ST. PETERSBURG — Catcher Mike Zunino was open to going elsewhere, but hoped to remain with the Rays.
“Open and honest” communication with general manager Erik Neander about the opportunity was encouraging, even with the financial impact of the 2020 season a factor. And when an offer was presented, even though it was for considerably less than the option the Rays declined, Zunino decided it was best to take it.
“It’s a place that I truly wanted to stay‚” Zunino said on a Zoom media call Thursday. “Obviously what we accomplished last year, and the young core that’s here, I think the sky’s the limit. It was a pretty easy decision for my family and myself.”
The Rays were aggressive in showing their interest in a reunion, and the first to make an offer, Zunino said. The opportunity for regular playing time that Zunino didn’t know if he would get elsewhere, and the chance to be part of a contending team, factored into his decision.
After having a $4.5 million option declined, Zunino re-signed for a guaranteed $3 million: a $2 million salary in 2021, and either a $1 million buyout or a 2022 option for $4 million-$7 million based on playing time.
’’We didn’t rule anything else out, but I think the way the market was going, they were the first, the front-runner, in wanting to get something done, and in trying to establish what my market would be,” Zunino said. “There’s a lot of trust here already. The communication has been wide open since the get-go. So once we got the ball rolling with that, it was nice and very easy for us.
“... We were open to waiting however long we needed to, but we also didn’t want the right opportunity to slip away. It was one of those things where we knew that Tampa needed to fill some catching voids so that was probably a place of interest that they were looking at probably early. It’s nice that it worked out before the holidays.”
Zunino, 29, said the combination of playing time and the chance to win made it all fit.
“Obviously, being able to go there and catch as much as I can is a big factor,” he said. “But tasting the playoffs two years in a row, getting to the World Series, the opportunity to win, I have a lot of confidence and trust in what this organization is doing and building. I think they can win for a long time, and I want to be a part of that.’'