Thursday, November 8, 2018
The First Major Trade of the Offseason
I wouldn't normally choose to write about this one, but it's an interesting one. Very, very interesting. The Mariners and Rays just lopped off some players they've deemed as expendable, but it's very funny who gets to earn that distinction.
The big name of this trade, whether you like it or not, is Mike Zunino. Mike Zunino has a career .207 batting average, and has season-averages under the mendoza line twice in his career. This season, he finished with a .201, and has never finished with higher than a .250. Mike Zunino is a great defensive catcher with absolutely no offensive competence, aside from the occasional home run hitting. His only outlier was last season, 2017, where he did well in multiple offensive categories, and finished with a 3.3 WAR. But on the whole, he's a very risky bet on a roster, as he only does a few things really well, and does a lot more truly badly.
Zunino has also been the Mariners' sole competent choice at catcher. Defensively this makes sense. Offensively, this makes less sense. The M's did bring in Carlos Ruiz to be a backup/DH type thing last year, but they didn't need him often. The only other catching options the M's had to work with A.) weren't very good, B.) have just been dealt to Houston, or C.) retired voluntarily midway through the season to pursue a new job with an eating disorders fund.
Now, they're down to David Freitas. Which sucks.
Zunino, along with decent outfield platoon member Guillermo Heredia, have just been dealt to the ever-growing Tampa Bay Rays, another team in desperate need of a catcher, in exchange for Mallex Smith, a Rays outfielder.
Now, in terms of who gets the upper hand here...it's a close call.
Both Zunino and probably Heredia will get to start games in Tampa. Heredia's will depend on the question of whether or not the Rays will want to plug anyone else into that outfield with Kevin Kiermaier and Tommy Pham. Heredia would be a fine choice for that third spot, but we don't know if they have other plans. Zunino will be their starting catcher, and knowing Kevin Cash, he'll do a fine job, and probably figure out how to hit over .250 if he's lucky.
Mallex Smith, who first of all was already traded to the Mariners in 2016 for Luiz Gohara, before getting traded again for Drew Smyly, has become a great outfield fixture for Tampa, leading the league in triples this past year, and having his first 100+ hit season. He will also get a starting gig in Seattle, as their other options aren't coming back (Heredia and Denard Span, who was just released), and will share the outfield with Mitch Haniger and either Dee Gordon or another offseason pickup. Smith will definitely come into his own in Seattle, will be plugged into the leadoff position alongside Gordon and Jean Segura, and could have an even bigger year if the M's decide to come into their own.
This is a great trade for two teams that are on the cusp of winning seasons for 2019. The Rays could potentially sneak into the AL East race, while the Mariners will need a stronger pitching staff to take on Oakland and Houston. This is only the beginning of that conversation.
Perhaps not a scintillating trade from the getgo, but certainly one that's interesting to talk about. Hopefully we'll get some more interesting ones as the offseason plows on.