If you missed the overnight news, the Tampa Bay Rays are doing what they do, sending controlled starting pitcher Blake Snell to the Padres for a package of prospects. Michael covered the trade and the immediate implications here.
There are a few things I wanted to get into this morning to kinda wrap that trade up from Cubs-related perspective.
First, there’s the obvious Yu Darvish stuff. For one thing, it now looks highly plausible that the reason the Darvish rumors heated up over the last few days was to apply some pressure to the Rays to get something done on Snell. Financially, I tend to think the Padres would’ve always preferred the much-cheaper Snell, so pressure in that direction makes more sense than, for example, the Cubs and Padres were getting close, and then the Rays swooped in unannounced and said, “Hey, what about Snell?!”
Let’s imagine, though, that the Padres and Cubs really were in talks on Darvish, as reported, and we now know a group of prospects the Padres were willing to deal for an impactful, controlled starting pitcher. Before we compare Snell’s and Darvish’s relative value, let’s just comment on the prospect package as a theoretically return on Darvish. It looks … fine? I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming, but it’s pretty strong:
⇒ Luis Patiño is a big-league-adjacent, top-tier pitching prospect (top 10-15ish pitching prospect in all of baseball).
⇒ Cole Wilcox was a first round talent in this year’s draft whom most believed was unsignable, but the Padres got him in the third round at a whopping $3.3M bonus (19th overall slot value). Right away was considered top ten in the loaded Padres system.
⇒ Blake Hunt was an overslot signing in the 2017 draft who has had helium since, and is now a top 100 type to at least one service. He just turned 22 and is probably gonna be in AA this year.
⇒ Francisco Mejia is a well-known name, having been a top 30 prospect for a long time with Cleveland, but who struggled badly this past season. Most still think the bat will play in the bigs, but at 25, his chances of establishing himself as a regular catcher are fading. He’s a post-hype guy. A good one. But a post-hype guy.
That’s a strong dang package. It doesn’t make your jaw drop (mostly because I think we can’t say for sure just what caliber prospects Wilcox and Hunt are yet as outsiders), but I doubt anyone in the industry would say the Rays didn’t get good value.
… but would you take that for Darvish if you were the Cubs? It’s not an obvious yes or no for me. Again, it would depend a whole lot on how you felt about Wilcox and Hunt, which is so dang hard to know after a year like 2020. It would also depend on whether you thought Mejia’s bat and glove could play in, say, left field. It’s close for me as a return for Darvish. The heartstrings, though, so it’s not enough to tip me over into pulling the trigger. Maybe that’s why the Cubs didn’t. We’ll probably never know how close things actually got.
OK, but here’s the related question you have to explore: does Darvish actually have as much trade value as Snell? Less? More?
Well, on first blush, I’d tell you it’s a really close question – closer than Snell’s 2018 Cy Young might make you think. Since then, he’s seen a little velocity drop, has dealt with shoulder fatigue, an elbow issue that required minor surgery, and a broken toe. He’s thrown just 157.0 innings total between 2019 and 2020, which is partly pandemic, partly a question of durability. We know about his trouble with the third time through the order from the postseason, and his results have been merely “pretty good” the last two years. Snell, 28, is set to make $41 million over the next three years.
In pure performance, Darvish has been the far, far superior pitcher the last two seasons. And, hey, that matters a lot! The dings, though, are pretty obvious. Darvish is six years older and has also dealt with injury issues. Darvish will make $62 million over the next three years. Darvish has a 12-team no-trade list that may have impacted things, and is a modest additional ding to his value.
Honestly, I think the two are very close in total value. Snell has youth and a much lower salary on his side. Darvish is the guy you’d much rather have, in isolation, on the mound. Given the financial state of the game, gut says Snell probably has more trade value. But it’s probably closer than people think, and close enough that our exercise in thinking about that trade as a package “for Darvish” is not futile.
So, then, what does the Snell trade say about Darvish’s trade value on the market? Well, I would say it confirms that three years of a stud pitcher is still extremely valuable. So there’s that. I think we also can’t underestimate the dollars, though. Times are sufficiently tight that so many teams are flat-out not adding a dime to payroll right now. So asking a team to take on a $62 million guarantee, even for a stud, is a lot. Now, you’ve removed one of the most aggressive buyers from the market, too.
To me, the Snell trade confirms that a guy like Darvish has a huge level of trade value – even in this prospect-obsessed climate – but that doesn’t mean the Cubs can, could, or should actually trade him.
As for other Cubs-related implications here, there’s the fact that an NL contender, not in the Cubs division, got a significant boost. Ultimately, that matters only in the event that you wind up facing that team in the postseason (such a relatively small odds thing that it’s barely worth considering), or in the event that you’re fighting it out with that team for a Wild Card spot. Given that we still don’t know what the playoff format is going to be for 2021, I’m not going to stress about that too much. Oh, also, the NL Central is going to suck, so there will be plenty of extra wins to go around for the “best” teams in the Central in 2021.
Lastly, just a comment on the nature of the Rays. This is what they do. It works for them. Develop a stud, extend the stud, trade him and his contract for more prospects. Rinse, repeat. I can’t speak to how Rays fans might feel about it, but I will say that it bothers me that the Rays don’t supplement their team with short-term free agent additions to actually be even better. Similarly, it bothers me that the Cubs have been unable or unwilling to make these kinds of trades themselves – imagine if you could periodically trade a guy for a substantial return, but also be annually able to supplement your team with a sizable payroll (2021 notwithstanding)? Do that three years ago, and maybe you wouldn’t be facing the situation you’re now facing?
Anyway. In the end, my takeaway from this trade as it relates to the Cubs: a Darvish trade is now much less likely, Darvish is extremely valuable (to the Cubs, not just “the market”), and I am mostly ambivalent about whether the Cubs could/should/would have done this same trade for Darvish.