Mariner grad Mike Zunino traded from Seattle Mariners to the Tampa Bay Rays

Mariner grad Mike Zunino traded from Seattle Mariners to the Tampa Bay Rays
Mariners get Mallex Smith in 5-player trade with Rays
“THIS. GAME. IS. OVERRRR!” was heard through the Seattle Mariners airwaves as Mike Zunino shattered Edgar’s sign over the left field fence on a 2-out fastball. The fans that remained at Safeco Field saw a magical moment.

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.

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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.

Back in June, before his season went off the rails, John wrote about the help the defensive wunderkind Zunino offers to a pitching staff that relies heavily on location. As it stands right now, the entire Mariners pitching staff just got a little worse, and maybe a lot worse. Defense has always been the one unassailable part of Zuninos game, and Mariners fans who love the fine art of catching should start preparing themselves now to understand how spoiled weve been by watching Zs plus-plus defense the last handful of years.

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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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Dipotos plan figures to unfold with further moves, but Smith fills a clear void in center field. Gordon opened last season in center, though he shifted back to his natural second-base spot when Robinson Cano was suspended for 80 games. Gordon also filled in well at shortstop for seven games while Jean Segura was sidelined later in the year, so he could play either of those positions going forward.

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“I had a conversation not even a week ago with [Mariners manager Scott] Servais just talking about the offseason and stuff like that,” Zunino said. “So when this popped up, it was extremely surprising. But once everything got laid out, you know Jerry [Dipoto] has a vision, and I just thank those guys for how they treated me over the last few years.”

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The trade fills the Mariners need for a center fielder and allows Dee Gordon to move back to the infield next season, where he appeared far more comfortable in 2018. But it does open the need for another move to fill the vacancy at catcher, with rookie backup David Freitas the only remaining backstop on Seattles 40-man roster.

The Mariners on Thursday announced that they have acquired the veteran outfielder and minor-league outfielder Jake Fraley from the Rays.

Heredia, who logged 646 2/3 innings in center field last year and was the clubs fourth outfielder, hit .236/.318/.342. He figures to fit into a similar role with the Rays, at least with their current roster construction, with Tommy Pham in left, Kevin Kiermaier in center and Austin Meadows being groomed for right. Heredia has logged just over two years of service time, meaning he wont become arbitration eligible until after next season and will remain under club control through the 2022 season.

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