Why Cy Young winner Blake Snell won’t get much of a raise from the Rays

The pitcher will get his contract renewed for $573,700 in his final season before arbitration eligibility.
Having his contract renewed could give Rays starter Blake Snell a lot to think about. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Having his contract renewed could give Rays starter Blake Snell a lot to think about. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published March 8
Updated March 8

PORT CHARLOTTE — So much was right about Blake Snell winning the Cy Young award for his dazzling 2018 breakout season.

And here’s one thing that’s very wrong:

Snell’s job done spectacularly well for the Rays is not going to get him much of a raise.

Sometime between now and Sunday afternoon, barring a development that frankly would be unforeseen to both sides, the Rays will announce they have renewed Snell’s contract for this season.

The exact salary number is expected to be $573,700, and we do need to pause here to acknowledge that is plenty of money, especially for playing a kid’s game, and so much more than most of us will ever make.

But in the context of being a major-leaguer, and one who just won one of the sport’s most prestigious awards after posting a historic season, it’s not very much.

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Worse, it’s just a meager increase, just $15,500, from the $558,200 Snell made last season. Especially when you factor in that $10,000 of the raise is pretty much built in to a league-wide hike in the minimum salary from $545,000 to $555,000.

“It’s disappointing,’’ Snell said, reluctant to talk much about the situation given his focus on team goals and season prep. “You want fair. But at the same time they don’t have to do it, so I understand the business side of it.’’

The Rays do have their reasons and, while they are going to get piled on in the comments and via Twitter that it’s BECAUSE THEY’RE CHEAP!!!, it’s not just that.

They are also disciplined.

And from that singular perspective, Snell’s success is bad for them. Or at least makes them look bad, as if they aren’t taking care of their most successful player.

RELATED: Rays Blake Snell wins Cy Young award

Like other teams, though seemingly stricter, the Rays have a salary structure for players, like Snell, who don’t yet have the three years (or, for a small group, close) in the majors necessary to be eligible for arbitration.

Their specific calculations are private, based primarily on service time though with “a slight margin” to accommodate performance.

But the premise is clear: Pay them as little above the minimum as possible during these years by giving small incremental increases, knowing the balance of power tilts when the player gets to cash in via arbitration over the next three, then dramatically when they’re eligible for free agency after six. (Well, for some players anyway, but that’s another topic … )

The sides talk, but the teams have the unilateral right to set the salary.

For no more than principle, and a little “We’ll get you in arbitration!” motivation, some of the more accomplished players in this category decline the offers, and thus get their contracts renewed, which is what Snell will do. Josh Hader was just renewed by the Brewers; Mookie Betts was by the Red Sox a couple years ago.

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Short of blowing up the structure they’ve used annually, the Rays didn’t feel there was much else they could do. Really? Would giving Snell a $1 million salary – and maybe building some goodwill knowing they will be headed to big-bucks arbitration next off-season – be that much of an issue? What’s another $425,000 to a big-league team? The equivalent of paying a couple of those 14 VPs?

There aren’t many precedents for Cy Young award winners at a similar stage contract wise, but their teams were more generous. San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum won in 2008 when making $405,000 and got a raise to $650,000 (when the minimum both years was $400,000). Cleveland’s Corey Kluber made $514,000 when he won in 2014 (minimum $500,000) and got a raise to $601,000 (minimum $507,500), then three weeks later agreed to a five-year, $38.5 million contract.

The Rays thinking goes that if they make an exception and do something like that for Snell, what if Willy Adames wins the MVP award, or one of the Lowes is rookie of the year? Where would they draw, and hold, the line?

This is the same system that gave Jeremy Hellickson the equivalent of just a $5,500 raise (based on a large bump in the MLB minimum) for winning rookie of the year for the Rays in 2011. And that cut Brad Boxberger’s salary by $2,200 after he led the league in saves in 2015.

The Rays actually did make one accommodation to Snell. In what really doesn’t look anything like a coincidence, the Rays this year conveniently will drop the penalty for getting renewed, which in most years was a $5,000 reduction. In other words, if the Rays offered $575,000 and you declined you were renewed at $570,000.

So at least, Snell won’t take that hit. And, it should be noted, there were talks over the last few years on a long-term deal, but Snell and his reps at Sosnick Cobbe & Karon didn’t like the terms. With the pot of arbitration eligible gold waiting at the end of this season, it’s too late for the Rays to make a deal now.

Snell, 26, talks often about how he takes the challenge of facing batters personally. Could the contract standoff become an issue? It doesn’t seem like it.

But also that it won’t be something he forgets either.

“If that’s what they want to do, that’s what they can do,’’ Snell said. “Hopefully this pushes me. Arbitration will be the business side, and that’s what I’ll tell them. I think fair is fair. It all comes around in the end anyway. At the end of the day, you get what you put in. I’ll be motivated.’’

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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