Rays get their catcher, acquiring Mike Zunino from Mariners for Mallex Smith in 5-player deal

Mallex Smith, left, and Mike Zunino, right. [DIRK SHADD | Times; AP Photo/Rick Scuteri]
Mallex Smith, left, and Mike Zunino, right. [DIRK SHADD | Times; AP Photo/Rick Scuteri]
Published November 8 2018
Updated November 8 2018

UPDATE, 2:50: Neander said Zunino checks so many boxes in what they value in a catcher as well as a teammate, and they are okay with offensive profile he has shown, obviously hoping for the high end. Also, that they view Heredia as a "top of the line" defensive outfielder who is "really special." Neander also said said Brandon Lowe should be included in group of outfielders in the 2019 mix with Pham, Kiermaier, Meadows and Heredia. And that this deal doesn't in any way preclude them from making other moves this off-season, saw the opportunity to act early to get Zunino and Heredia who both add a lot to making roster more balanced and functional.

UPDATE, 1:58: Rays Neander joking on making yet another deal with Mariners' Dipoto: "It all starts with the bromance as you know."

UPDATE, 1:18: Smith said he was thankful for opportunity with the Rays in 2018, wasn't shocked by trade to since he knows it's a business, joked that DiPoto only guaranteed him he'd be around at least 78 minutes this time, said he expects to play CF for Seattle. Also, that what he was most proud of during time with Rays wasn't anything on the field but being nominated by the team for the Roberto Clemente humanitarian award.

UPDATE, 12:44: Zunino said he was "shocked" to hear rumors, then get word he was traded, having talked recently with Seattle manager Scott Servais about the upcoming season, but found it "extremely exciting" to be joining the Rays, and getting to play in his home state.

Said he attended a bunch of games at the Trop while playing travel ball as a kid. Also said he heard a lot of great things about how the Rays operate including from Denard Span, who was traded from Seattle to Tampa Bay in May.

"I've heard nothing but great things about Tampa Bay and how they run their organization," he said, added that he knows a few Rays such as ex-M's LHP Ryan Yarbrough, college opponent Ryne Stanek, others.

DEVELOPING: The Rays made official their first big move of the off-season, acquiring defensively skilled C Mike Zunino from the Mariners in exchange for sparkplug OF Mallex Smith as part of a five-player deal.

The Rays also get OF Guillermo Heredia, who figures to replace Smith and serve as the fourth outfielder, and minor-league LHP Michael Plassmeyer, a 2018 draft pick who had a promising short-season pro debut.

The Rays are also giving up minor-league OF 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 (zoo-NEE-no), a Cape Coral native and University of Florida product who Wednesday won the Wilson award as the top defensive catcher in the game but whose offense has been inconsistent. He will pair with lefty-swinging Michael Perez to give the Rays what they feel will be a talented two-way duo.

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.

Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto had some fun with that in his statement on the deal:

"Bringing Mallex back home to Seattle is exciting for us all," Dipoto said. "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."

Here are capsules on the three players acquired courtesy of Rays PR:

Zunino (zoo-NEE-no), 27, hit .201/.259/.410 (75-for-373) with 20 home runs and 44 RBI in 113 games (102 starts) last season with the Mariners, his second consecutive season with at least 20 homers and third overall. He missed time due to a pair of stints on the disabled list, missing the first 17 games of the season with a strained left oblique and from July 5-21 with a left ankle bone bruise. Over the last two seasons, his 45 home runs rank fourth among major league catchers behind Salvador Pérez (54), Gary Sánchez (51) and Yasmani Grandal (46). According to FanGraphs, since the start of the 2017 season he ranks sixth among major league catchers with 5.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Over parts of six seasons in the majors, he has hit .207/.276/.406 (391-for-1,885) with 95 home runs and 241 RBI.

Last night, Zunino was named the 2018 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at catcher. The Wilson Defensive Player of the Year, which honors the top defensive player at each position across the majors, is determined by a combination of traditional defensive stats and advanced metrics. With Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier, who won the award for center field, the Rays are now the only team in baseball with two 2018 Wilson Defensive Players of the Year. According to FanGraphs, last season Zunino tied for first among American League catchers and tied for second among major league catchers with 12 Defensive Runs Saved. Among qualifying catchers, he ranked fifth in the majors and third in the AL with a .998 fielding pct. He threw out 29.2 pct. of potential base stealers, third in the AL among players to appear in at least 100 games at catcher.

Zunino was born in Cape Coral Fla., where he graduated from Mariner High School in 2009. He was selected by the Mariners in the first round (third overall) of the 2012 June Draft out of the University of Florida, and remains the highest-drafted player in school history. He led the Gators to the College World Series each of his three seasons there, was named 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and in 2012 earned the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Trophy and Johnny Bench Award.

Heredia (her-ED-ee-uh), 27, hit .236/.318/.342 (69-for-292) with five home runs and 19 RBI in 125 games (88 starts) last season with the Mariners. He was with the major league club for three stints: Opening Day–April 21, May 1–August 18 and August 27 through the end of the season. He was one of five qualifying outfielders in the majors to record a 1.000 fielding pct., and joined Franklin Gutierrez in 2010 as the only Mariners outfielders to ever do that. He was named the Mariners recipient of the 2018 Heart and Hustle Award by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA). The Heart and Hustle Award honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody its values, spirit and traditions. Over parts of three seasons in the majors, he has hit .244/.321/.336 (188-for-770). He played six seasons in Cuba before signing with the Mariners in March 2016.

Plassmeyer, 22, went 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA (24-IP, 6-ER) in 13 appearances (12 starts) last season with Short-A Everett, his first professional season. He recorded 44 strikeouts, good for a 16.50 strikeouts per nine innings ratio, and was named to the Northwest League midseason All-Star Team. He was selected by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2018 June Draft out of the University of Missouri. In his final season at Missouri, he went 5-4 with a 3.05 ERA (91.1-IP, 31-ER) and 103 strikeouts in 14 starts.