Posted on November 8, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Mike Zunino

Image via seattletimes.com

The first major trade of the baseball offseason is about to be finalized, and not surprisingly, it involves the Seattle Mariners, who have been kings of the trade under GM Jerry Dipoto. The Mariners are set to trade catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia, and pitching prospect Michael Plassmeyer to the Tampa Bay Rays. In exchange, the Mariners will receive outfielder Mallex Smith and outfield prospect Jake Fraley.

The trade comes almost immediately after Zunino was recognized for being the best defensive catcher in baseball. Offensively, Zunino has been inconsistent at best, hitting just .207 in his big league career. However, he’s become a consistent source of power, hitting 45 home runs over the past two seasons. He will immediately step in as Tampa Bay’s primary catcher. The Rays are set to lose Wilson Ramos in free agency this winter. Nick Ciuffo, a 23-year old prospect, is in line to be Zunino’s backup.

Of course, trading Zunino leaves the Mariners with a hole to fill behind the plate. Journeyman David Freitas is the only other catcher on Seattle’s 40-man roster. The Mariners are also lacking catchers in their farm system. As a result, this trade definitely adds another item to Dipoto’s offseason to-do list.

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That being said, the Mariners have filled their vacancy in center field. Robinson Cano is expected to become the team’s full-time DH, moving Dee Gordon back to second base permanently. That has created a need in center field. Smith will fit that void perfectly. Unlike Gordon, the 25-year old Smith is a natural outfielder who will cover acres of space in the Seattle outfield.

Smith also started coming into his own offensively in 2018, his first time playing virtually every day in the majors. In close to 500 at-bats, Smith hit .296 with an OPS of .773. While his power is lacking with just two home runs, Smith also stole 40 bases. Between his speed on the base paths and defense in the outfield, Smith figures to be a rather valuable player moving forward. He’s also under team control through the 2022 season, giving Seattle a long-term answer in center field.

The Rays, meanwhile, had enough outfield depth to part with Smith, who they acquired from the Mariners two winters ago. Tampa Bay already has a Gold Glove center fielder in Kevin Kiermaier, as well as the speedy Tommy Pham in left field. The Rays are also planning on using the promising Austin Meadows, who was acquired from the Pirates last summer, in right field. With Heredia also coming along in the trade from Seattle, the Rays also have a suitable fourth outfielder.

Both teams should be pleased with how this trade works out for them. However, the Rays look like the immediate winners. In Smith, they traded an expendable piece to fill their vacancy behind the plate with an elite defensive catcher. The Rays also get Zunino for two more seasons at an affordable price. The Mariners, meanwhile, have their center fielder for the future. However, they currently have no idea who their catcher will be in 2019. For Seattle, this trade solved one problem but created another.

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