Padres' trades shake up market, 2021 races

3 takeaways from San Diego's deals for Snell, Darvish

December 29th, 2020

It’s A.J. Preller’s world. We’re all just living in it.

In the course of 24 hours, the Padres’ general manager agreed to a pair of trades that landed 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner and 2020 National League Cy Young runner-up in San Diego.

Having finished with the NL’s second-best record in 2020, San Diego has added a pair of aces to the front of its rotation, asserting itself as a team to be reckoned with in 2021. Oh, and they gave up just two of their Top 10 prospects, leaving plenty of young talent to either supplement the roster or utilize in future trades.

For the AL-champion Rays, the Snell trade was mostly business as usual. Tampa Bay moved a talented arm with several years of club control to maximize its payroll flexibility.

Fresh off an NL Central title, the Cubs also sought some payroll relief, sending Darvish and the $62 million owed to him over the next three years to the Padres.

What do these moves mean for the rest of baseball? Here are three takeaways from a wild 24 hours:

1) Setting the market
It was only five weeks ago that news broke of the Rays’ willingness to trade Snell, though many believed Tampa Bay was simply getting a feel for what a Snell market might look like for next offseason.

Well, Snell will be pitching in San Diego in 2021, once again proving that where there’s smoke, fire can often follow.

Darvish was a similar case, only it took a week for a deal to come together instead of a month. Since November, it’s been widely assumed that the Cubs were open to moving any player with a significant contract, but Darvish trade chatter didn’t begin until last week. Now, like Snell, he’ll be pitching for the Padres.

Who else might the Padres trade for?

We kid, of course (we think), but Snell and Darvish might not be the only front-line starters to be traded this winter. The Reds have been listening on both and , and now that they have seen the respective returns for Snell and Darvish, the price for such a starter has been established.

The Rays received four players in return for Snell, nabbing right-hander (San Diego’s No. 3 prospect and the No. 23 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline), right-hander Cole Wilcox (Padres’ No. 7) and catcher Blake Hunt (No. 14) along with catcher , a 25-year-old who was the No. 15 overall prospect in the game just a couple of years ago.

The Cubs landed righty (arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2021) and four prospects: shortstop Reginald Preciado (Padres’ No. 11), outfielder Owen Caissie (No. 13), outfielder Ismael Mena (No. 15) and shortstop Yeison Santana (No. 16) for Darvish, though the lack of a Top 5 prospect can be attributed to the hefty salary San Diego took back with Darvish.

Neither Gray ($20 million through 2022, plus a $12 million club option for ’23) nor Castillo (arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter) carries such a sizeable price tag, so the return for either Cincinnati pitcher could resemble the Rays’ return for Snell, as all three are controllable through the 2023 season.

2) Best in the West?
The Dodgers have had a stranglehold on the NL West for nearly a decade, finishing first in the division in each of the past eight years. Los Angeles has a number of free agents (, , , , ) from their 2020 roster, but the core of the club will be back.

Will the acquisitions of Snell and Darvish allow the Padres to challenge the Dodgers for the division crown? And if Los Angeles believes that to be the case, will the Dodgers feel any pressure to respond with a major move of their own?

Could president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman take a run at to replace Turner at third base? How about adding SoCal native to join and atop the rotation? Maybe sign or to bolster the back of the bullpen?

Preller has been among the most aggressive executives in the game over the past few years, signing and while trading for , and now Snell and Darvish. Combined with the emergence of , and as well as the impending arrival of MacKenzie Gore (the game’s top pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline), do the Padres finally have a roster capable of toppling the Dodgers?

3) The AL East is wide open
Tampa Bay won its first AL East title in a decade, and given the dominance the Rays displayed -- they won the division by seven games in a 60-game season -- they would have been favorites heading into 2021 had they returned most of their roster.

That won’t happen. Snell and are gone. could be next. The Rays will find a way to remain competitive -- general manager Erik Neander is among the best executives in the game -- but the door is now wide open for the Yankees and Blue Jays.

Will the Yankees step up and do what it takes to bring back and ? Will the Blue Jays -- already one of the more aggressive teams this offseason -- take it to the next level in their pursuit of LeMahieu, Bauer, or ?

What happens in the coming weeks will have a major impact on how the AL East plays out in 2021, especially now that Tampa Bay has shed 40 percent of its World Series rotation.