Mariners complete 5-player deal that sends Zunino, Heredia to Rays for OF Mallex Smith
The Mariners’ re-imagining has begun.
Ken Rosenthal broke the news Tuesday that Mike Zunino was one of the catchers the Tampa Rays were looking to acquire. On Wednesday evening a source confirmed what Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times was first to report, an agreement was in place that would send Zunino, Guillermo Heredia and 2018 fourth-round pick Michael Plassmeyer to Tampa Bay for outfielder Mallex Smith and minor league outfielder Jake Fraley.
The trade was made official Thursday morning, and Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto appears to be right on schedule with his first trade of what looks to be a very busy offseason.
Welcome back, Mallex Smith!
The outfielder returns to Seattle along with minor league OF Jake Fraley from the Rays in exchange for catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia and minor league LHP Michael Plassmeyer.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) November 8, 2018
The deal falls in line much more with the step-back approach than a tear down, as the return would bring back a major leaguer who fills an immediate need for the Mariners. The trade for Smith, who was a Mariner for mere minutes before becoming part of the Drew Smyly trade in 2017, fills one of the Mariners’ most pressing needs – a true center fielder – while creating another behind the plate. With Zunino off to Tampa, David Freitas is the only catcher on the 40-man roster.
Dipoto has indicated that he would remain flexible in building the 2019 roster with moves dictating other moves. Of interest here is what happens with Dee Gordon and Robinson Canó. While Smith could conceivably play left field and Gordon remain in center, the Mariners would like to add power to their outfield. If Gordon remains on the team it would appear Canó’s days at second are over.
While Dipoto clearly prefers the trade route, there are a number of free agent catchers he could look to in filling the need behind the plate, although none will come with the defense or built in-trust factor with the pitching staff that Zunino provides. Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy, Jeff Mathis, Wilson Ramos, and Martín Maldanado are just a few of the names available.
Smith, 25, just completed his first full year in the big leagues after making his debut in 2016. He hit .296/.367/.406 with 47 walks, 98 strikeouts and 40 stolen bases. For the Rays, he split time in all three outfield positions and hit leadoff in 47 games. He is under club control through the 2022 season.
Fraley, 23, hit .347 with 19 doubles, seven triples, four home runs and 41 RBIs in 66 games with the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the High-A Florida State League last season. He was a second-round pick of the Rays out of LSU in 2016.
Zunino was just named the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at catcher on Wednesday, but he is coming off a season in which he dealt with injuries and saw his offensive numbers take a step back. He hit .201 with 20 home runs, 150 strikeouts and just 24 walks in 373 at-bats for a .259 on-base percentage. The 27-year-old Zunino could see his salary reach over $4.2 million this offseason in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Smith comes at a lower price tag, scheduled to make the Major League minimum in 2019, and more club control as he will not reach free agency until after the 2022 season.
Heredia, 27, hit .236 with five home runs as a defensive specialist in the outfield for the Mariners last season.
Plassmeyer, a left-handed pitcher from the University of Missouri, went 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 13 games (24 innings) in his first professional season with Short-A Everett in 2018.