Why the Rays Trading Blake Snell Shouldn't Surprise Anyone
Following their first playoff appearance since 2006, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller went out and traded for a premier pitcher in Blake Snell. Snell, who won the 2018 American League Cy Young award for the Tampa Bay Rays, is coming off a very solid shortened 2020 season where he started 11 games for the team. He also pitched to the tune of a 3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, along with 63 strikeouts in 50 innings.
Despite having a shaky follow up season in 2019, to his 2018 Cy Young dominance, Snell seemed to rebound in 2020, which included a 2.84 ERA in the ALCS and World Series. So why would the Rays trade Snell, who was on a team friendly contract, and what is in store for the Padres now that they have Snell? Well let’s take a deeper dive into both of those things.
Why This Makes Sense for San Diego
Let’s start with Snell’s new team the Padres. To acquire Snell the team had to give up three prospects, all three of which were among the team’s top 15 prospects, along with a seasoned fringe MLBer. The names include pitcher Luis Patiño (San Diego’s 3rd ranked prospect, MLB’s 23rd ranked prospect), pitcher Cole Wilcox (San Diego’s 7th ranked prospect), catcher Blake Hunt (San Diego’s 14th ranked prospect), and catcher Francisco Mejia. Overall, this is a solid package for Snell that will bolster Tampa Bay’s top ranked farm system, however this is not a break the bank move for the Padres. San Diego still has a top five farm system in the majors, which is arguably the strongest in the National League.
Luis Patiño is the big loss for San Diego here, although he struggled in 11 games for the team this past season. The team was able to retain top prospect, southpaw MacKenzie Gore, who is also the #3 ranked prospect in the entire MLB. Additionally, the team didn’t have to give up their top catching prospect Luis Campusano, so losing Blake Hunt isn’t the end of the world. Having a strong farm system like San Diego, allows you to make moves similar to this which in the end strengths the team and pitching rotation a tremendous amount.
For San Diego, adding Snell makes their pitching rotation absolutely lethal and moves their team to a top three position in the National League. Following the acquisition of stud pitcher Mike Clevinger this past summer, the rotation is currently looking like the best in the league when fully healthy. Clevinger will unfortunately miss the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery, but I still think that San Diego still has a strong enough roster to make a good postseason push without him.
Looking forward to this next year and 2022 the Padres projected pitching rotation will look something like this. 2021: Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet, Zach Davies, Chris Paddack, MacKenzie Gore/Joey Lucchesi/Adrian Morejon. 2022: Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, MacKenzie Gore/Joey Lucchesi/Adrian Morejon. One word, filthy. Again, when healthy this rotation is the best in baseball and if MacKenzie Gore develops into the ace the club believes he can by 2022, this rotation will be untouchable. One other note, Chris Paddack has always been a guy I’ve been very high on, in fact I picked him to finish in the top five of the National League Cy Young voting this past year, but to have him as your fourth best starter is almost criminal and speaks to the depth of the rotation.
Snell is going to slot in very nicely for San Diego and brings a much needed power left handed arm to the team. However, I can assure you that this is not the last move the team will make. Insider sources revealed this morning that the team is looking to unload some salary, to make another significant move of high value. When I hear that the one guy I think of as being the odd man out in San Diego is Wil Myers. Next season he will be making $22,500,000, which is 17.5% of the team’s total salary, a hefty sum for a guy who will be batting toward the bottom of the lineup and is now 30 years old. Myers is also on the books to make the same amount in 2022, with a club option for $20,000,000 in 2023. If they are able to trade him with another guy of value for another pitcher or outfielder, I think the Padres are easily the second best team in the National League, only behind their division foes the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Padres have their current pitching rotation locked up for only $28,000,000 total, and that includes both Snell and Clevinger, which is a disgustingly low figure for that amount of talent. The team will have to make some decisions on how they want to keep the core intact after 2022, but for now they are loaded for a deep postseason run that could end with a World Series trophy in hand. For perspective, this past offseason the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a contract with an AAV of $36 million dollars, $8 million more than the entire Padres rotation is making combined. A.J. Preller, you are a genius.
Why This Makes Sense for Tampa Bay
The other big question I’ve seen a lot of people asking is why the Rays made this move, when Snell is on a team friendly contract and they were so close to winning the World Series this past year. The answer to that question is quite simple on paper, however there may be more to it that the common fan does not know about. To put it simply, the answer actually is paper, money in that case. It’s no secret that the Rays love to play on a budget, in fact they are almost always one of the team’s with the lowest payroll in the MLB, despite all their success. Heading into 2021, they are currently 25th out of 30th team’s in payroll with a total payroll of only $54 million, along with $2 million in retained money.
