zunino would hit in a Mariners uniform. Jerry Dipoto shipped Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia to the Rays in return for OF Mallex Smith Wednesday afternoon. And while the Mariners will begin their search for a new catcher, fans will miss Zunino’s skills behind the plate.
Despite his expertise as a catcher, he will be widely remembered for his offensive struggles, most recently in 2018. A hot month of September lifted Zunino to a slash line of .201/.259/.410, just above the dreaded Mendoza line. Unfortunately, these numbers are not out of the ordinary. A massive bounce-back year just isn’t likely, as his career numbers are .207/.276/.406.
Smith, 25, stole a career-best 40 bases this year for the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit .296, tied for the major league lead with 10 triples and had 40 RBIs.
Offensive catchers are hard to come by. I get it. It is exactly why I am not here to slam his batting. In fact, his power is extremely valuable in addition to his defense, making him a strong replacement for Wilson Ramos in Tampa Bay.
I am here to praise Mike Zunino and his efforts in Seattle. The man is a walking backstop. His ability to work with pitchers and call games will be missed. A class act player like Zunino will be hard to replace, regardless of whom the Mariners sign to replace him this winter.
Matt Holliday wants to play in 2019
We thank you for the 575 games you suited up for in a Mariners uniform. We thank you for more than the 95 home runs you hit, but for the 40 defensive runs, you saved behind the plate. And most importantly, we wish you luck in Tampa Bay, where you will represent a team that is just 113 miles from your hometown of Cape Coral.
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Coming out of spring training this last season, Mike Zunino held a slash line of .395/.458/.791 with five dingers. He looked happy, comfortable, and confident at the plate. He looked like he was building on his 2017, when he posted similar numbers in the spring and finished with 3.7 fWAR thanks to his always-excellent defense and a second-half improvement that saw his wRC+ rise from 99 in the first half—still totally fine for a catcher with gold glove-caliber defense—to a scorching 155 over the second half.
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The Mariners on Thursday announced that they have acquired the veteran outfielder and minor-league outfielder Jake Fraley from the Rays.