(via Tampa Bay Rays Communications) - The Tampa Bay Rays have signed free agent catcher Mike Zunino to a $2 million contract for the 2021 season. The deal includes a 2022 club option worth another $4 million, with the potential to grow to $7 million with incentives. The 2022 club option includes a $1 million buyout, for a total guarantee of $3 million. In addition, the Rays have agreed to terms with right-handed pitchers David Hess and Andrew Kittredge and catcher Joe Odom on minor league contracts with invitations to major league spring training.
Zunino, 29, appeared in 28 games and made 25 starts, all at catcher, in an injury-shortened 2020 season, batting .147 (11-for-75) with four home runs and 10 RBI. He was placed on the 10-day IL (left oblique strain) on August 29, retroactive to August 26, and reinstated on September 20. In the postseason, he hit .170 (9-for-53) with four home runs and eight RBI while starting 18 of the club’s 20 games. He became the first player in major league history to hit under .150 in the regular season and then hit multiple homers in the postseason, according to Stats LLC. His four homers were one shy of tying the major league record for a single postseason by a catcher (while playing the position), held by Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar (5) in 1997. He homered in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros to become the first catcher in franchise history to homer in a “winner-take-all” game. He became the eighth catcher all-time to homer in a Game 7 and the first since David Ross of the Chicago Cubs did so in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against Cleveland.
Zunino was acquired by the Rays in a five-player trade with the Seattle Mariners on November 8, 2018. Over eight seasons in the majors, he is a career .200/.270/.394 (446-for-2,226) hitter with 108 home runs and 283 RBI, including a combined 45 home runs over the 2017-18 seasons with Seattle. He has thrown out 23.9 pct. (90 of 376) of attempted base stealers, and was named the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at catcher following the 2018 season.
He was born in Cape Coral, Fla., where he graduated from Mariner High School in 2009. He was selected by Seattle in the first round (third overall) of the 2012 June Draft out of the University of Florida, and remains the highest-drafted player in school history. He led the Gators to the College World Series each of his three seasons there, was named 2011 SEC Player of the Year and in 2012 earned the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Trophy and Johnny Bench Award.
Hess, 27, made three appearances, all in relief, over three stints with the Baltimore Orioles in 2020, including his second straight Opening Day roster. He was selected by the Orioles in the fifth round of the 2014 June Draft out of Tennessee Technological University and reached the majors in 2018, recording the win as a starter in his major league debut against the Rays. Over parts of three seasons in the majors, he is 4-20 with a 5.86 ERA (190.1-IP, 124-ER) in 47 appearances (33 starts).
Kittredge, 30, was acquired by the Rays in a November 2016 trade with the Mariners and has spent parts of the last four seasons in the majors. In 2020, he made his second Opening Day roster and pitched to a 2.25 ERA (8-IP, 2-ER) in eight appearances (one start). He was placed on the 45-day IL (right UCL sprain) on August 12, ending his season. Over four major league seasons, he is 4-3 with a 4.93 ERA (111.1-IP, 61-ER) in 93 appearances (11 starts). He was signed by the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent on August 21, 2011 out of the University of Washington.
Odom, 28, made his major league debut for the Mariners in 2020, appearing in 18 games (15 starts) over two stints with the club. He was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 13th round of the 2013 June Draft out of Huntingdon College before joining the Mariners in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December 2017. Over seven minor league seasons, he is batting .239 (358-for-1,498) with 34 home runs and 182 RBI and has thrown out 20.8 pct. (92 of 443) of attempted base stealers.
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