Should Mariners be looking to trade for Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young?
Of everything to happen in the 2020 MLB postseason, one moment was easily the most interesting for those who follow the Seattle Mariners.
In Game 6 of the World Series, 2018 American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell cruised through five shutout innings for the Tampa Bay Rays against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then, he gave up a hit with one out in the sixth inning, and just like that, he was out of the game.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash handed the ball to reliever Nick Anderson, who immediately coughed up the Rays’ 1-0 lead, and the Dodgers went on to win 3-1 for the series-clinching victory.
Snell said he was “definitely disappointed and upset” after the game, though he added that he wasn’t going to question his manager. But considering the facts that Snell is about to make considerably more money for the notoriously cash-strapped Rays, has made comments in the past about his worth and what Tampa Bay is willing to pay him, and grew up a Mariners fan in nearby Shoreline, it got the Mariners fan base to thinking.
Well, it appears we have reached the next step.
According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Rays are open to trading Snell this offseason. And in his report, Feinsand points directly at the Mariners and general manager Jerry Dipoto as potential suitors.
We’ve put the team at 710Sports.com – editor Brent Stecker, writer Brandon Gustafson, and 710 ESPN Seattle Mariners insider Shannon Drayer – on the case to break down three big questions about Snell and the possibility of the M’s digging into their cache of prospects to bring him home.
Question No. 1: What do you need to know about Snell?
Snell is certainly talented, there’s no doubt about that. The 28-year-old left-hander has at times been an ace for the Rays, and that was no more evident than in 2018 when he became the franchise’s first ever 20-game winner. He went 21-5 with a league-leading 1.81 ERA in 31 starts. He also had a 0.974 WHIP, struck out 221, and was the best in the AL with a 217 ERA+ and 5.6 hits per nine innings.
That was also the year Snell put on a show against his hometown team, striking out 12 Mariners at T-Mobile Park, including seven in a row to start the game, which tied an AL record.
Snell had ERAs over 4 both in the season preceding and following his Cy Young win, however, but he bounced back in 2020, going 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 11 starts (50 innings). He was impressive in six postseason starts, as well, going 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings.
For as strong as his résumé is, there are questions about Snell’s durability and overall arm health. He has pitched more than 130 innings in a season just once, didn’t pitch six innings once in a game in all of 2020, and his career-high for innings in a game is just 7 1/3 – though that can mostly be chalked up to how Tampa Bay handles its pitching staff. A more serious concern is the fact that he missed time in 2019 due to elbow surgery to remove “loose bodies” in his pitching arm.
Now, why would the Rays be looking to trade Snell? Money. They have always been a frugal team, and while Snell signed a five-year, $50 million extension after 2018, that deal is very back loaded, so he doesn’t start to make the majority of the money due to him until this year. Per Spotrac, he made $1 million in 2019 and had a base salary of $7 million in 2020 (which was adjusted to just under $3.2 million due to the shortened season). He is set to make $10.5 million in 2021, $12.5 million in 2022, and $16 million in 2023.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Snell will turn 28 years old on Dec. 4. He starred at Shorewood High School and went pro out of high school as a first-round pick of the Rays. He’s a noticeably avid UW Huskies fan if you follow him on Twitter.
– Brent Stecker
Question No. 2: What would a Mariners trade for Snell look like?
Any time you consider a trade involving the Mariners and a top player, you’re naturally going to look at outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez. Does that mean they’d be necessary for acquiring a player like Blake Snell? No, but any team doing their job would at least inquire about their availability.
Acquiring a player like Snell, who has had just one elite season, battled injuries and is signed for over $40 million for the next three seasons, would have the Mariners understandably saying “hands off” when it comes to their top prospects, both of whom are in MLB Pipeline’s top 20 heading into 2021.
So then, look at the Mariners’ last three first-round picks of Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Emerson Hancock, each of whom are top-100 prospects but aren’t thought of in the same light as a Kelenic or Rodríguez. Even then, the price may be too steep for Dipoto and company to pull the trigger as with any one of them you’d be giving up a pitcher who throws a lot of strikes, has a high floor and good makeup, and is considered a fast riser.
