ST. PETERSBURG — When the first story about the Rays potentially trading Blake Snell this offseason was published in mid-November, the ace lefty didn’t pay much attention.
He knew when he signed his five-year, $50 million deal in the spring of 2019 there was a good chance he’d be dealt at some point during that contract — like other Rays who have signed multi-year deals — just not this soon.
“No shot,” he said he thought.
But the chatter kept growing, and when the Rays let Charlie Morton leave for Atlanta after declining a $15 million option late last month, Snell started to realize being dealt now was a real possibility. And he’s not real excited about it.
“I’m aware it’s going to happen at some point, so I’m ready for whenever that point is,” Snell said. “I just hope it’s a couple years away from now, because I love it here. So, all in all, it’s a little surprising.”
Snell said he’s not looking too deeply into trade scenarios, since it’s out of his control. He admits that getting dealt, whenever it happens, is “going to suck,” because of the relationships he’s built with his teammates and coaches — including manager Kevin Cash, who Snell said he has much respect and “love” for despite a difference of opinion over his removal from Game 6 of the World Series.
Snell hopes he won’t be moved this offseason, given how the Rays are positioned to remain competitive after consecutive playoff appearances and advancing to the 2020 World Series.
But Snell also understands how the Rays do business, that the possibility of getting “a crazy offer that can really help them in a couple years” and the opportunity to cut payroll could lead to a deal.
“I know we thought our time was going to be these next three years,” Snell said from his Seattle-area home. “But maybe they feel with what happened with COVID and how they have to spend money, they probably have to hold back a little bit for whatever reason.
“... With Chuck (Morton) leaving, that’s my big caution flag. We had a very good starting rotation with Chuck here, and with him not being here — and we’re on the search for starting pitching — it’s definitely a bigger question mark now for me more than ever.”
You can make the case that the Rays should keep Snell, that it’s best for the team’s immediate future.
Especially with Morton gone, Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough at times inconsistent, Josh Fleming and (more so) Brent Honeywell unproven, Brendan McKay sidelined at least part of 2021 and Yonny Chirinos and Jalen Beeks likely out the whole year after surgeries.
But you can also posit that the Rays should trade Snell now, that it’s best for their long-term future.
His value — having turned 28 Friday and with a Cy Young on the shelf — for three years at $39 million is extremely high, and he would generate considerable interest and bring a great return of young talent (especially as an option for teams not wanting to spend excessively for a free-agent starter).
Plus, shaving $10.5 million off the Rays’ 2021 payroll — as they, like others, deal with pandemic-driven revenue losses — would be of legitimate benefit to the team. (Another option would be to trade centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is due $11.5 million in 2021, $12 million in 2022 and has a 2023 option.)
The Rays aren’t going to just dump Snell. The return is going to have to make it worthwhile. And they have set a high bar for these kinds of deals, most recently getting Glasnow, Austin Meadows and prospect Shane Baz from Pittsburgh in July 2018 for Chris Archer, who had three more seasons at $27.5 million remaining on his contract.
It’s reasonable to think the Rays would seek a somewhat similar package for Snell, looking to get back a younger/cheaper pitcher to take his place in the rotation and, ideally, a promising catcher, though the position is less relevant than the talent.
As the Rays sort through what should be numerous scenarios, Snell will wait and wonder, knowing with the past as precedent that he will be dealt at some point.
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “All I’m thinking about is I hope I stay here, I want to stay here and I want to be a Ray for the remainder of my contract. That’s really what matters to me. Will I? Probably not. But I really hope so. I love it here. There’s no place better than Tampa in my mind.”
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