With a very team friendly contract for Snell (3 years, $38.5 million remaining on the deal), there was a lot of value to be had by the Rays. They knew that they could send him off to a team who would take him, and would get loads of prospects back because of how much value Snell has as a player and with his contract. They also knew that they could do this without hurting their current roster in any substantial way. The loss of Snell for Tampa is definitely going to hurt, but their organization is always looking at the long term effects of trades, and how they can be better suited for the future, and this trade fits that profile perfectly. There’s something to be said about Tampa Bay’s farm system, who yes, is always among the best in the league, but is often so strong because they make deals similar to the Snell one where they trade off a guy who has high value at the time for future prospects.
Funny enough one of those guys who has been traded by the Rays in a similar scenario happens to be Wil Myers. Myers was traded from Tampa Bay to San Diego in December of 2014 for five players, including Jake Bauers and Steven Souza Jr. The deal was a three team trade, which also included the Padres sending Trea Turner and Joe Ross to the Washington Nationals, two players who have thrived in D.C.
This move was made after Myers had won the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award, but struggled in 87 games during his sophomore season in 2014. They obviously didn’t want to wait on Myers and instead of hoping that 2014 was a fluke and waiting for him to develop to be a cornerstone on the team, he was shipped off to San Diego, where he still plays today.
Another example of the Rays making a trade like this is in December of 2012 when they traded their All-Star starting pitcher James Shields to the Royals for coincidentally, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi. Shields was coming off a very solid 2012 season with a 3.52 ERA, 223 strikeouts and a 1.17 WHIP. This was an impressive follow up to his 2011 season, where he was an American League All-Star, finished 3rd in Cy Young voting and finished the season with a 2.82 ERA,11 complete games and four shutouts. This situation was eerily familiar to the current Snell deal, where Shields was on a team friendly contract and the Rays were looking to capitalize on that to get more long to value out of him. They were obviously able to do so as Myers won the Rookie of the Year award the following year and Odorizzi went on to be a staple in the Rays rotation for years to come. Shields however was still a good pitcher for the next three years, until his numbers fell off a cliff in 2016, leaving him out of a job after the 2018 season.
What can we learn here? The Rays are going to flip guys when they feel necessary in the interest of the team's financial situation, and they often hit grand slams doing so. I didn’t even mention the Chris Archer trade to the Pirates in 2018, where the Rays robbed the Pirates of Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, for an aging overrated pitcher in Chris Archer. I could honestly write an entire article on that trade alone, because the Rays got so much additional value out of that trade, that it’s crazy. The Rays will continue to do this, and until they stop you can’t argue otherwise. There’s no question that it works for them and I think a lot of organizations should take notes.
Now the other reason Snell may have been dealt away from Tampa, was that he was unhappy with the organization. We all remember Kevin Cash’s infamous move in game six of the World Series this past year, where he pulled Snell after only 5.1 shutout innings of 2-hit ball, with nine strikeouts, and only 73 pitches thrown. The move was puzzling at the time, and is still puzzling now almost two months later. Snell was visibly confused and upset when Cash pulled him, along with the entirety of the Rays fan base, and anyone watching the game. For Cash, the move was made to prevent the top of the Dodgers lineup from seeing Snell a 3rd time through, even though those same guys were 0-6 with six strikeouts against Snell up until that point. The Rays are also known to think out of the box with their coaching styles, but sometimes when a guy is dealing you just have to roll with him despite what some of the numbers and sabermetrics say. The Dodgers later went on to score that inning, and won the game, which was the clincher for their first World Series title since 1988.
As of right now, it’s mostly speculation whether Snell was actually unhappy with the Rays organization and Cash, resulting in him wanting a trade out of Tampa, however we may never know the real answers. I tend to think it played a part in things because there were never any rumors about the Rays trading Snell until that happened, but this trade is pretty par for the course from Tampa Bay, so I wasn’t surprised.
This trade elevates the Padres to the next tier of teams in the league, and they are going to be very scary for the next two years especially if the rumors about them unloading some excess salary for another major piece is true. Another top of the lineup outfielder (Charlie Blackmon type player), would be the perfect fit for this team, along with another bullpen arm. We will have to see how this trade shakes out for both teams, but I will say this, don’t think the Rays are throwing in the towel. They still have a very good roster and some of the prospects acquired in this trade may be ready to go for 2021. I think the trade makes sense for both teams, but I will say, I’m excited to see what Snell can do in San Diego for 2021 and beyond.
-Andrew Gardner, UNH '23