ST. PETERSBURG – Mike Zunino was not sure if he would be part of the rays in 2021.
Although the organization greatly appreciated his handling of the dynamic pitching staff and defense behind the plate, after two largely disappointing seasons, it decided offensively to reject the $ 4.5 million option.
Both sides explored other options before deciding to reunite six weeks later. Zunino took a pay cut, got a guaranteed $ 3 million ($ 2 million salary, $ 1 million purchase on a 2022 option) to stay, valued the chance to win and the comfort he had with the team and took a turn he could play better.
You could say he hit a home run.
Due to his 31 homers and another strong year behind the plate, Zunino was named the winner of the Don Zimmer Most Valuable Player Award on Friday, awarded annually by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“It’s an honor when you look at the talent in this club, the seasons the guys have, just to take that into account,” said Zunino. “We are a team that pushes each other, we try to make each other better. So when you see the guys doing it, it kind of sets the bar higher.
“For myself, by expanding over the last year, I just wanted to be able to help the team as best I could. I did not expect anything like that, but I can.”
Outfielder Randy Arozarena, who has had a solid first full season in the majors (.271 with 19 homers and 65 RBIs) after his remarkable performance after 2020, was named Outstanding Rookie.
Infielder Joey Wendle was selected as the winner of the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, given to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the court.
Zunino said it was “a no-brainer” for him to return to the rays.
“When you talk about where this club goes, the course, they are built to win for a long time,” he said. “When you get a taste of what the playoffs are like, what the World Series is like, it becomes the main factor in why you want to go somewhere.
“The other thing for me was the relationship I had built up with (meeting coach Chad Mottola and catching coach Paul Hoover), and all this coaching staff that I thought could help me take the next step.
“I am extremely grateful to (general manager Erik Neander) and the organization for putting that trust in me for another year. I’m glad I was able to take a step in the right direction and turn some things offensively. ”
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