MLB Offseason: Zunino Traded to Rays
Greg Jewett is here to explain the trade between the Rays and Mariners and what it means for both teams.
Although Trevor Rosenthal signed with the Nationals, the hot stove finally seemed to light with Seattle and Tampa Bay making yet another trade. Mallex Smith will head back to the Mariners in return for Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia . It seems like a deal which could benefit each team. This also opens the door for a player with a skill set fantasy owners crave to find more playing time with the Rays.
Starting with Mallex Smith , he takes his second half breakout to Seattle and will be added to their outfield mix. This will be interesting since this could signal a move by Dee Gordon back to second base or the Mariners trying to reshuffle their infield. Perhaps Robinson Canó to first base? As for Smith, he finished 2018 with 40 stolen bases in 141 games and a .296/.367/.406 slash line.
Smith increased his contact percentage by over five points last year and reduced his swinging strike percentage by 1.7 percent. This bodes well to Smith carrying over some of the gains in batting average to his new team and for fantasy owners banking on an improved average by him. However, one must note Smith’s home and road splits prior to paying full price in drafts next year.
Mallex Smith home splits 2018 - 68 games, 39 runs, one home run, 20 RBI, 26 stolen bases, five caught stealing; .347/.415/.471
Mallex Smith road splits 2018 - 69 games, 26 runs, one home run, 20 RBI, 14 stolen bases, seven caught stealing; .244/.317/.340
No one invests in Smith for power, so the even distribution of home runs and RBI at home or on the road do not make a ripple in his fantasy value. However, Smith ran more aggressively at home and his former team, Tampa Bay, led the majors in stolen base attempts per game in 2018. Seattle did finish 11th in this same category, but where Smith hits and how many times he attempts to steal will affect his 2019 numbers. Also, one cannot ignore how well Smith hit at home compared to the road. Looking at Steamer projections, they slate Smith for 60 runs, five home runs, 47 RBI, 34 steals and a .261/.329/.364 slash. Much of his counting statistics will depend on where he hits in the lineup, for now, under on home runs, over on average and the steals feel about right.
Tampa Bay feels it sold high on an outfielder they had a glut of and addressed a clear need for a right-handed hitting catcher. This leads us to Mike Zunino . He did launch 20 home runs last year in 113 games. More importantly for the Rays, Zunino led catchers with 12 defensive runs saved using the metrics on Fangraphs, caught 34.6 percent of potential stolen base attempts and recorded a .998 fielding percentage last season. Plus:
2018 catchers by defensive runs above average:— Devan Fink (@DevanFink) November 8, 2018
1. Willson Contreras - 12.7
2. Martin Maldonado - 11.3
3. James McCann - 11.1
4. Jonathan Lucroy - 11.0
5. Mike Zunino - 10.8
Rays just got one of the league’s best defenders.
Although it’s tough to invest in a catcher who can drain batting average, hope lies in him rebounding from his slash line crater to .201/.259/.410 last year. He’s one year removed from hitting .251/.331/.509 and his underlying metrics align over the last two years. Some luck and maybe a new home will allow Zunino to bounce back. It’s tough to invest in an average over .235, but it would be an improvement. Hone in on his on-base tendencies in spring to see if a rebound lies in the offing. Here’s a look at his line drives and fly balls from the last three years with Tampa Bay as the backdrop:
Steamer suggests Zunino will hit 19 home runs with 51 RBI and a .209/.282/.408 slash in early projections. Taking the over on home runs and average for now. But Zunino needs to raise his walk percentage to make this happen.
Some will speculate on Guillermo Heredia ’s strong September, but he should do well in a similar role as he had in Seattle. Face left-handed starters and be a late inning defense substitute. Heredia did hit .414/.514/.655 over his last 13 games of 2018 with seven runs, a home run, five RBI, a stolen base and six walks versus one strikeout. However, basing a future breakout on a sample this small seems like a reach.
Our real winner in this trade will be Austin Meadows . In 69 games at Triple-A, with two different affiliates, he scored 46 runs with 12 home runs, 43 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .303/.348/.533 slash. With Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, Meadows appeared in 59 games in the majors with 19 runs, six home runs, 17 RBI, five steals and a .287/.325/.461 line. Due to the lack of players with 20 home run and 20 stolen base potential lie on the horizon, Meadows getting a chance to play in 130-140 games with the Rays makes him very appealing. There’s reason for some worry due to his spotty injury history, but his Steamer projection of 134 games, 67 runs, 17 home runs, 65 RBI, 16 stolen bases and a .264/.315/.433 slash make him a worthy flier to reach on in upcoming drafts.
Be sure to stay with Fantasy Alarm all offseason as free agency heats up and trades continue.