ST. PETERSBURG — The official announcement of the trade sending Blake Snell to the Padres for a package of four young players — and the interviews explaining the hows and whys — should come sometime Tuesday, assuming no unexpected issues with the review of medical records lead to any changes to the deal.
As we await word, here are five things we think we know about the deal, in which the Padres get a 28-year-old former Cy Young award winner and the Rays get right-hander Luis Patino, one of the game’s top pitching prospects; catcher Franciso Mejia, who was considered a top prospect a few years ago; right-hander Cole Wilcox, a 2020 third-round draft pick from Georgia; and minor-league catcher Blake Hunt.
They’re not done
The Rays have been busy in what is an overall slow offseason throughout the league. They let Charlie Morton and Hunter Renfroe leave as free agents, put catcher Michael Perez on waivers, re-signed catcher Mike Zunino and added starter Michael Wacha as free agents, traded Nate Lowe to Texas for prospects and now have dealt Snell to San Diego. It would be surprising if this is the end of their moves.
In the immediate future, they have to drop someone from their 40-man roster (in addition to Snell) to make room for Patino and Mejia. But bigger picture, they still could use another experienced pitcher in the starter/bulk inning role to join Wacha and veteran returnees Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough. Overall, their roster is still not quite right, as they have one too many outfielders and could use another right-handed hitter.
Which brings us to whether they will now trade centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier. The Rays went into the offseason open to dealing Snell and/or Kiermaier, their two highest-paid players. Though they moved Snell, who is due $10.5 million in 2021 and has three years and $39 million overall left on his contract, they still could deal Kiermaier for the right return. He is set to make $11.5 million in 2021, plus $12 million in 2022 and either a $13 million option for 2023 or a $2.5 million buyout. Though not all teams will value his defense-first game, there has been interest. As one person familiar with the Rays’ thinking said: “There’s a lot of offseason left.”
They bought low on Mejia
Mejia came up with the Indians, cobbling a 50-game hitting streak at Class A in 2016 and getting a brief taste of the majors in 2017. He entered the 2018 season with Cleveland considered the No. 11 overall prospect in the game per mlbpipeline.com, then was traded to San Diego that July for pitchers Brad Hand and Adam Climber. The Rays, obviously, are hoping they are getting that talent and not the guy who hasn’t done much with the Padres the past few years — though he did have a 60-game run late in 2019 when he hit .297 with eight homers, 19 RBIs and an .844 OPS. If he gets his bat right and can tighten up his work behind the plate, the 25-year-old switch-hitter could pair well with Zunino behind the plate. Plus, Mejia, who also can play outfield, comes cheap; he won’t be eligible for arbitration until next season.
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The money is what matters
The Rays feel very, very good about the overall return they got from the Padres, with Patino, Hunt and Wilcox call considered top-10 prospects in the rich San Diego system. But the reason they made the deal was to save money and gain some financial flexibility. Even with a payroll expected to be around $60 million. That’s the shape they say they are in coming off the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season, with principal owner Stuart Sternberg telling the Tampa Bay Times the losses were “a number I wouldn’t have imagined to lose in a baseball season.”
For the Rays, that included lost revenue from no fans in the stands (plus the lucrative postseason games they would have hosted) and from media partners who had less inventory. But perhaps most of all, that included losing the estimated $50 million in revenue sharing they get annually from other teams. It is not clear yet if they will get some or all in 2021. So they can make a case, especially with seven arbitration salaries still to be settled, that they could use the money saved by trading Snell to make the team better elsewhere.
The World Series wasn’t the reason
Yes, Snell was upset at being taken out of Game 6 of the World Series, when he pitched into the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead and was pulled after allowing only his second hit. He showed it in his reaction at the time, and even in his generally positive overall comments after the game against the Dodgers, he made his frustration clear. But that is not why the Rays traded him. Not because they didn’t have confidence in him, and not because he didn’t trust them and asked to be dealt. (Earlier this month Snell said how much he wanted to stay.) Snell could have thrown a complete game in the Series and still been traded.
The Rays have handled Snell that way previously, including in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against Houston when he was pulled in the fifth with a 1-0 lead. In 21 (regular-season and postseason) starts since his July 2019 arthroscopic elbow surgery, Snell has not completed six innings. And it’s not a physical matter, as he has thrown plenty of pitches, as many as 108. It will be interesting to see if the Padres give him the chance to work deeper into games, and how he does.
Rarely does a team have a “reason” to trade a player. If the Rays had really wanted one, they could look back at Snell’s controversial May comments about not wanting to take the risks of playing in a coronavirus-abbreviated season without getting his full $7 million salary.
Patino is the key
Patino has gotten bigger and stronger since signing with the Padres out of Colombia for $130,000 in 2016 and developed into one of the game’s top pitching prospects. His combination of a high-velocity fastball (averaged 97 mph) and nasty slider got him to the majors last year. The continued development of those pitches, as well as a dependable third option, will accelerate his progress, as will getting ahead earlier in counts.
There is some discussion in the industry about whether at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds he profiles better as a starter or a reliever. The Rays see the 21-year-old as a starter, with a high ceiling over the long term, which is most important.
For now, they will have him in the mix for one of the open starting/bulk inning spots in 2021. There’s a growing group, and subject to further addition, led by lefty Josh Fleming, who was 5-0, 2.78 in five games during the 2020 season; Brent Honeywell, who is expected to be ready for spring training after recently undergoing a fourth elbow surgery; and Shane McClanahan, the hard-throwing lefty who made his debut in the playoffs. Also candidates are less dynamic right-handers Trevor Richards and Aaron Slegers, and former Oriole David Hess, who signed a minor-league deal.