The Tampa Bay Rays are getting crushed in the court of public opinion about their latest move and understandably so.
The Rays have agreed to trade left-hander Blake Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner, to the San Diego Padres for a package of four young players. The deal is pending the players passing physical exams.
Many sceptics are accusing the Rays of punting on 2021 as they are trading Snell after declining the $15-million club option on right-hander Charlie Morton for next season.
That leaves two big holes in the rotation.
However, this is how the Rays have long done business. Once players begin making money, they are shipped to other teams for young players.
That is not necessarily a much different operating procedure than other small-market franchises. The Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman and de facto face of the franchise Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals on Christmas Eve for two pitching prospects.
The difference with Tampa Bay, though, is nobody is ever a lifelong Ray. Every player has an expiration date in St. Petersburg.
The Rays have had just three players appearance in at least 1,000 games since joining coming into existence in 1998 as an expansion franchise – Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist.
All were eventually traded.
The same goes for James Shields, the only pitcher to work at least 1,000 innings in franchise history.
The galling part about this trade is Snell has three years left on a five-year, $50-million contract that is considered team friendly. He has salaries of $11.1 million next season, $13.1 million in 2022 and $16.6 million in 2023.
Furthermore, at 28, Snell is seemingly just entering the prime years of his career.
Though Snell followed his Cy Young season with a mediocre one during an injury-plagued 2019, he was 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts this year during the pandemic-shortened season. He then posted a 3.07 ERA in seven postseason outings.
Is a straight salary dump, though? Probably not.
There have been some red flags surrounding Snell since he compiled a 21-5 record and 1.89 ERA in 31 starts in 2018.
The biggest was the loose bodies in is elbow that help sabotage his ’19 season and required arthroscopic surgery to remove.
Also alarming is that In 41 starts over the past two seasons, including the postseason, Snell pitched more than six innings just twice. He never went past 5 2/3 innings in 17 starts in 2020.
Rays manager Kevin Cash was heavily criticized for removing Snell after 5 2/3 innings in Game 6 of the World Series when he had allowed only one run and two hits. The Rays went on to lose that decisive game of the Series 3-1 and Cash has taken plenty of heat in the ensuing the two months.
Some analysts have accused Cash of being a push-button manager, his strategical moves beholden solely to data. The criticism is that Cash should have used his instincts and allowed Snell to keep pitching.
However, nobody knows players better than their own teams. Cash’s instincts were that Snell is a six-inning pitcher and it was time for him to come out of the game.
That is not to denigrate Snell. He is a quality pitcher.
Yet even if this era of strict pitch counts and bullpenning, it is hard to view a pitcher who rarely makes it to the sixth inning as ace material. Cash has enough old-school sensibilities as a former major league catcher to know that.
Snell also did not endear himself to Rays’ officials or many fans back in May for a comment he made on a social gaming site. He threatened to sit out the 2020 season if his $7-million salary was cut significantly.
“I’m not playing unless I get mine,” He said. “I’m not splitting no revenue. I want all mine.”
It was a silly comment to make at a time when the unemployment rate in the United State was soaring because of the pandemic.
Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg and the Rays front office have earned the benefit of the doubt. Despite being a low-revenue franchise that is annually among the worst in attendance, the Rays are almost always competitive.
Since Sternberg bought the team prior to the 2008 season, the Rays have been to the postseason six times in 13 years and twice won the American League pennant.
As mentioned earlier, the Rays have traded star players before. Yet they continue to find a way to stay relevant thanks to good personnel decisions, creative thinking, a strong player development system and good scouting.
Thus, it might be premature to criticize the Rays too heavily for trading Snell.