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Addition of Zaun more than ‘rearranging chairs’

It was an hour or so after the trade deadline passed when Tampa Bay Rays V.P. of baseball Andrew Friedman discussed the immediate future of his ballclub.

He promised some moves, but nothing with any real teeth. The time had come and gone for those.

No, any moves the Rays would make between Aug. 1 and the final game of the season would be minor. Friedman referred to them as “rearranging deck chairs.”

Almost immediately, new deck chairs began arriving in the Rays clubhouse.

Relief pitcher Jeff Bennett replaced Joe Nelson the next day.

Catcher Gregg Zaun replaced Michel Hernandez on Friday.

On Saturday, the Rays traded for Oakland Athletics reliever Russ Springer, who takes the place of seldom-used infielder Joe Dillon.

There will be more to come.

On the surface, these are minor deals.

Bennett and Springer are here to help manager Joe Maddon better match arms vs. batters in the later innings. But the addition of Zaun is interesting.

The Rays haven’t gotten much out of their catchers this season. Heck, take away the first half of 2008, when Dioner Navarro played like an All-Star, and you can say the Rays have never gotten much out of their catchers.

Navarro hit .310 during the first half of 2008 and was named to the All-Star team. Since then, he is batting .242, including .221 this season with a .252 on-base percentage. Mix in Hernandez and Shawn Riggans and Rays catchers are hitting .232 this season.

Yes, the Rays put a premium on defense behind the plate. But they won’t mind some offense, too. Or, at the very least, something more than they have received up until this point.

Zaun is an 18-year veteran. He’s not Carlton Fisk, but he’s known for his defense and the way he handles pitchers.

“We feel like he’ll provide us a nice little boost here in the last third of the season,” Friedman said Friday.

That boost might not only come when he plays, but when Navarro plays. Navarro can sure use a little push. He’s never had a backup who could take his job. Hernandez is not that type of catcher, and Riggans wasn’t healthy enough to make a run at the No. 1 job.

But Zaun is different. He’s hitting better than Navarro this season, and having played with the Baltimore Orioles this year and the Toronto Blue Jays before that, has some working knowledge of the Rays’ pitchers.

Zaun will play more often than Hernandez, Friedman said. As a switch-hitter, he’s not as limited as Hernandez.

How much more Zaun plays depends on how well he plays.

It could depend on how well Navarro plays, too.

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