Tampa Bay Rays Blake Snell pitches during a game against New York Yankees on Oct. 5, 2020, in San Diego. (Jae C. Hong / AP)
Tampa Bay Rays Blake Snell pitches during a game against New York Yankees on Oct. 5, 2020, in San Diego. (Jae C. Hong / AP)

The last time the baseball world saw Blake Snell in a Rays uniform was during the sixth inning of Game 6 of the World Series when he handed the ball to manager Kevin Cash in disgust, storming off the mound and cursing to himself about being replaced by reliever Nick Anderson.

At that point, he’d allowed just his second hit in 5 1/3 shutout innings and had nine strikeouts. The baseball world was stunned to see Snell, who was dominant, being removed. The Rays bullpen made a mess of Cash’s decision and the Rays lost the game and the World Series. After the game, Snell was expectedly miffed by the decision.

Will that moment, which led to so much consternation and debate in the moment and in the days that followed, be Snell’s last as a member of the Rays?

It’s possible.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that multiple league sources have said the Rays are willing to listen to trade offers for the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner and that the Mariners are a possible trade partner.

Per Feinsand, “the Rays have told other clubs that they’re open to the idea of trading Blake Snell, presenting a realistic possibility that a deal could be consummated this offseason. A source noted that Tampa Bay is not actively shopping Snell, who has three years and $39 million remaining on his five-year, $50 million extension.”

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So the Rays would consider trading him for the right offer, but aren’t necessarily looking to do so or feel like they have to. Ah, yes, the Hot Stove rumor mill has returned.

Why would the Rays trade Snell after a trip to the World Series where he was their best postseason pitcher?

Payroll flexibility — the Rays are operating on a limited budget. And even with a World Series appearance and their usually low attendance figures, the small-market Rays are still hurt badly by having no fans in the stands. So while Snell’s remaining money owed is considered cheap by industry standards, it’s still costly to Tampa.

Market opportunity and trade return — The starting pitching market isn’t robust. Trevor Bauer, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, will command more than $25 million per year. After that, the remainder of the free-agent class is sort of, well, meh. Snell will be 28 with three years of club control at $39 million, which is $36 million cheaper than what the Phillies signed 32-year-old Jake Arrieta for in 2018. Snell’s value was only higher after his 2018 season. The Rays could look to capitalize on a bad free-agent class, Snell’s strong finish in 2020 and his team-friendly contract to get a large return of prospects.

But does Charlie Morton signing with the Braves change that thinking for the Rays? Even though Tampa declined Morton’s $15 million club option for 2021, there was some thought Morton would still re-sign with the Rays so he could live at home in Tampa. But that changed a day after Feinsand’s story

Feinsand quoted two executives in the story about the trade return.

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“I’m guessing they think this is the best chance to kill it on the market,” a rival American League executive said.

“He would bring back a massive return,” an NL executive said.

It’s not unprecedented thinking for Tampa; the Rays traded David Price, Chris Archer and James Shields with multiple years of control remaining.

Feinsand mentioned the Angels and Mariners as teams who would have potential interest in acquiring Snell. Given his talent level, the potential that hasn’t been fully realized and his highly affordable salary remaining — $10.5 million in 2021, $12.5 million in 2022, and $16 million in 2023 — there have to be at least a dozen other teams that would have interest.

The Angels’ reported interest is obvious — their pitching staff is abysmal and has been for the better part of the last decade. Of their top pitching prospects in the organization, most don’t project to debut until 2022 or later. They have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout and have consistently found ways to put subpar talent around him.

As for the Mariners, Feinsand listed the dozen or so deals that general manager Jerry Dipoto has done with Rays GM Erik Neander over the years. The next trade between the teams will win each GM a free set of steak knives. He also mentioned that Snell, who was born in Seattle, graduated from Shorewood High School and still lives in the Shoreline area in the offseason, would like to return home.

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The Mariners do have a need for an established starting pitcher in their projected six-man rotation. As of now, the current rotation is projected to be:

  • Marco Gonzales, LHP
  • Justus Sheffield, LHP
  • Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
  • Justin Dunn, RHP
  • Nick Margevicius, LHP
  • Logan Gilbert, RHP

Of that group, only Gonzales has had any sustained success at the MLB beyond one season. And after those five pitchers, there is a serious lack of depth in the organization in terms of pitchers that could step into the rotation if needed next season.

The Mariners were expected to look at free agent options like Taijuan Walker, J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka and others to take a spot in the rotation.

Snell obviously fits the starting pitcher need. But the cost of paying dollars for a free agent vs. giving up trade prospects in a deal comes into play.

Multiple MLB sources have said that any sort of trade package the Mariners put together for Snell would have to include one of the following three players — Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic or Kyle Lewis — or the Rays wouldn’t make the deal.

The Rays can afford to ask for one of those top three players because they aren’t in a position where they are forced to move Snell. Even if they don’t want to pay that much in salary, they can still make it work moving forward without settling in a trade, a source said.

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Per another MLB source, a top-30 prospect in all of baseball or an impact-making rookie would have to be part of a package of players to get Snell, with at least two other midlevel prospects included.

Dipoto has gone out of his way to say that no player or prospect should be deemed un-tradeable because limiting your options and choices is detrimental to an organization.

But trading the reigning American League rookie of the year and a budding leader on the team seems implausible. And after spending the last two offseasons building up a moribund farm system that lacked star talent and depth, it would seem unlikely that Dipoto trades either Rodriguez or Kelenic — the Mariners’ consensus No. 1 and No. 2 prospects (order varies based on outlet). They are projected to be the everyday outfield along with Lewis by 2022 and are key core pieces to this rebuild.

Is Snell worth what it would cost the Mariners?

Since making his debut in 2016, he has made 108 starts, posting a 42-30 record and a 3.24 ERA, with 648 strikeouts and 232 walks. He’s accumulated an 11.6 WAR. He’s also pitched seven-plus innings just 13 times in those 108 starts and never pitched eight innings in a game. The should issues he’s dealt with in the past are a definite concern.

The Rays are smart to ask for Rodriguez or Kelenic, knowing they don’t have to trade Snell right now. As a used car salesman once said, always ask high first in case they say yes.”

As a Rays scout once said, “We know how to develop major-league pitchers, we’ve had trouble finding and developing major-league position players.”

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The Rays do have the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball — shortstop Wander Franco — ready to take over his position by 2022 if not sooner, along with middle infielders Vidal Brujan and Xavier Edwards — both top 100 players. But a glance at Tampa’s Top 30 per MLB shows 14 pitchers, including seven in the Top 10.

That’s another reason that makes Snell somewhat expendable and replaceable in the same way that Price, Archer and Shields were before him.

Trying to piece together a package of players that doesn’t include Kelenic or Rodriguez or Lewis would entice the Rays to move Snell is difficult.

While outfielder Taylor Trammell still ranks in the Top 100 prospects in baseball, he has lost some of his value as a prospect. Talented shortstop prospect Noelvi Marte has decreased value due to the Rays because of their depth at the position. The Mariners’ touted trio of pitching prospects — Emerson Hancock, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby — don’t have as much value to the Rays, who are stocked with top pitching prospects and have been better than the Mariners at drafting and developing their own pitchers.

Would some combo of Marte or Trammell, Gilbert, catcher Cal Raleigh and second-round pick Zach DeLoach be a draw? Maybe.

But since the Rays are in the position of power and not forced into trading Snell for anything less than a package that features a top 30 prospect, they will likely get it.