Rays send speedy Smith to Seat­tle for Zunino, Here­dia

The Bradenton Herald - - Sports -

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.”

ELAINE THOMP­SON AP

Catcher Mike Zunino brings strong de­fense to Tampa Bay, which ac­quired him from Seat­tle in a trade Thurs­day.

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