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Seattle Mariners’ Omar Narvaez, right, scores ahead of the throw to Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis d’Arnaud on a two-run single by Tim Lopes during Wednesday’s game.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have made several interesting decisions in the last week, headlined by letting catcher Travis d’Arnaud go and then re-committing to keeping Mike Zunino.

As they move on to the next ones, such as whether to tender contracts from their shrinking list of arbitration eligibles to Chaz Roe (a projected $2.2 million) and outfielder Guillermo Heredia ($1.1 million) by Monday’s 8 p.m. deadline, let’s review if they were wrong or wise.


Wrong? D’Arnaud was, for the Rays anyway, the rare find of a two-way catcher, who also got raves for what he did in the clubhouse. They should have wanted to keep him and did, but clearly only to a point less than the $16 million over two years he got from the Braves. He not only filled the hole behind the plate capably but gave them a right-handed power bat they needed (and now do again), and came up clutch numerous times. His .263 average, 16 homers, 67 RBIs and .782 OPS, all in 92 games and after a slow start following his mid-May acquisition, was a huge part of their success, and an unexpected bonus when they got him during their mid-May injury mess for the bargain price of $100,000.

Wise? Was d’Arnaud the best catcher the Rays had seen, or did they see him at his best? He will be 31 in February. He has been injury prone, playing less than 110 games in five of his six seasons. He cooled considerably after a sizzling two months, whether pitchers adjusted, or he tired after having missed nearly all of 2018 recovering from surgery. After a sizzling 44-game stretch from May 27-Aug. 5, hitting .321 with 13 homers, 44 RBIs and a 1.025 OPS, he was just .232-3-23-.616 over his final 38 games, and .105-0-2-.323 in the playoffs. While the $8 million annual salary wasn’t crazy given the market, the overall $16 million commitment may have been too much given the Rays usual budget concerns and a squad of young players they’ll eventually have to pay.


Wrong? There was good reason to instead ditch Zunino given a historically bad offensive season (.165, nine homers, 32 RBIs, .544 OPS) that cost him the starting job. And it’s not like he had been great offensively, with a career .202 average. Plus, because he was arbitration-eligible, he would still get a raise from his $4.4125 million salary. Even though the Rays got a relatively good deal, guaranteeing him only $4.5 million and getting a 2021 option (for no more than $5.25 million), that still would be tough to eat if he struggles again. And, this early in the off-season, there were other options.

Wise? If the Rays didn’t already have Zunino, he’d be kind of guy they’d be interested in getting — a 28-year-old elite defensive catcher coming off a down offensive year they think they can improve, and at a reasonable rate. Given the choice, they’ll always take the defense first behind the plate. And he did hit 20 homers in 2018 and 25 in 2017 (though playing in the AL West). With his $4.5 million salary they conceivably could add another veteran at a late off-season bargain price and still pay less than d’Arnaud’s salary. And if somehow they land a frontline catcher in a trade, Zunino could be easier to deal given the 2021 option.



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