Ace maybe moving? Where he could land

December 13th, 2020

The trade market for starting pitchers saw movement on Tuesday night, when the White Sox acquired Lance Lynn from the Rangers. Could be the next top-of-the-rotation arm to switch teams?’s Mark Feinsand reported last month that the Rays “have told other clubs that they’re open to the idea of trading” the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner this offseason. And this past weekend, Snell acknowledged to the Tampa Bay Times that he expects to be traded “at some point,” before he is scheduled to reach free agency after the 2023 season, although he hopes that such a move doesn’t happen just yet.

It might seem strange that the Rays would trade Snell coming off a World Series run, and with Charlie Morton already leaving as a free agent after Tampa Bay declined his club option. But this is how the low-budget Rays typically operate. They don’t have to trade Snell, but they likely would consider it if some team is willing to pay a high enough price.

Snell is a talented pitcher who just turned 28, and he has three relatively affordable seasons ($39 million) remaining on the extension he signed in March 2019. That makes him an enticing option for pitching-hungry teams -- requiring a much smaller financial commitment than top free agent Trevor Bauer and offering more control than Lynn, who will be a free agent next offseason.

And the Rays have a history of making out well in such deals as they seek to constantly replenish their supply of young talent and remain annual contenders. In a similar situation at the 2018 Trade Deadline, they sent Chris Archer to the Pirates and received two members of their current core (Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows), as well as pitcher Shane Baz, who remains a Top 100 Prospect.

It’s unlikely the Rays would fare quite so well this time, but there are sure to be many teams interested in Snell, who would no doubt fetch a juicy return. Here are seven potential trade proposals for the southpaw:

Angels land ace, bid adieu to Adell
Angels get: LHP Blake Snell
Rays get: OF Jo Adell

Why it could work: No team needs Snell more than the Angels do. They’re desperate not only to acquire reliable, above-average pitching in a free-agent market thin on that particular stock but also to win, like, yesterday. New general manager Perry Minasian already has shown he’ll be active in the quest to get Mike Trout back to the playoffs, trading for a pair of Iglesiases in shortstop José and reliever Raisel. While surrendering Adell -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect a year ago -- could be an extreme price to pay, the Halos get a much more impactful player in the immediate future with the 2018 AL Cy Young winner. Another factor? Los Angeles still has Brandon Marsh and Jordyn Adams (their Nos. 1 and 3 prospects) in line as outfield reinforcements in a year or two. Unless Adell turns into a star -- a possibility, but far from a certainty after a rough first go in The Show (31 wRC+ and 41.7% K-rate) -- he’s not necessarily irreplaceable.

The Rays are in a clear contention window and already have the top farm system in baseball, so if they’re going to move Snell, they’d require players who are 1) young, 2) inexpensive and 3) big league ready with upside. With an already loaded outfield, they would find a way to break Adell in more judiciously -- perhaps rotating with center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and right fielder Austin Meadows, both of whom hit from the left side -- to help the toolsy 21-year-old develop rather than have to be counted on as a crucial piece in 2021 like he would with L.A. Plus, getting Adell opens the door for the Rays to get creative and spin another outfielder for a bigger need, like a catcher.

Who says no? The Rays. Maybe? This feels like it would be a difficult decision for both sides, because it’s such a high-risk/high-reward swap given Snell’s recent history of arm issues and how lost Adell looked both offensively and defensively in limited action in 2020. Ultimately, Tampa Bay’s lack of a clear need to upgrade an outfield featuring postseason breakout star Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, Kiermaier and Meadows (among others) might give the Rays enough pause to decline.

-- Jason Catania

Snell stays in AL East, gives Blue Jays a pair of aces
Blue Jays get: LHP Blake Snell, OF Manuel Margot
Rays get: SS Jordan Groshans
(MLB’s No. 70 prospect), C Danny Jansen, RHP Alek Manoah (Blue Jays’ No. 5 prospect)

Why it could work: The Rays get a nice haul, while the Blue Jays get a top starting pitcher to pair with Hyun Jin Ryu, as well as a defensive upgrade in center field. There’s some question about whether Groshans will be able to stick at shortstop, but with Willy Adames and MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco in the fold, that’s not a concern. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Groshans has a high offensive ceiling, and he could eventually take over at third base. Manoah, the other big prospect in this trade, has a solid three-pitch mix that includes a fastball in the 94-97 mph range. The Rays also receive a controllable catcher in Jansen at a time when they have only one backstop -- Ronaldo Hernandez, a 23-year-old with no experience above Class A Advanced -- on the 40-man roster.

