SEATTLE — The Rays acquired veteran Gregg Zaun on Friday to improve the quality of their catching, one way or another.
They'll do that at least a couple of days a week, and maybe four or five depending on pitching matchups, by putting the 38-year-old switch-hitter in the lineup. The other days, they'll hope there's a residual impact from Zaun's presence, spurring better play from Dioner Navarro.
"The most important thing is we feel like he'll provide us a nice little boost here in the last third of the season and be a good option for (manager Joe Maddon)," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "I think he'll play a fair amount."
Zaun was acquired in a waiver-claim trade from the Orioles for a player to be named. The 15-year veteran is hitting .244 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 56 games.
The Rays were attracted by his skills behind the plate, his bat — especially from the left side of the plate — and his experience, specifically spending the past six seasons in the AL East with the Jays and Orioles and being part of the Marlins' 1997 World Series championship team. Plus, he has hit eight homers against the Rays.
"I really like his work. He is truly a veteran catcher," Maddon said. "For a lot of different reasons, it's an exciting move for us. I think he's going to fit in well, and I think he's going to have a positive impact on us going back to the World Series.
Zaun was due in Seattle late Friday, and the Rays waited until after the game to make room on the 25-man roster.
They did so by designating backup Michel Hernandez, who hit .242 in 35 games. Hernandez is out of options, so he must be exposed to waivers before he can be sent to the minors. He can refuse the assignment and become a free agent, but said he likely would go to Triple-A Durham if he isn't picked up by another team
To make room on the 40-man roster, Triple-A pitcher John Meloan, acquired recently from Cleveland, was designated.
Rays catchers have been among the worst in the majors, ranking last in on-base percentage (.263) and 24th in average (.229). Maddon said sparking Navarro, hitting just .224 with 27 RBIs and a .252 on-base percentage in 83 games, was "not the intent" of the move.
"I was not concerned about motivating anybody or whatever," he said. "We just felt that it made us better."
Navarro took the news of the potential loss of playing time relatively well.
"There's nothing I can do about it. I'll go out and play hard every day my name is in the lineup," he said. "I'm pretty sure they're doing it for what's best for the team, and that's what really matters.
"If they feel like it's going to help me or it's going to help the team, there's nothing I can do but keep working hard and keep getting ready."
Zaun, who has a home in Palm Harbor, told MASNsports.com (based in Baltimore) that he was "totally shocked" and thrilled.
"It's definitely going to be a shot of tonic," he said. "I'm just excited that I'm going to be on a team that's playing meaningful games in August and September. And it makes it even better that I get to go live in my house."
The player to be named, by rules, can't be anyone on the current major-league roster and likely will be determined next week.
Zaun makes $1.5 million this season and has a $2 million option for 2010, which because of the trade becomes mutual rather than team only, or a $500,000 buyout.