The Rays will be without two key players for the remainder of the season. Manager Kevin Cash told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times and MLB.com’s Joe Trezza) this midfielder Kevin Kiermaier has decided to undergo surgery to fix a labrum problem with his left hip. catcher Mike Zunino is also done for the year, as reported by Topkin (on twitter) he needs surgery to correct the thoracic outlet syndrome. Cash said Kiermaier is expected to be ready for next spring training; the longer-term timeline for Zunino remains unclear.
Both Kiermaier and Zunino were already on the 60-day injured list. Kiermaier was initially diagnosed with hip inflammation, while Zunino’s problem was first described as left shoulder inflammation. However, the team quickly revealed that Zunino may be battling thoracic outlet syndrome. He received botox treatment hoping to fix the problem without going under the knife, but that obviously proved unsuccessful. Thoracic outlet surgeries are fairly common among pitchers, hurlers like Stephen Strasbourg, John King, Brendan McKay and Daulton Jefferies requiring the procedure within the last year. It’s far less common in positional players.
Kiermaier and Zunino were already facing lengthy recovery processes ahead of today’s news, so there was already some urgency for the club to deal with the vacated midfield and catching positions. Tampa Bay has already added and brought in help in the latter area Christian Bethancourt in a deal with the A’s. Neither Bethancourt nor incumbent Francisco Mejía has performed so well that the Rays should rule out further upgrades behind the bowl, although the market is fairly flat. Willson Contreras is one of the game’s most obvious trades, but the Cubs will have keen interest across the league in what may be the best rental club out there. Bethancourt’s former teammate, Sean Murphydraws attention to itself as a manageable option, although the acquisition cost for three and a half seasons of its service would be even more substantial than the transportation required to land Contreras.
Oakland also has one of the better midfielders that could be available Ramon Laureano with more than three seasons of remaining club control. Beyond Laureano, it’s a murky market there, too Bryan Reynolds and Cedric Mullins seemingly unlikely to move. The royals could market Michael A Taylor to capitalize on what may be the best season of his career while the Nationals might be ready to part with it Victor Robles in the midst of another down year. The rays are also without Harold Ramirez and Manuel Margot due to injuries, so they can rely on it Josh Lowe and Brett Phillips – none of which does much at the plate – next to it Randy Arozarena in the outfield.
The deadline outlook will be the most immediate concern for the Tampa Bay front office, but the longer-term impact of today’s news could be the end of Kiermaier and Zunino’s Tampa Bay tenures. Each is in the final guaranteed year of their respective contract. The Rays hold a $13m option on Kiermaier’s services for 2023 but it’s hard to imagine the club returning him for that sum. The left-handed outfielder had a modest .228/.281/.369, showing over 221 plate appearances in the season. Given his age (32) and another serious lower body injury, one might wonder how much longer he will remain one of the sport’s best defensive field players.
Zunino, on the other hand, will come after one of the more disappointing years of his career. A season ago, he was hitting 33 home runs, leading the Rays to bring him back with a $7 million option. He only managed a .145/.198/.304 in 36 games that year. The 31-year-old is among the best defensive backstops in the sport but the combination of his dismal 2022 numbers and the TOS process deals a hard blow to his stock on its way to the open hand.