It’s a hefty price, but the Blue Jays may be willing to pay it. They have a surplus of talented young shortstops, catchers and pitchers, and this trade doesn’t require them to surrender right-hander Nate Pearson (MLB’s No. 6 prospect), shortstop/outfielder Austin Martin (No. 16), righty Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 93) or catcher Alejandro Kirk (Blue Jays’ No. 6 prospect).

Who says no? The Blue Jays. It would be close, but Toronto would likely balk at giving up two of its top-five prospects in one trade.

-- Thomas Harrigan

Braves build a super-rotation
Braves get: LHP Blake Snell
Rays get: OF Drew Waters
(MLB's No. 22 prospect), 3B/LF Austin Riley

Why it could work: Waters is the type of blue-chip prospect who could land the Rays' ace. The 21-year-old is just about big league ready, and he's exactly the type of versatile player the Rays target. Waters can play all three outfield positions, he's a switch-hitter who drives the ball all over the field from both sides and he has plus speed on offense and defense. Waters should be a huge asset for winning matchup battles, and that's how Tampa Bay thrives. It'd be tough for Atlanta to part with him, but remember, Cristian Pache is an even better prospect (No. 10 overall) and its center fielder of the future, and with Ronald Acuña Jr. one of the best players in baseball already, the NL East champs still have a stacked outfield.

As for Riley, he's made to be a Ray. The Rays can pop him in at third base, first base or the corner outfield -- whatever their lineup machinations dictate on a given day -- and he should give them 30 home runs. And he's only 23 and won't be a free agent until 2026. The Braves could trade Riley and go after a win-now free-agent replacement like Justin Turner.

Who says no? The Braves. They don't want to be the new Pirates and give up a future superstar prospect to buy high on a Rays pitcher. Even if Pache and Acuña take up two of the Braves' outfield spots through the 2020s, there's still room for Waters. As tempting as it is to create a super-staff of young arms with Snell, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright, the Braves will back off and try to win now with the help of Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly and maybe another free-agent addition.

-- David Adler

Seattle lands new ace
Mariners get: LHP Blake Snell
Rays get: OF Julio Y. Rodriguez
(MLB's No. 15 prospect), LHP Brayan Perez (Mariners' No. 16 prospect)

Why it could work: Any deal with the Mariners would likely need to involve one of Seattle's star outfield prospects: Jarred Kelenic (MLB's No. 9 prospect) or Rodriguez. If the Mariners are willing to part with Rodriguez, as well as the left-handed Perez (signed in the same 2017 international class as Rodriguez), then Tampa Bay would have to at least entertain the idea. While Seattle might not love the idea of moving Rodriguez, the club would still have Kyle Lewis -- the reigning American League Rookie of the Year -- in center field and Kelenic waiting in the wings to help patrol the outfield. Not to mention, the loss could be offset if Snell (a Seattle native) proves to be a true ace atop a rotation featuring Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield and Yusei Kikuchi.

Who says no? The Mariners. It's just hard to see Seattle parting with either Rodriguez or Kelenic, regardless of Snell's potential. It doesn't help that the Mariners have been burned in a similar deal in the past, albeit more than a decade ago. Coming off an 88-win season in 2007, they hoped to take the next step by acquiring Erik Bedard from the O's to anchor the rotation. Seattle sent five players -- including highly regarded outfield prospect Adam Jones -- to Baltimore in exchange for the 28-year-old Bedard. While Jones went on to become a five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove Award winner and longtime fan favorite with the O's, Bedard was plagued by injuries in his two and a half seasons with Seattle.

-- Paul Casella

Snellzilla heads to the Empire State
Mets get: LHP Blake Snell
Rays get: 3B/LF J.D. Davis, OF Pete Crow-Armstrong
(Mets’ No. 5 prospect), LHP Thomas Szapucki (Mets’ No. 8 prospect)

Why it could work: The Mets seem to be intent on adding to the rotation this offseason, and Snell is under contract for three more years, so this isn’t a rental or quick fix. The remaining money on his deal wouldn’t be a deterrent, given the Mets’ perceived financial might under Steve Cohen’s ownership, and this would net them three years of a starter in his prime.

