ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays have once again worked out a deal with frequent trade partners, the Seattle Mariners.
Tampa Bay agreed to send outfielder Mallex Smith and minor league outfielder Jake Fraley west in exchange for catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia and minor league pitcher Michael Plassmeyer.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things, When Denard (Span) came over (to Seattle in a mid-season trade) he had nothing but good things to say about the organization down here,” Zunino said.
Smith had a breakout season in 2018 for the Rays, batting .296 in 141 games. His 10 triples led the American League and stole a team-high 40 bases. The fleet-footed Smith made great strides on defense this season, especially when filling in for the injured Kevin Kiermaier in center. Smith’s jovial and easygoing personality also gave him a reputation as a positive influence in the clubhouse and his charity efforts in the community earned him the honor of becoming the team’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee in 2018.
“The Rays saw a trade that made sense for them and so did the Mariners,” Smith said. “I’m not upset or shocked on that matter.”
This will be Smith’s second stint –albeit brief — with the Mariners organization. Smith, who has been with four different organizations since being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round of the 2012 amateur draft, was acquired by Tampa Bay in a 2017 deal along with lefty Ryan Yarborough in exchange for pitcher Drew Smyly. The trade came just one day after the Mariners acquired the Tallahassee native in a separate trade with the Atlanta Braves.
“His combination of speed, base running impact, defense and on-base abilities are unique in today’s game,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “We believe his breakout 2018 performance reflects the many ways his skills will positively impact the Mariners for years to come.”
Welcome Home, Z
In Zunino, the Rays get a defensively-capable catcher with occasional pop from the right side of the plate. Zunino was named the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 after he led the AL with with 12 Defensive Runs Saved, according to Fangraphs. He also threw out 29.2 pct. of potential base stealers, third best in the AL. At the plate, Zunino hit .201/.259/.410 (75-for-373) with 20 home runs and 44 RBI in 113 games last season, his seventh in the league.
The trade will be a homecoming of sorts for Zunino, who was drafted third overall by the Mariners in the 2012 amatuer draft out of the University of Florida. The 27-year-old Zunino grew up in Cape Coral, just a few miles south of the Rays’ spring training home in Port Charlotte.
The Florida native, who now lives in Gainesville in the offseason, recalled fond memories of playing travel ball around the state and taking in games from the cheap seats at Tropicana Field to see the “local team” in between his tournament games.
“To be so close to home, being from Florida, is extremely exciting,” he said.
Along with Zunino, the Rays picked up a defensive-minded outfielder and another left-handed pitching prospect. The Cuban-born Heredia hit .236/.318/.342 (69-for-292) with five home runs and 19 RBI in 125 games but was flawless in the field, going errrorless on the season. In his first professional season after being selected by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2018 draft out of the University of Missouri, Plassmeyer went 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA (24-IP, 6-ER) in 13 appearances with Short-A Everett.
Fraley, 23, hit .347 with four home runs and 41 RBI in 66 games for Class-A Charlotte last season. The former sandwich pick in 2016 was ranked as the organization’s Best Defensive Outfielder by Baseball America in 2017.
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