It’s been a quiet off-season so far, but the stove threatens to erupt in flames if one is to believe Mark Feinsand’s report on MLB.com that the Rays are open to trading Blake Snell. Further increasing the potential heat here in our cold little faraway corner, per Feinsand’s report, two teams interested in the former Cy Young winner are the Angels and our very own Mariners. Snell, a Seattle-area native, would probably love to come home to the team he rooted for while growing up in Shoreline. A UW commit before he was drafted by the Rays in 2011, Snell is still a vocal supporter of UW athletics and is prone to live-tweeting Husky games on his Twitter account. Unfortunately for Snell, the five-year, $50M contract extension he signed in 2019 without a no-trade clause means that he doesn’t have the power to choose where he goes.
Nevertheless, Seattle certainly has the prospect capital to get Snell, even if the return is similar to the Chris Archer trade, which sent two top-100 prospects to Tampa Bay in Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, plus Shane Baz (sorry to all Pirates fans reading this). Despite the perception that Snell is a far superior pitcher to Archer, outside of a Cy Award and star turn in the World Series for Snell, the two stack up fairly closely:
#Rays Snell & Archer comp at time of his trade— Mat Germain (@Mat_Germain_) November 22, 2020
Archer: 9.7 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, .236 AVG, 1.23 Whip, 3.48 FIP, 3.69 ERA, Control left = $6.25M, $7.5M, $9M Opt, & $11M Opt
Snell: 10.5 K/9, 3.76 BB/9, .222 AVG, 1.24 Whip, 3.51 FIP, 3.24 ERA, Cy award, Control left = $10.5M, $12.5M, $16M
The biggest differences are in strikeouts (Snell is much better) and in the amount of dollars being paid to each player (Archer’s contract was much cheaper). It should also be noted that Archer was approaching the wrong side of 30 at the time of the trade, while Snell is still a relatively youthful 27. Despite his more youthful age, Snell has had his injuries, with loose bodies in his pitching elbow sidelining him for the last two months of the 2019 season (he also missed time in 2019 for that bizarre injury where he fractured his right toe by dropping a granite pole on it during a bathroom reno). He was also sidelined for a couple weeks with left shoulder fatigue in 2018. That’s a more significant injury history than Archer, who had lost only about a month with an abdominal strain in his pitching career before being traded to Pittsburgh.
Setting aside the fact that adding Snell would make the Mariners’ starting rotation an impressive 5/6ths lefties, a trade that gets Blake Snell to Seattle starts with the Rays asking for either Wander Franco’s current teammate in LIDOM play in Julio Rodríguez or Jarred Kelenic. Seattle is free to say no to either of these demands, but that means they’ll have to make up the difference by tossing extra players onto the trade block, and what the prospect-rich Rays don’t need is a ton of extra players, especially ones that have to be added to the 40-man, which is currently full after the Rays added three prospects ahead of the Rule 5 deadline. Julio feels as close to untouchable as any player, especially with the team’s dedication to promoting him through things like his YouTube series Vibin’ With J-Rod. Would the Mariners be the next team that trades Jarred Kelenic? The Mariners have staked much of their rebuild around pitching, with the twin titans in the outfield propping up the position player side of the rebuild. Letting go of either Julio or Jarred seems at cross purposes with the team’s stated goal of contention. Plus, you really don’t want to be the team that traded Jarred Kelenic. Just ask Brodie.
Could a deal get done without those two? Possibly. Perhaps the Rays would be interested in Florida native Logan Gilbert, although it would take a lot behind Gilbert to get a deal done. For everything the Rays have, their catcher position has been a series of question marks, and they’ve been after former FSU Seminole Cal Raleigh before. The Mariners would still have to attach more talent, but again, Tampa Bay has a rich system and a 40-man crunch, meaning someone like OF Taylor Trammell wouldn’t be an ideal target for the Rays unless they believed he was ready to start in Tampa Bay’s outfield in 2021. George Kirby, Noelvi Marte, or Brandon Williamson could all be candidates to round out this package. Emerson Hancock is another possibility in place of Gilbert, although the Rays have to make up Snell’s innings somehow if they want to remain competitive in an AL East that is currently theirs for the taking.
That’s perhaps the biggest hold-up in a deal for Snell getting done; Tampa Bay has the luxury of not having to trade him, especially if the famously tight-fisted team can find other ways to shed payroll and cut costs. The Rays are fresh off a World Series appearance where they went toe-to-toe with the Dodgers, and the AL East is essentially a two-team race for the time being between the Rays and Yankees with the Blue Jays still rising, the Red Sox staggering, and the Orioles deep in a rebuild. Their window is now, and if that window is a little tighter next year, the Rays can revisit trading Snell. For now, they can dangle him out and see which teams are willing to put what on the table.
Speaking of which, how do the Mariners stack up against other teams who might be interested in Snell? The Braves, Yankees, and Padres are all teams that were in the playoffs in 2020 but fell just short. For the Padres in particular, a lack of pitching stability after the injury to Mike Clevinger sunk the swaggiest team in baseball, but the Yankees are maybe the pitching-poorest team in that list, especially after the off-season departures of Paxton and Tanaka. It’s highly unlikely the Rays would trade Snell to a division rival unless they literally don’t care about winning games, and the Yankees don’t have the most potent of farm systems out of that group.
Feinsand’s intitial report lists the perpetually pitching-needy Angels alongside the Mariners as potential suitors, and they have some intriguing prospect names; it’s fair to think that, just as the Mariners would be loath to part with Kelenic or Julio, Jo Adell is likely off-limits, but the Angels could make an attractive package with MLB-adjacent OF prospect Brandon Marsh along with OF prospect Jordyn Adams or 2B prospect Jam Jones plus some other filler. Or maybe they’ll be desperate and swing big, letting Adell headline a deal and relying on a Marsh-Trout-? outfield. It’s hard to tell with those wacky Angels. Sticking with the AL West, Texas could also pop up as a surprise suitor if they’re concerned about filling up their shiny new Tuff-Shed with fans rather than going in for the rebuild they desperately need.
The addition of Snell could turn an outside-looking-in team like the Angels into a legit contender; it could also push a close-but-no-cigar team like the Braves or Padres into a divisional shoo-in. As World Series runners-up, though, the Rays have to be motivated in order to move Snell. They’re swinging right now to see how big of a return they could get. That return should not come from the Mariners.