PORT CHARLOTTE — This time, Blake Snell was the one surprised by a changeup.
And he couldn’t have been happier to be caught looking.
Eleven days after a heavily criticized decision to give Snell a meager raise and salary barely above the minimum for his remarkable Cy Young winning season, the Rays on Thursday instead gave him everything he wanted to finally sign a long-term deal.
Specifically, $50 million guaranteed over five years, which includes his upcoming three years of arbitration eligibility and, most significantly, his first year of free-agent eligibility, though only the one.
“I’m happy,” Snell said. “I’m happy to be here. I want to be here. I don’t want to go anywhere. I think with the deal I made with them, it’s going to keep me here longer than I would’ve been if I didn’t. And that makes me really happy. Because I’m comfortable here. I like the team we’re building. I want to be here. This is a great team.”
Snell had good reason to be thrilled, landing the largest deal in major-league history for a pitcher not yet eligible for arbitration, getting the $50 million guarantee he wanted, and by giving up just the one year of free agency still being able to hit the open market at age 31.
“I’m excited that we got it done,” he said. “Honestly surprised. I remember telling you, (I’m) going to arb. I was dead red on that. When it came about, I just told them what I wanted and told them what it was going (to take to) happen, and they met my way.”
So, yes, it looks like the Rays capitulated to the criticism, though they insist they didn’t, and planned to make another run this week at locking him up anyway. And, yes, they did the deal on Snell’s terms and by his deadline, though acknowledge he set a reasonable price, which was an accommodation. And, yes, they made a concession in breaking from policy in doing a long-term deal without attaching any team options, which they may consider a Cy Young/MVP winner only exception (though they didn’t amend their no no-trade rules).
Realistically, besides cost certainty through Snell’s three arbitration seasons — $7 million in 2020, then $10.5 million and $12.5 million, with the tipping of that scale TBD — all they gained for guaranteeing $50 million to the 26-year-old who’s had one good, albeit really, really good, season in the majors was control for that 2023 first year of free agency. (He’ll get $16-18 million pending Cy Young award finishes in the last year; a $1 million salary this year, plus a $3 million signing bonus.)
But after four offseasons of trying to do a deal with Snell, they felt pretty good about finally getting something done with their current biggest star.
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And, by doing so, flipping the narrative from how cheap they looked to how willing, a day after guaranteeing infielder/outfielder Brandon Lowe $24 million, they were to invest in the team and trying to win.
“Independent of this deal, the talent and the mindset of our group was in place to win this year, to be competitive,” GM Erik Neander said. “I think this is something that has some feel-good to it. Obviously, it gives security to Blake. To the extent that there was any pressure he was placing on himself for where things were contractually, that could be alleviated and he really just gets to go out and play baseball and have a good time with our group and developing into a leader of our group. …
“Our goal is not to just be competing in 2019, it’s to be competitive over a longer period of time and to have sustained success.”
Snell insisted that commitment was a big part of his decision. And, in what will be crushing to fans of the Yankees, Red Sox and his hometown Mariners, who all expected him to end up there in a few years, that he really likes living and working in the Tampa Bay area (though wouldn’t mind a little more fan support).
“It’s something that’s amazing that I get to be on this team,” he said, ‘‘with these guys that are so talented and we’re going to have a lot of chances to really push for the playoffs and World Series for years to come, so I’m happy.”
Snell said all the right things about how the contract will eliminate any potential distractions, how rewarded he’ll feel to be able to take care of his parents (who were “emotional” with the news), how committed he’ll remain to working at his craft.
“It’s just a perfect deal for me,” he said. “It’s a deal I’m very comfortable with, I think the Rays are very comfortable with.”
But because Snell is Snell, he also had some fun in talking about it, which, reflecting his personality, he preferred to do standing in front of his locker rather than at a formal news conference.
He joked — we think — that one of the big benefits was getting to see pre-/post-game radio host Neil Solondz every day. He insisted he’d still be streaming his Fortnite video game play on the Twitch subscription service. And when asked what he’d splurge on, he said he didn’t have specifics — nor the money — yet but it would be to add his massive collection, 250 pairs and counting, of shoes.
“I don’t know what I’m going to get,” he said. “I just know I’m going to get some shoes. A lot of some shoes.”
$3M signing bonus
2019 salary: $1M
2023-f: $16M (Can increase up to $2M based on top 3 Cy Young award finishes)
a- arbitration eligible; f- free-agent eligible
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com Follow @TBTimes_Rays.