The Guardians don’t need Mike Zunino to be an All-Star, though they wouldn’t mind if he became one again.
Cleveland needs him to hit and deepen its lineup, and Zunio has shown he’s qualified.
The AL Central champions upgraded an offensive void on Thursday by signing Zunino to a US$6-million, one-year contract. The 31-year-old hit a career-high 33 home runs for Tampa Bay in 2021, and the Guardians are confident he can provide some extra power for a team that hit just 127 homers last season.
Zunino is also a solid defensive player, a prerequisite for a team built around its pitching staff.
Cleveland entered the offseason looking to improve its catching situation – mainly from an offensive standpoint. Austin Hedges and Luke Maile were both solid receivers, but didn’t do much with the bat.
While Hedges was an invaluable clubhouse leader and strong defensively as Cleveland’s primary starter, he batted just .163 in 105 games. Maile hit .221 in 76 games.
Despite being the major’s youngest teams, the Guardians won the AL Central by placing a premium on quality at-bats, making contact and getting on base, by any means necessary.
It’s a different approach in this swing-or-strike out era, and Zunino is eager to join in on the fun.
Zunino’s signing follows the Guardians locking up slugger Josh Bell, who has 130 homers in seven seasons and will bolster the middle of Cleveland’s order.