The Tampa Bay Rays had a fantastic season in the shortened 2020 campaign, winning the AL East division with a record of 40-20 and making it all the way to the World Series, where they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This appearance, however, has been succeeded by some changes to one of their strengths – their starting rotation. Last night [27th December 2020] they traded their ace pitcher Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres for four prospects.
This trade surprised many in the MLB world, as Snell still has three years left on his contract, and without a notably high price on those years too. He was due $10.5 million in 2021 and the following two years would cost $12.5m and $16m respectively, before he would become a free agent going into his age-31 season of 2024.
The former Cy Young Award winner had a good year in 2020, with a regular-season ERA of 3.24 and 63 strikeouts in 50 innings. He elevated even more in the playoffs where he pitched 29 2/3 more with a 3.03 ERA and fanned 37.
The Rays also decided to move on from Charlie Morton this season, who has now signed for the Atlanta Braves, after Tampa Bay turned down a $15 million club option. These two moves mean that they have moved on from their ace and their second starter in the rotation in the same offseason.
Rays get four prospects
The Blake Snell trade was announced last night and confirmed that the Padres, a team trying to push for a World Series, sent four young players in return for the 28-year-old. The players included in the trade were RHP Luis Patino, Francisco Mejia, Blake Hunt and RHP Cole Wilcox.
BREAKING: The Padres have an agreement in place to acquire Blake Snell from the Rays, sources tell @JCTSports, @Ken_Rosenthal and me. Luis Patiño, Francisco Mejía, Blake Hunt and Cole Wilcox would head to Tampa. Deal pending review of medical records.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) December 28, 2020
The clear centrepiece of the Padres offering in this trade is starting pitcher Luis Patino, a 21-year-old right-hander from Colombia who began the 2020 season generally considered a top-20 prospect in baseball.
He made the jump to the majors this season at age 20 and won his only start. He pitched 17 1/3 innings in total at the MLB level and had an ERA of 5.19 and a WHIP of 1.846. The Colombian struggled a bit, giving up 10 earned but had 21 strikeouts in his first spell as a major leaguer and shows a lot of promise. His best pitches are his fastball and his slider.
Patino should be starting for the Rays fairly early this season, if not immediately, depending on how the new organisation feels he pitches in spring. This is clearly an addition for the long-term, with Snell on the way out just two seasons after his extension, and Patino being eight years younger.
Francisco Mejia is a 25-year-old Dominican catcher who has been in the majors for a few years after making his debut with the Cleveland Indians. Mejia is a switch hitter who has really struggled to make it work at the highest level.
In 2020 he had 42 plate appearances across 17 games and had a .077 batting average and a .143 OBP, hitting just one home run and recording 2 RBI’s, for the Padres. Mejia was once a top-20 prospect, but he hasn’t made it work yet, and his lack of framing ability (according to Statcast and Baseball Prospectus he has actually been worth negative value as a framing catcher) doesn’t necessarily fit the usual bill for the Rays who value framing.
The second catcher in the deal, Blake Hunt, is 22-years-old and ranked in the top-10 prospects of a very strong Padres system, who is looking to graduate to double-A in 2021 and pick up again after 2020 put a hold on the minor leagues. In 2019 Hunt hit .255 with a .331 OBP and played pretty well behind the dish. His ability to throw out runners improved, going from 26 of 89 in 2018 to catching 33 of 90 in 2019, and he will be hoping to keep trending in that direction. Although he is currently better as a catcher than a hitter, he is still young and could be a good long-term addition for the Rays.
The final piece of the trade was 21-year-old RHP Cole Wilcox, who the Padres drafted 80th overall in the 2020 Draft out of Georgia. He signed for $3.3 million in June but due to COVID-19 he has yet to start his minor league career. Wilcox is a big-bodied pitcher at 6-5, 232lbs who pitches in the mid-90’s and who MLB Pipeline had as the number 23 draft prospect going into the draft.
Rays get younger
The Rays dealt their ace, and in doing so they saved money short-term and hoped to add some pieces who will help the team in the long-term. They will be hoping that Luis Patino can be part of the major league rotation soon enough, and the other three pieces each have upside too.
Rays fans will undoubtedly be sad to see the back of Blake Snell, but they will have to accept that the Rays have taken an effort to try and get younger and cheaper, and hope that their four new prospects can deliver in the future even half of what Snell has since the Rays drafted him in 2011.