Editorials

Blake Snell Rumors Abound, But the Mariners Must be Cautious

It didn’t take but a few minutes after Mark Feinsand reported that the Tampa Bay Rays were open to moving Blake Snell this winter for Mariners fans to climb aboard the dream train. However, while pursuing Snell is a good idea, there are limits to how far they should go.

It isn’t hard to see why so many Mariners fans, myself including, would love to see Snell wear the Northwest Green Friday uniforms at T-Mobile Park sometime in the near future. Snell is from Washington, attended Shoreline High School, and is an advent fan of both the Seahawks and University of Washington athletics. He’s social media savvy and good with the press. But even as perfect as the fit may seem, there are some landmines to navigate.

First and foremost, Blake Snell is not an ace. Or at least he hasn’t been for every year except his 2018 Cy Young Award season. Snell has a career 3.50 FIP, a 3.8 BB/9, and a 10.3 K/9. The walks are concerning but have been improved from his early seasons in Tampa. But durability isn’t a strong suit of Snell, who has only covered more than 129.1 innings once in his five seasons. Snell also has his issues facing the lineup a third time, so much so that the Rays never let him complete six innings in 2020.

Snell is a good pitcher, a solid #2 when he’s healthy. But the durability is a concern so valuing Snell as a #3 is probably the safest route to go. This means that any trade package similar to Chris Archer or Chris Sale needs to be completely off the table. In all reality, one of the best trade comps to follow is actually what the Mariners got when they traded James Paxton to the Yankees.

At the time of his trade, Paxton was 29-years-old with two years of club control remaining with 582 innings under his belt across six seasons. Meanwhile, Snell will be 28-years-old with three years of club control remaining and with 556 innings under his belt. Snell has produced an 11.3 rWAR in 108 starts, while Paxton had produced a 10.9 rWAR in 102 starts. Paxton’s strikeout numbers were nearly identical and his walk rate was significantly better.

Now, Snell is probably more valuable than Paxton at the time of his trade, but they are roughly in the same ballpark. Paxton only fetched the Mariners one Top 100 prospect and Justus Sheffield was not in the same stratosphere as the Julio Rodriguez or Jarred Kelenic‘s of the world. In reality, Sheffield is roughly the equivalent of Taylor Trammell or George Kirby. Where the Mariners could make up some ground is in the secondary pieces going to Tampa. Instead of Erik Swanson, an upside arm like Juan Then or Isaiah Williamson could make up the gap.

But the Mariners cannot give up too much for Snell. While his remaining three years for $36 million are not an obstacle to any team, but the timing could be. Even with Snell, the Mariners won’t be ready to compete for a World Series in 2021 and would require some major upgrades to win in 2022. With all the questions surrounding the durability of Snell and the unknown of Seattle’s young up-and-coming team, discretion may be the better form of valor.

Of course, the Mariners should be interested in acquiring Blake Snell. He’s a good pitcher who, by all accounts, wants to pitch for the Mariners. They’d be fools not to engage. But engaging and making a “godfather” offer are two different things. GM Jerry Dipoto will not deviate drastically from his plan and the overwhelming odds say that Snell pitches for the Rays in 2021. One year from now, a Snell trade could make sense. The Mariners will have more information on their young players and can better gauge where their strengths and weaknesses lie. The Mariners should be interested, but they shouldn’t overpay to make this happen.

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