Why The Heartbreaking Loss Of Blake Snell Might Be A Good Choice For The Rays

Why The Heartbreaking Loss Of Blake Snell Might Be A Good Choice For The Rays

Lily Belcher, Editor In Chief

On December 28, Rays fan woke up to the notification that pitching star Blake Snell would no longer be part of the Rays’ pitching rotation. The southpaw, who had been with the Rays since his major league debut in 2016, was traded to the San Diego Padres for two right handed pitchers, Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox, and two catchers, Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt.

While the trade of their ace felt like betrayal to Tampa Bay fans, the loss of a fan favorite is not a new situation, as the Rays are notorious for their heartbreaking trades (remember when they traded Chris Archer to the Pirates in 2018?) While fans in Tampa Bay may feel blindsided by the trade (which is exacerbated by the loss of Charlie Morton) there may be a glimmer of hope when looking at the players obtained in the trade.

It’s no secret that the Rays are desperate for a catcher. They lost Michael Perez at the end of the season, forcing them to sign Mike Zunino, whose 2020 season batting average was a disappointing .147 (for those discounting the abbreviated 60 game season, his 2018 and 2019 batting averages were .201 and .165 respectively). The trade with the Padres gives the Rays two catchers, one prospect and one big-leaguer.

The Rays acquired 22 year old prospect Blake Hunt in the trade, who may provide the Rays versatility on the field with minor league experience behind the plate and as a first baseman. Since Hunt has only played in single A, he may serve his 2021 season in the minors, but gives the Rays the option of another catcher if Zunino faces injuries or slumps during the season.

Francisco Mejia, a top prospect in 2018, had an impressive rookie season the following year, boasting a .265 batting average over his 79 games, but his 2020 campaign was cut short by a hand contusion and slump, allowing him only 17 games to post a .322 OPS. Despite his slow start in the majors, Mejia is predicted to bat .236 in Tampa Bay during the 2021 season (Baseball Reference’s projections for Mike Zunino have him falling short of the Mendoza line once again, with a projected .194 average).

Without Charlie Morton and Blake Snell on the mound, the Rays hand the ball to Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos, who spent his 2020 season on the injured list. With only two starters filling the spots on the rotation, the Rays will turn to their unconventional bullpen and opener days if they fail to find consistent hurlers to take the mound.

With this trade, the Rays may look to employ Luis Patino to fill middle innings. Patino tossed a 5.19 ERA throughout his limited pitching time during his 2020 rookie season, but gave up only three homeruns over 17.1 innings.

The fourth player acquired in the Snell trade is right hander Cole Wilcox, who played for the NCAA Georgia Bulldogs. Wilcox was signed as San Diego’s third round draft pick this year and, according to evaluators, has a promising slider that may earn him a spot in the Major League’s bullpen. However, Rays fans may have to wait for Wilcox’s debut until the 21 year old works his way up the minor leagues.

Although the San Diego Padres have added an experienced pitcher to their ranks, the addition of Snell comes at a cost. Snell is set to earn $10.5 million in the 2021 season despite his rapid slump since 2018 (In 2018, he had 21 wins and an ERA below 2.00, but struggled to find half the number of wins in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined and doubled his ERA), which increases to $13 million and $16 million for his final two years before free agency. And the Rays are known for holding one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

“[The trade of Snell] takes a meaningful piece away from our 21 club, but the return itself, the proximity of two of the four players in this deal, gives us a lot of confidence along with the talent we have in house and the amount of time we have this winter that we’re going to be really good this year,” assured Erik Neander.