So next comes the prospect who would make the most sense to be traded for any sort of established player, and that’s outfielder Taylor Trammell. A 2016 first-round pick who was drafted by the Reds, traded to the San Diego Padres in 2019 and then traded again to the Mariners at the 2020 trade deadline in an eight-player deal, Trammell is still highly regarded as MLB Pipeline’s No. 51 overall prospect. Why would the Mariners be OK with giving up a player of that magnitude for Snell? I already mentioned them: Kelenic and Rodríguez. When you add them to reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, who should be a mainstay for years to come, Seattle seems set in the outfield for the future, which could leave Trammell as the odd man out.
If you’re the Mariners, Trammell is likely as high as you’d go as far as the prospect side, and you would probably have to package him with someone else who’s thought of pretty highly in prospect circles. Those names include catcher Cal Raleigh, pitchers Isaiah Campbell or Brandon Williamson, or maybe even Juan Then, who the Mariners recently added to the 40-man roster to protect from the Rule 5 Draft. If the Rays wanted talent who are already in the big leagues, perhaps someone like Justin Dunn, who just finished his rookie campaign, is intriguing.
The main point is, if the Mariners pull the trigger, those five of Kelenic, Rodríguez, Gilbert, Kirby and Hancock may be off the table.
A good trade from the past to look at how a Mariners trade for Snell could go down is when the Rays traded then-ace David Price in 2014 to the Detroit Tigers. Price was a season and a half removed from winning the 2012 Cy Young, kind of like how Snell won the award in 2018. In that deal, which also involved the Mariners, a top-100 prospect in left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly and a young, raw and toolsy infielder in Willy Adames went from Detroit to Tampa Bay. The Mariners also sent a former top prospect in infielder Nick Franklin, who struggled in the majors with Seattle, to Tampa Bay, so they could get veteran outfielder Austin Jackson from the Tigers to complete the three-team deal.
– Brandon Gustafson
Question No. 3: Does Snell make sense for the Mariners?
Adding a good starter? Well, sure. Of course. When doesn’t it? At what price, however? Ah, well, that’s the real question here.
In making that determination, it’s important not to get wrapped up in the “Shoreline” beneath the name on his Baseball-Reference page or the “CYA-1” at the end of his 2018 column. Hometown kids are great and he very well may want to play here but that will have no impact on whether the Rays elect to send him to Seattle or not. As for the Cy Young Award on his mantle, there is no denying Snell’s talent but his 2018 season is just one piece of the puzzle.
The years remaining on the contract (three) and remaining dollars due ($41 million) are a nice fit for the Mariners’ plans, but they also are a nice fit for the Rays short term. They don’t have to trade him right now. With the uncertainty of the market coming out of the pandemic season and uncertainty of fans in the stands in 2021, they are in a good place to see what unfolds. It could go either way and barring injury or total collapse, his value will still be very strong at the deadline. The Rays are looking for extra here.
Would or should the Mariners go extra? If that means Julio Rodríguez, Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert or Noelvi Marte, the answer is a hard no, and if history is any indicator of what this could look like, I doubt it would be a one for two or three or whatever. Trades with the Rays are rarely that boring, and while the familiarity in trading with Rays GM Erik Neander is cited when the Mariners’ name comes up as a possibility, go take a look. Most of these trades haven’t exactly worked out well for the Mariners.
I suspect if something was to get done, it would involve more of a package from a lower wave of prospect talent the Mariners have than the names listed above. Chances are very good that with the success the Rays have had in evaluating and growing talent, they would “hit” on these names, but at some point that has to be OK. A big part of the value of having a top farm system is to have good players that get you good players – which brings us back to: Would this make sense?
Well, just as the Rays are in a place where they don’t have to make a move right now, I tend to believe the Mariners actually need a little more time before they make such moves. A half a season could go a long way in determining what they have and what they have coming, which in turn would further define what they need. That time would also help further define what exactly Snell is and what you would be comfortable giving up for him. At this point, I don’t see Snell being the go-for-broke, break-the-prospect-bank type of player the Rays will probably want to be compensated for.
But if the price is right…
– Shannon Drayer