The Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to send 2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres in exchange for RHPs Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox, and catchers Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt. What’s next for the reigning AL Champs after trading away their ace?
It’s rare to see a team coming off an AL Pennant become sellers rather than buyers. So, when rumors emerged that the Tampa Bay Rays were looking to trade their All-Star lefty ace Blake Snell just months after his Game 6 start in the 2020 World Series, baseball fans were perplexed.
However, anyone familiar with the way the Rays organization functions knew this was a looming inevitability. In an article last month, I tried to make sense of the Blake Snell trade rumors, which essentially boiled down to the Rays’ effort to keep payroll as low as possible while developing their deep pool of young talent into key contributors at the MLB level.
This approach is nothing new. The Rays front office has made a habit out of trading star players when their price tag gets too high, and stockpiling their farm system in return. That is why the Rays consistently have one of the top farm systems in baseball paired with one of the lowest payrolls.
While this might be frustrating for fans and enemies alike, the Rays do have an excellent track record when trading former aces. James Shields earned them Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi. David Price had an expiring contract, and they netted Willy Adames in exchange. And Chris Archer…well its pretty obvious who won that trade.
However, this one feels a bit different. Blake Snell is under a team-friendly contract until 2023, and the Rays are coming off their best season in franchise history. There are the obvious financial reasons (Snell was taking up over 20% of their payroll, and would increase every year until 2023). However, it still seemed that the logical next steps to add a few key pieces to take them over the top rather than subtract arguably their best player.
But alas, the Rays are not like any other team in MLB. They have routinely found unique ways to embrace their identity as a small-market team and transform it into stellar production on the field. Whether its their intense dedication to analytics on their field, or lack of hesitation to trade star players in order to cut costs and stockpile their farm system, the Rays approach makes them one-of-a-kind.
While I can try to rationalize the Blake Snell trade using Tampa’s long-term, small-market strategic framework, the truth is that this creates more immediate questions than it answers for the Rays right now. Here are the three questions the Tampa Bay Rays must answer in the wake of the Blake Snell trade: