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Rays ace Blake Snell traded to Padres, shaking up American League

The AL champion Tampa Bay Rays sold off their biggest star

World Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Six
Snell’s final image with the Rays was being pulled too early in World Series Game 6
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There’s nothing going on in the Oakland A’s world this winter, but something big happened in MLB over the weekend that will affect the entire American League in 2021.

The Tampa Bay Rays traded ace pitcher Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres for four young players led by top pitching prospect Luis Patiño, reported Dennis Lin, Josh Tolentino and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic on Sunday. The deal is still pending medical reviews before it becomes official.

The Rays are the reigning AL champions, and Snell was a big reason why. The 2018 Cy Young winner put together another nice campaign in the short 2020, and then was even better over six postseason starts. However, the lefty’s final memory in a Tampa Bay uniform is of him being pulled far too early in Game 6 of the World Series — he was dominating into the 6th inning and had thrown just 73 pitches, but got a quick hook and watched his bullpen immediately blow the lead and let the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the championship.

  • Snell, 2020 stats: 3.24 ERA, 50 ip, 63 Ks, 18 BB, 10 HR, 4.35 FIP
  • Snell, 2020 post: 3.03 ERA, 29⅔ ip, 37 Ks, 14 BB, 5 HR, team went 3-3

The Rays also lost star righty Charlie Morton from their rotation this winter, after declining his $15 million option; he signed with the Atlanta Braves for the same amount. Snell is due to make $11 million next season and is under contract through the end of 2023.

Without these two heavyweights atop their pitching staff, the Rays will look much different in 2021. They still have a lot of talent in their rotation and pen, and they’re always a threat to identify new stars every summer, but they have two huge sets of shoes to fill immediately if they want to stay among the top AL contenders next season.

To that end, the highlight of their return package could be ready to contribute right away. Patiño is a Top 20 national prospect who made his MLB debut this year at age 20, and his arsenal features three plus-grade pitches including a fastball that averaged 97 mph in his stint in the majors. It would be a tall order to ask him to out-perform Snell right away, but at least the Rays replaced their ace with another premium, MLB-readyish arm.

Tampa Bay got three other players. Catcher Francisco Mejia is a former Top 20 prospect who hasn’t yet panned out in the bigs (in 128 games over four seasons), but he’ll only be 25 next season and still has time. Fellow catcher Blake Hunt hasn’t yet played above Single-A, and righty pitcher Cole Wilcox was a 3rd-round draft pick in 2020.

Baseball Trade Values likes the deal for the Rays. Patiño alone would have been nearly enough to match the surplus value of Snell’s three remaining years of control (for which he’ll be paid $41 million), and the whole package comes out around 19% higher than what Tampa Bay gave up.

On the field in 2021, though, this move almost certainly makes the Rays worse. No single subtraction ever fully eliminates a baseball team, but losing a superstar in his prime represents a downgrade even if Patiño has a nice rookie season to partially offset it. That’s relevant to the Oakland A’s, because it weakens one of their primary AL rivals as they try again to chart a path to and through October.

From a Rays fan perspective, Daniel Russell of DRaysBay has the following to say:

“Overall, this is a devastating loss for a team coming off a World Series appearance, and a possible death knell for a team that also was too poor to keep Charlie Morton despite having his contract option in hand. ... Without drastic, unexpected improvements this is not a World Series rotation, and a sad day to be a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays.”

Meanwhile, how bout them Padres. Their lineup was already ridiculous, and one of their other starters (Dinelson Lamet) finished fourth for NL Cy Young. They made the NLDS this year and clearly have their sights set even higher in 2021.