A reigning Cy Young Award winner is currently available on the free-agent market, but could another former winner be on the move via trade this winter?
According to multiple sources, the Rays have told other clubs that they’re open to the idea of trading Blake Snell, presenting a realistic possibility that a deal could be consummated this offseason.
A source noted that Tampa Bay is not actively shopping Snell, who has three years and $39 million remaining on his five-year, $50 million extension, but given the financial losses the Rays endured during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, trading the 27-year-old represents the club’s best chance to create some much-needed flexibility.
Snell will earn $10.5 million in 2021, $12.5 million in 2022, and $16 million in 2023.
Fresh off the second World Series appearance in franchise history, dealing Snell would be a bold move for the Rays, though the club has made similar moves in the past with the trades of David Price and James Shields.
“I’m guessing they think this is the best chance to kill it on the market,” a rival American League executive said.
A source close to Snell said word of a potential trade has even made its way back to the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, noting that Snell is committed to Tampa Bay and would love the opportunity to remain with the Rays.
Trevor Bauer, who won this year’s National League Cy Young Award, is the top starter available on the free-agent market, but Snell would represent an upgrade from any other free-agent starter; Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi and Taijuan Walker headline the second tier of available arms beyond Bauer after Charlie Morton signed a one-year deal with Atlanta on Tuesday.
Among the teams believed to be interested in acquiring Snell are the Angels and Mariners.
Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto has a lengthy trade history with Erik Neander of the Rays; the two teams have been involved in 10 trades together since Dipoto arrived in Seattle in September 2015.
Should Snell be on his way out of Tampa Bay, his preferred destination would likely be Seattle -- his hometown. The Mariners have the No. 4 farm system in the game, according to MLB Pipeline, giving Dipoto plenty of ammunition to make a trade.
Tampa Bay has already declined options on Morton ($15 million) and Mike Zunino ($4.5 million) this offseason, while Hunter Renfroe was designated for assignment last week as the Rays chose to cut ties with the outfielder rather than pay him whatever he commanded in his second year of arbitration.
For the Rays to create payroll flexibility, they would have to move one of the three players on the roster making significant money: Snell, Kevin Kiermaier (two years, $23.5 million left on his deal, plus a $13 million option for 2023 with a $2.5 million buyout) or Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (one year, $7 million remaining on his contract).
Could the Rays find a taker for Kiermaier? According to two executives, that scenario would only be likely if Tampa Bay were willing to pay down his contract.
One other potential factor? “Who loses out on [George] Springer?” one AL executive said.
If Tampa Bay wants to chop payroll in order to give itself other options to improve the team, a Snell trade represents the best chance to accomplish that goal.
“He would bring back a massive return,” an NL executive said.