With the start of spring training right around the corner, it’s time to start talking about Blake Snell’s free agency. The reigning Cy Young winner in the National League remains unsigned and is undoubtedly the best pitcher still available. As the top pitcher on the market, Snell should be set up for a big payday. But is he going to be worth it?
Is Blake Snell Worth a Big Contract?
Before the season, Snell’s contract projection from experts had him worth at least $200 million over at least six or seven years. That still seems like a fair target, especially after Aaron Nola got a seven-year deal worth $172 million to stay with the Phillies. Plus, now that he’s one of seven pitchers to win the Cy Young in both leagues, Snell will surely sign a lucrative deal.
However, will Snell be able to live up to the contract he’ll get or could he end up signing one of the worst contracts in MLB history?
As the reigning Cy Young winner, all of the numbers say that Snell is very much at the top of his game right now. He made 32 starts for the Padres in 2023, going 14-9 with a 2.25 ERA. The only time Snell posted more impressive numbers was in 2018 when he won his first Cy Young. But what about the years that he didn’t pitch at a Cy Young level?
If you take away his two Cy Young campaigns and the shortened 2020 season, Snell has averaged 24.5 starts per season, so he’s had some injuries along the way. The lefty had both elbow and shoulder issues in Tampa and missed time in recent years with oblique injuries. He’s also never won more than eight games in any of those seasons and has pitched to an ERA over 4.00 three times. Keep in mind that Snell has only one all-star selection on his resume.
The other number that’s worth mentioning is his FIP of 3.38 in 2023. That’s a full point higher than his ERA, indicating that he had more than a little good luck last season and benefited from some excellent defense behind him. With that type of discrepancy between ERA and FIP, Snell could be due for a drop-off in 2024, which would obviously come immediately after signing a long-term deal.
Not Just a Number
Another thing to consider is that Snell is 31, which is not just a number with pitchers. A seven-year deal would have Snell pitching and making a huge salary until he’s 37. As mentioned, he’s already had occasional injuries during his career and could be set up for a down year in 2024. What are the chances that Snell will have another Cy Young-caliber season and avoid further injuries as he gets deeper into his 30s?
Those are questions that teams pursuing Snell will have to ask themselves before signing him. It’s possible – if not likely – that Snell will never have a season as good as his 2023 campaign. Why pay a pitcher like a Cy Young winner if there’s a good chance he’ll never perform at that level again?
Concerns over his age, injuries, and high salary demands could be why Snell’s list of suitors appears to be dwindling. He was one of the SF Giants’ offseason targets early on, but they traded for Robbie Ray instead. The Dodgers are also likely off the board after already adding multiple pitchers this offseason. Of course, Yankees’ free agency rumors continue to point to Snell as New York’s top target.
However, other than the Yankees, few of the teams interested in Snell – notably the Padres, Angels, Cubs, and others – would be able to afford the type of contract Snell was projected to receive before the season. In a way, that might be a fitting way for Snell’s free agency to come to an end. If he gets a contract worth around $200 million over seven years, it would likely be too much for the pitcher Snell is likely to be in the years to come, which is unlikely to be anything close to the pitcher he’s been in the past.