Snell is a risk worth taking for a bunch of clubs

January 14th, 2024

is the seventh pitcher in history to win Cy Young Awards in both leagues. As the great Sarah Langs has pointed out, he is one of only 11 pitchers to become a free agent after having won a Cy Young.

Snell is 31 years old, which is four years younger than fellow left-hander Randy Johnson was before he signed with the D-backs and proceeded to do the best pitching of his career. He is about the same age that Max Scherzer was when he signed with the Nationals, and you know what he did for them, including help pitch them to their first World Series in 2019.

Blake Snell is going to get paid. And he should get paid, especially in a world where , who has never pitched an inning in the Majors, just got paid $325 million by the Dodgers. The Red Sox ought to want Snell, and badly. So should the Mets, and so should the Yankees, because if you think the Yankees have enough starting pitching to get out of fourth place in the American League East, raise a hand.

Is paying big money for a starting pitcher a risk? It has been since the beginning of free agency, ever since the Yankees signed Catfish Hunter on New Year’s Eve a half-century ago, when he was free to leave the A’s. It will always be a risky business. Some free-agent starters just keep going and going, the way Greg Maddux did, and CC Sabathia, and plenty of others. Some get hurt. Pedro Martinez was his old self when the Mets got him, and then he got hurt and was never the same.

But at a time when just about everybody needs starting pitching, Snell is the best free-agent starter still out there, and the best by a lot. He was giving up five runs a game early last season for the Padres, but then ended up with a 14-9 record, struck out 234 batters in 180 innings, made 32 starts. His ERA was a dazzling 2.25.

The Cy Young Award winner in the American League, Gerrit Cole, made 33 starts for the Yankees, won one more game than Snell did for the Padres, had a 2.63 ERA, and struck out 222 batters in 209 innings. So, he averaged an inning more per start than Snell did. Cole is 33 years old and is considered the most valuable starter in the sport right now. The two of them essentially just had the same season.

"At his best," Buck Showalter said on Saturday, "[Snell] is one of those guys who seems to be pitching downhill.”

But then Buck added this about starting pitchers, whether they just pitched in Major League Baseball or in Japan:

“You can scout all you want, and project all you want. But in the end, you just never know.”

You don’t know. You never know. Fourteen years after the Yankees signed Sabathia for $160 million and seven years, they signed Carlos Rodón as a free agent for almost exactly the same money, with one less year on the contract. Sabathia went 19-8, finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, was a horse in the postseason and the Yankees won the World Series.

Rodón? He would end up having a forearm injury, a hamstring injury and back issues. He ultimately made just 14 starts for the Yankees, finishing with an ERA just a tick under seven runs a game. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stated the obvious at the Winter Meetings.

"Rodón in year two we expect to be, obviously, hopefully, Rodón like we imported," Cashman said, and he made it sound like a wish to build a dream on for his 2024 Yankees.

There is always luck, good and bad, no matter what kind of resume they have, about their shoulders and elbows. Are you kidding? There is a reason why these two words – "Tommy John" – sometimes seem to be as much a part of the language of baseball as “Play Ball.” Nathan Eovaldi signed with the Rangers an offseason ago and helped them win a World Series. They got him for two years and $34 million, which is about what the Yankees just spent on Marcus Stroman. All Eovaldi did was pitch like a legend of the fall as the Rangers won their first World Series. And guess what? He’s had Tommy John surgery twice in his career.

Snell once had arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow. That was four years ago. He has come all the way back from that to be voted the best pitcher in his league. He was as great for the 82-80 Padres as Gerrit Cole was last season for the 82-80 Yankees.

Cole is not available. Blake Snell still very much is. Teams ought to be lining up to sign him. When you look at where the Red Sox are, which is last place, and look at what’s ahead of them and all the right-handers in their current rotation, they ought to be at the head of the line.