Warning: reviewing the return for Snell may induce nausea.
After a stellar final season of his contract with the San Diego Padres, former Rays ace Blake Snell has won his second Cy Young award, and this time by unanimous decision. He is the 22nd player in MLB history with two Cy Young awards, and only the seventh to do so in both leagues.
To celebrate his second Cy Young Award, Blake Snell’s girlfriend gifted him custom Air Jordan 1 Lows inspired by the Rays and Padres. pic.twitter.com/1BuUfAKxzw
— Complex Sneakers (@ComplexSneakers) November 16, 2023
A first round pick by the Rays in 2011, Snell became the ace of the Rays staff following the trade of David Price, and pitched up to that level in 2018 when he won the AL Cy Young award with 17 of 30 first place votes following a 21-win, 1.89 ERA season.
During Spring Training in 2019, Snell was rewarded with a 5-year, $50 million contract that would cover his age 26-30 seasons. That season he would lead the Rays to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and then to the World Series in 2020, where he was infamously pulled for struggling reliever Nick Anderson in Game 6.
In December, Snell would be traded to the San Diego Padres for four prospects. For the Padres, Snell would total 9.8 WAR over three seasons with a 4.20 ERA in 2021, 3.38 in 2022, and 2.25 in 2023. Those three years would pay out $40.8 million of the $50 million contract he signed with the Rays.
With those “savings” in mind, the return for Snell was assessed as generally positive for the Rays, given that the four prospects had high pedigree, including a Top-10 prospect, a Top-50 prospect, and two recent early-round drafted players.
Three seasons later, let’s see how those four players panned out for Tampa Bay.
RHP Luis Patiño
A top prospect in baseball, Patiño had been rushed to the majors by the Padres at age-20 and there were concerns his development had not been handled well. The Rays took a chance on the player anyway, and got some positive starts our of him in the first season, but by 2023 were looking at Patino as a reliever. He was given a soft landing mid-season, as the Rays traded him to the White Sox for cash considerations.
C Francisco Mejia
Another player rushed to the majors, Mejia’s switch hitting made him an ideal, offense-first backup catcher for the Rays. Tampa Bay put him on the Opening Day roster and he looked capable with a bat in his first season with a 107 wRC+, but that fell off in 2022 and 2023 where he turned in 85 and 80 wRC+ seasons. Mejia would be cut in August 2023 and was outrighted off the roster to Triple-A Durham.
RHP Cole Wilcox
Wilcox had the most hype of the four prospects acquired as he was a pseudo first round draft pick. Indeed, despite not being drafted until the third round in 2020, Wilcox was paid like he was drafted No. 20 overall when he signed for $3.3 million.
Wilcox showed flashes of great stuff in Low-A for the Rays, but required Tommy John surgery just over 60 IP into his minor league career. Following his recovery, the Rays slotted him aggressively into Double-A in 2023, where but the stuff that had earned him such high regards was absent, and he finished with a 5.23 ERA over 25 starts. As a result, the Rays left Wilcox off the 40-man roster this off-season, which means he could be taken in the Rule 5 draft later this year.
C Blake Hunt
Another prospect in need of being placed on the 40-man roster, the Rays opted to deal Hunt to the Seattle Mariners this off-season meaning he was not seen as a replacement for Christian Bethancourt, who was the Rays starting backstop in 2023 but was cut earlier this month and claimed by the Cleveland Guardians.
The former 69th overall pick of the 2017 draft, Hunt reached Triple-A for the first time in 2023, his age-24 season, after putting up a 111 wRC+ in Double-A to start the year. Known for his ability to frame, it’s possible Hunt could have made the Rays roster with a bit more seasoning at the Triple-A level, but instead Tampa Bay reset the clock by dealing him to Seattle for a “farther off” catching prospect in 2022 8th round C Tatem Levins, who played in Low-A for his age-24 season.
So how did the Rays fare in the Blake Snell deal overall? Well, to start, the team only had to pay Snell less than $10 million for his performance from 2019-2020, then escaped the commitment to pay him the other $40 million over the next three seasons.
On the major league side, Patiño gave the Rays approximately 0.1 WAR over his three seasons, and Mejia 1.4 WAR in 2021, but then -0.1 WAR over 2022-2023. All in all, that’s an uninspiring return. In other words, the Rays only did fractionally better than using org soldiers for the roles these two players played.
Snell, for his part, arguably would have been the Rays best pitcher over 2021-2023, throwing 436.2 IP with a 3.15 ERA and 9.8 WAR over 83 games. This performance was in line with what ace Shane McClanahan has offered over the last three seasons (404.2 IP, 3.02 ERA, 7.9 WAR over 74 games).
As for the prospects, time will tell on Wilcox and now Levins. If Wilcox isn’t taken by another team in the Rule 5 (ostensibly to try applying him as a reliever on an escalated schedule to the majors), the Rays can see if Wilcox will rediscover his talent 2024, likely starting the year again at Double-A, depending on how his stuff looks the Spring.
If Wilcox survives the Rule 5 draft and has continued time to develop, and with Levins career just getting started, there is still potential for the Rays to salvage something of value from this trade.
Based on the prospect return and the lack of having a Blake Snell on the roster for the last three years, this trade should be graded an F, but given the financial savings from manipulating the player’s contract and then bailing on a commitment to pay over $40 million, I’m guessing the Rays would do it again.
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Title: Revisiting the Blake Snell trade after his second Cy Young season
Author: Daniel Russell