Mike Zunino receives $ 7million club option

ST. PETERSBURG – The Rays will have a lot of tough choices to make this offseason. Their first big decision, however, was an easy one.

As expected, Tampa Bay officially exercised wide receiver Mike Zunino’s $ 7 million club option for the 2022 season ahead of Sunday’s deadline. This will make Zunino one of the highest paid players in Tampa Bay next year, his fourth season with the club, but the Rays just couldn’t turn down one of their most valuable and important players afterwards. what he accomplished last season.

The news came as no surprise, but Zunino and his wife, Alyssa, were no less thrilled to hear it on Sunday.

“I am extremely excited. Alyssa and the rest of the family are extremely excited, ”Zunino said on a Zoom call. “Without any long-term commitments, you sort of replenish it year after year. But when you get to a place and the whole atmosphere – top to bottom, openness, just the family aspect – it’s a given. Extremely happy that they decided to go for this option and can’t wait to be back for another year.

It also gives Zunino the certainty that he didn’t own that period last year.

A year ago, the Rays turned down Zunino’s $ 4.5 million club option and made him a free agent. But Zunino bet on himself and the relationship he has established with Tampa Bay, re-signing with the Rays a one-year, $ 4 million deal that includes playing time-based incentives. Zunino has proven himself and maximized his optional year salary in his first All-Star campaign, slashing 0.216 / 0.301 / 0.559 with a career-high 33 homers in 109 games while playing his usual mark of excellent defense.

“We brought it back last winter, said it was a winning recipe for us, and it was the conviction. What he’s been able to do offensively this year is one of the reasons we’ve won 100 games, ”Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said Oct. 12. “It was a special year for him. I think it just reflects the type of competitor he is, his willingness to improve. It would have been very easy for him to settle into a certain identity of receiver that he really had with us before. We saw signs of it last fall, during the playoffs, but just an amazing year for him. “

Zunino, 30, finished second for the Rays last season with 4.5 wins over substitution, according to Fangraphs – behind just Brandon Lowe (5.2 fWAR). Of all the big league receivers, only Buster Posey (4.9 fWAR) and Will Smith (4.6) were more valuable. According to Statcast, Zunino produced six runs from the extra hitting he created behind the plate last season, the Majors’ fifth-highest total.

Zunino’s breakout season at home had a major impact on the Rays roster, as he and fellow receiver Francisco Mejía added another layer of depth to the Majors’ second offense. Zunino was second on the team in home runs, second in OPS and fifth in RBI, consistently providing power he credits years of working with batting coach Chad Mottola.

“As a player and a competitor you still believe that’s in it. It just took a little longer to get out of the way, ”Zunino said. “That’s part of the reason I’m so grateful to be back. I think, from top to bottom, Erik and the rest of the front office, continuing to give me opportunities and their belief in this, and the unwavering efforts that we have put in with Motor and some of the others. coaches just to continue to build on that. It was not something that happened overnight. It took a long time. So this is one of those things where being able to have that little extra time and have the confidence to see something come to fruition was pretty cool.

But the Rays felt Zunino’s influence behind the plate more than anywhere else, as he guided a Tampa Bay pitching staff with the AHL’s top ERA despite a seemingly endless streak of unexpected injuries.

Manager Kevin Cash and the Rays coaching staff have relied on Zunino to coach Tampa Bay’s team of inexperienced rookies, including left-hander Shane McClanahan and right-hander Drew Rasmussen. And they trusted the veteran wide receiver to handle a staff who used 38 pitchers – plus three positional players on the mound – throughout the season. Everyone from leftovers like Ryan Yarbrough to the wave of young arms that made their way to the Majors sang Zunino’s praises.

The Rays will likely rely on more young starters next season Рincluding McClanahan, Rasmussen, Luis Pati̱o and Shane Baz Рwhile building on the depth of their field. Now they can take comfort in knowing that they will have Zunino behind the plate again.

“I think when you’ve been through what we’ve been through, making a few playoffs over the last three years and seeing the guys grow – whether it’s the players, the staff, just keep seeing how we need to improve. – it’s cool to be part of a process for a long time, ”said Zunino. “There are so many times in this game where you’re here for only a year or so, so to be able to see something for several years and hopefully try to keep taking the next step every year, that’s is fun to be a part of it.

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