MLB Notes: Zunino, Claudio, Manny’s Back!

Manny Ramirez With Alex Claudio And Mike Zunino

  • The Tampa Bay Rays have retained catcher Mike Zunino after they declined his option earlier this offseason
  • The Los Angeles Angels have added another reliever in the form of left-hander Alex Claudio
  • Manny Ramirez is back, albeit down under

As we now have some fresh news that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association are once again likely to go toe-to-toe in regards to the logistics of their 2021 season, let’s check on on some notes elsewhere around the league.

Rays Retain Zunino

One of the Rays’ first offseason decisions was to decline the $4.5M club option on catcher Mike Zunino. However, the club has circled back with the glove-first backstop and inked retained him on a one-year pact that comes with a $2 million salary for 2021 and a club option for 2022. That option is worth between $4-7 million based on 2021 playing time. If the team declines that option, Zunino will earn a $1M buyout.

Zunino has long been a glove-first backstop that has struggled mightily at the plate. Although he sports plenty of raw power at the plate, he’s coming off a 2020 season in which he hit just .147 with four homers and a 65 wRC+ across 289 trips to the plate.

Zunino did homer four more times in 19 postseason contests as the Rays marched to the World Series, but also hit just .170 with a .593 OPS that was nearly identical to his .598 regular-season mark.

Both FanGraphs and Statcast soured on Zunino’s defense in 2020, but he has long been known for his glove work behind the plate which is the main reason he’s logged parts of eight Major League seasons to this point, the last two of which have come with the Rays.

Zunino’s 0.0 fWAR from 2020 was the worst mark of his career, meaning he’s been above replacement level in all eight of his big-league seasons to this point, posting a career-best 4.6 fWAR with the 2017 Seattle Mariners when he slugged 25 homers with a .126 wRC+ across 124 games.

Clearly, the Rays will be hopeful for an offensive bounceback, but after hitting .147 and .165 in his two seasons in Tampa, the analytically-included club clearly values his work behind the dish more than anything.

Angels Add Claudio

The Angels’ focus on pitching continued on Wednesday as they added left-handed reliever Alex Claudio on a one-year, $1.125M contract, the organization announced on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old spent last season with the Milwaukee Brewers, turning in a 4.26 ERA/4.09 FIP across 20 appearances spanning 19 innings.

That said, he’s quietly been among the most reliable left-handed relievers in baseball over the last several seasons. Prior to the shortened 2020 season, Claudio appeared in at least 66 games in the previous three seasons, two with the Texas Rangers and one with the Brewers. He made a career-high 83 appearances in 2019 while his best season came in 2017 when he appeared in 70 games for the Rangers, posting a 2.50 ERA with a career-best 1.8 fWAR.

Across parts of seven big-league seasons, Claudio owns a 3.44 ERA/3.70 FIP. Not a strikeout artist with a career 6.27 K/9, Claudio instead gets his outs on the ground with a 60.6% career ground-ball rate. Since he entered the league in 2014, that mark ranks him sixth among relievers with at least 300 innings pitched.

The Claudio addition comes after the Angels made significant trade, bringing in former Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias on December 7. Iglesias has been one of the best relievers in baseball since entering the big leagues in 2015, posting a career 3.15 ERA/3.44 FIP. Since moving full-time to the bullpen in 2017, Iglesias’ 4.5 fWAR ranks 14th among 218 qualified relievers.

The Angels ranked 21st with a 4.63 bullpen ERA last season, and while the peripherals pointed to some bad luck, it’s not a surprise to see new general manager Perry Minasian addressing his pitching staff where the Angels ranked 25th as a group with a 5.09 ERA a season ago.

Manny’s Back!

Manny Ramirez is back! Before we get too excited, it should be noted his return comes down under for the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League.

Sydney manager Shane Barclay knew there would be plenty of press and attention surrounding Ramirez once he joined his club, however he’s been pleasantly surprised with the 48-year-old so far.

“We knew there’d be a Manny show but it’s been a pleasure,” Barclay said Wednesday. “The buy-in from [Ramirez] has been magnificent and just watching him swing a bat, you’re going. There’s no way this guy is 48.”

“He’s an incredible athlete. He’s legit and here to plat and bought in in every way. He’s going to hit some long balls this season.”

Ramirez last played Major League Baseball in 2011, a five-game stint with the Rays. Since then, he’s played in the minor leagues, Japan, Taiwan and China. He was hit with a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy in 2009 and incurred a second violation in 2011, earning him a 100-game ban that was later reduced to 50 on appeal.

He was the 2004 World Series MVP when the Boston Red Sox broke their 86-year title drought, was a 13-time MLB All-Star and received MVP votes in 12 seasons, finishing as high as third in both 1999 with the Cleveland Indians thanks to his 44 home runs and league-high 165 RBIs and in 2004 when he led the league with 43 home runs and a 1.009 OPS.

Ramirez has hit 555 career MLB home runs, placing him 15th on the all-time list. His 1,831 career RBIs places him 19th and worked to a career 66.3 fWAR despite a complete lack of speed and extremely poor defense in the outfield.

All that being said, Manny is back and it looks as if he means business.

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