Rays send speedy Smith to Seattle for Zunino, Heredia
The Tampa Bay Rays made official their first big move of the off-season, acquiring defensively skilled catcher Mike Zunino from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for sparkplug outfielder Mallex Smith as part of a fiveplayer deal.
The Rays also get Guillermo Heredia, who figures to replace Smith and serve as the fourth outfielder, and minor-league left-hander Michael Plassmeyer, a 2018 draft pick who had a promising short-season pro debut.
The Rays are also giving up minor-league outfielder Jake Fraley, a 2016 competitive-balance round pick from LSU who hit 347 with 4 homers, 41 RBI, and a .962 OPS at Class A Charlotte.
The key for the Rays is getting Zunino, a Cape Coral native and University of Florida product who Wednesday won the Wilson award as the top defensive catcher. His offense has been inconsistent, but he will pair with lefty-swinging Michael Perez to give the Rays what they feel will be a talented two-way duo.
Zunino said an oblique injury just before the start of the regular season caused him to struggle at the plate and led to his drop from the progress he had shown as a hitter in 2017.
“It really took me longer than I’d like. I came back and it took me longer than I would have liked to get comfortable,” Zunino said. “Once that happened, I ended up giving away too many at-bats … tried to chase too much. I think getting back to that, trying to take care of my body, getting back to 100 percent is the main goal. I feel great now.”
The cost was giving up Smith, who had a breakout 2018 season, hitting .296 with a .367 on-base percentage and 40 steals in becoming an offensive force from the leadoff spot.
Smith was briefly with the Mariners in January 2017, for just over an hour, after being acquired from the Braves and sent to the Rays in the Drew Smyly deal.
“Bringing Mallex back home to Seattle is exciting for us all,” Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto said in a statement. “His combination of speed, base running impact, defense and on-base abilities are unique in today’s game. We believe his breakout 2018 performance reflects the many ways his skills will positively impact the Mariners for years to come.”
Catcher Mike Zunino brings strong defense to Tampa Bay, which acquired him from Seattle in a trade Thursday.