On the Rays’ side, Davis seems like the kind of player they’d bring out the best in -- one whose underlying numbers have always been good, and he could have even more success with an analytics-heavy team. Crow-Armstrong, the 19th overall pick in this year's Draft, has the tools to be the team’s center-field successor to 30-year-old Kevin Kiermaier, who is under contract through 2022 with a ‘23 team option. His MLB Pipeline prospect profile notes: “A plus runner, he can really play center and might be the best defensive outfielder in the class,” which sounds a lot like Kiermaier -- the type of center fielder the Rays gravitate toward. Szapucki, with a projected MLB arrival date in 2021, per MLB Pipeline, is a potential successor for Snell.

Who says no? Probably the Mets, who wouldn’t want to see Crow-Armstrong blossom under the Rays’ tutelage, instead of becoming the standout, homegrown center fielder the organization has been waiting to develop for a while now. The Mets are likely content holding on to their prospects and addressing pitching on the free-agent market, perhaps with Bauer.

-- Sarah Langs

With eye on "Big 3" in 2022, Friars unload prospect riches
Padres get: LHP Blake Snell
Rays get: C Luis Campusano
(MLB’s No. 46 prospect), LHP Adrian Morejon, OF Jorge Oña (Padres’ No. 20 prospect), RHP Mason Thompson

Why it could work: With their 2021 lineup seemingly set, San Diego is looking for pitching and could really use another ace-caliber starter beside Dinelson Lamet while Mike Clevinger recovers from Tommy John surgery. Then, a "Big 3" of Snell, Lamet and Clevinger, possibly backed up by MacKenzie Gore (MLB’s No. 3 prospect) and Luis Patiño (MLB’s No. 23 prospect) as the starting rotation in ‘22? Well, that’s pretty much a Padres fan’s dream.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s biggest need likely lies behind the plate, and MLB Pipeline listed Campusano as having the best power tool of any youngster in San Diego's top-flight farm system (though he is dealing with some legal trouble this offseason). With Trade Deadline acquisition Austin Nola under contract through 2025, now is as good a time as any for the Friars to trade away catching depth. The Rays could also use a corner-outfield prospect to groom, so enter Oña, a hulking, big league-ready slugger who slashed .348/.417/.539 at Double-A in 2019. Then there’s Morejon, a 21-year-old lefty with good velocity and a unicorn “knuckle-changeup” that the Rays’ analytics staff could have a lot of fun with. Thompson, an oft-injured, high-upside righty who touches 98 mph becomes the final piece and the Rays’ latest development project.

Who says no? The Rays. Yes, Padres fans would have a hard time saying goodbye to several of the top prospects their team worked so hard to stockpile. But Tampa Bay may actually want even more -- someone from the trio of Gore (basically untouchable), CJ Abrams (almost untouchable) and Patiño that accounts for three of MLB Pipeline’s Top 25 Prospects.

-- Matt Kelly

Twins counter aggressive White Sox
Twins get: LHP Blake Snell, RHP John Curtiss
Rays get: OF/1B Alex Kirilloff
(MLB’s No. 27 prospect), LHP Devin Smeltzer, RHP Matt Canterino (Twins’ No. 11 prospect), C Ben Rortvedt (Twins’ No. 26 prospect)

Why it could work: The Twins, who were nearly overtaken by the White Sox this past season, have watched Chicago bolster its rotation by trading for Lynn, who now joins Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. This move would give Minnesota a comparable trio in 2021 (Snell, Kenta Maeda, José Berríos). The Twins also would get a solid pre-arbitration reliever in Curtiss to bolster their thinned-out bullpen. The cost would be high, of course, with the Twins sacrificing Kirilloff, their second-ranked prospect, who made his MLB debut in the 2020 postseason. But Minnesota has other well regarded bats on the way that could help the club this year (Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker), and it still could bring back Nelson Cruz or sign a free-agent outfielder.

The Rays get Smeltzer (18 career games, seven starts), who could step into the back of their rotation immediately, while Canterino (a 2019 second-round pick from Rice) is said to have mid-rotation upside. Then there’s Rortvedt, a stellar defender behind the plate, who would bolster Tampa Bay’s thin catching depth. But the big get here is Kirilloff, a Major League-ready 23-year-old with six seasons of club control and an ability to hit for average and power. He could help the Rays right away in the corner outfield, first base or DH.

Who says no? The Rays. As good a prospect as Kirilloff is, the Rays do already have a bunch of corner bats on their roster, and their lineup is fairly heavy on lefties. Plus, in order to part with Snell, they might require a higher-ceiling, big league-ready arm. At the same time, Kirilloff could be too steep a price for the Twins if they are dead-set on having him in their 2021 lineup.

-- Andrew Simon