Rays acquire 4 players from SD for Snell

December 29th, 2020

The Rays will be defending their American League crown in 2021, but they’ll have to do it without ace , as Tampa Bay announced a blockbuster five-player deal with the Padres that sent the left-hander to San Diego on Tuesday.

The Rays acquired three prospects, including right-hander Luis Patiño, the Padres’ No. 3 prospect and the No. 23 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Also on the prospect end are right-hander Cole Wilcox and catcher Blake Hunt, while the club also acquired catcher Francisco Mejía.

Rays get: RHP , RHP Cole Wilcox, C , C Blake Hunt
Padres get: LHP

What the Rays get

Though the Rays were listening to offers for Snell, the message was clear: If you want him, you’ll have to give up a lot, and the Rays certainly got a sizable haul from San Diego for the ace.

Patiño, 21, headlines the group of prospects with a fastball that sits between 97-98 mph and tops out at 100 mph. The right-hander pairs that dominant fastball with a slider that is considered one of the best pitches in the Minor Leagues. Most scouts project Patiño to be a No. 1 or 2 starter, but that potentially might not be fulfilled for at least a few more seasons. In 2020, Patiño made 11 appearances with the Padres, posting a 5.19 ERA, but struck out 21 batters over 17 1/3 innings of work. With Patiño in the mix, the Rays now have seven prospects ranked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, the most of any team.

Acquiring Mejía gives the Rays another option at the catcher position moving forward. The Rays came to an agreement with earlier this offseason, and they agreed to a Minor League deal with Kevan Smith with an invite to big league camp on Tuesday. Mejía, 25, gives the Rays a third option, one with a lot of potential.

Just a few years ago, Mejía was a can't-miss prospect with the Indians, but the catcher hasn’t been able to put it together at the plate, which was his strength coming up through the system. In parts of four seasons, Mejía is hitting just .225 with 12 homers. He’ll get an increased role with Tampa Bay, but the Rays will certainly hope for better production out of the young backstop, who could also play the outfield.

With Hunt and Wilcox, the Rays acquired two prospects who could make an impact at the big league level in a few seasons. Wilcox, 21, was selected in the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft, but he was seen as a first-round talent after going 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in four starts in his final season at the University of Georgia. The right-hander could ultimately end up as a high-upside arm out of the bullpen.

Hunt, 22, was one of the standouts during the Padres’ instructional league, according to people in attendance. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher is an advanced game-caller, but he has struggled with the bat. Multiple people in the Rays organization, however, have raved about Hunt’s potential, and he could fit well with Ronaldo Hernández as the catchers of the future.

What the Rays traded away

There’s really no way around it: By trading Snell, the Rays are a worse team in 2021, at least at this point in the offseason.

Snell, 28, is entering the prime of his career, and he still had three years remaining on his five-year, $50 million deal. Over the past three seasons, Snell has been the most consistent starter for a Rays team that has improved its winning percentage in each of those seasons.

Last season, Snell went 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA and remained healthy after battling elbow injuries in 2019. But by dealing the ace, the Rays get four talented players and some added salary relief, which could help Tampa Bay be a bit more aggressive the rest of the offseason and into next season.

After nine years with the organization, the last image of Snell in a Rays uniform is of him walking off the Globe Life Field mound in Game 6 of the World Series, a decision that will be remembered for many years and one that Snell and manager Kevin Cash won’t be able to run back in 2021 and beyond.

What’s next?

Heading into the 2020 season, the Rays’ strength was their starting pitching. In 2021, the Rays have multiple holes in their rotation, and it’s an area of concern with a few months left in the offseason.

With Snell headed to San Diego, Yonny Chirinos out for the season and Charlie Morton signing with the Braves earlier this offseason, the Rays have just three starters locked into the rotation: Tyler Glasnow, Michael Wacha and Ryan Yarbrough.

The two other spots in the rotation, however, are a lot less clear.

Shane McClanahan showed off his arm in relief during the postseason, and the left-hander is expected to compete for a starting job during Spring Training. Josh Fleming went 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA during his rookie season and now slots in as a projected fourth or fifth starter. Prospects Brent Honeywell, Brendan McKay and Joe Ryan also have a chance to start next season, though Honeywell and McKay will need to prove that they’re healthy. Then there’s Patiño, who will undoubtedly get a chance to compete for one of the starting spots.