Blake Snell traded to San Diego
We’ve been off for almost a week at this point for the holiday, and unsurprisingly we didn’t miss all that much around baseball. There were a couple of transactions to talk about today, but right under the wire the Rays and Padres snuck in a blockbuster to overshadow everything and anything else. In said blockbuster, now-former Rays ace Blake Snell is heading out west to San Diego in exchange for a hefty package of young players in pitcher Luis Patiño, catcher Francisco Mejía, catcher Blake Hunt, and pitcher Cole Wilcox.
We’ll start with the trade itself, which in a vacuum is a good one for both sides. The Padres are one of the most talented teams in baseball, but after Mike Clevinger underwent Tommy John surgery early in the offseason they needed to fill a spot at the top of their rotation. While Snell has some questions with durability and innings, the talent is undeniable. He now forms a more-than-formidale one-two punch with Dinelson Lamet at the top of San Diego’s rotation, and they aren’t being ruled out of adding more to the rotation. While the package of young talent they gave up is hefty, they are so deep in the farm system they were able to make this deal — and the one for Clevinger over the summer — without trading their best prospects like MacKenzie Gore and C.J. Abrams.
On the other side, the Rays are also one of the most talented teams in baseball, but they are also the Rays. Before I get into my rant about Rays baseball, I will acknowledge that this is a good return. Patiño is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, a name you may remember from the Mookie Betts trade rumors from a year ago. Mejía hasn’t gotten going too much as a major-league catcher, but the potential is still very much there. Hunt has been one of the fastest risers among prospects in all of baseball over the last few months, and Wilcox has huge stuff. This is a loaded return.
And yet, it’s still hard to make this feel good for the Rays and their fans. This Tampa Bay team is one that just made the World Series and should be building up their major-league roster, not further boosting their farm system. It, of course, comes down to the financials as Snell is owed $40 million over three years. That is not at all a prohibitive cost for someone of his talent, but the Rays just churn through players as they get expensive. And for some reason, we are just supposed to accept it as smart baseball from a franchise that has won playoff series in just two years of their existence. As with many of their deals, you can make a fine case for this one on its own, but as a collection it is just the latest example of the Rays doing wrong by their fans, and probably by the sport as a whole.
I will say, though, as a Red Sox fan this trade is certainly not a bad thing. Yes, the Rays did get a bunch of talent back and knowing how things usually work they’ll be very good, but I know Snell is very good and now I can both enjoy him from afar and also not watch him carve up the Red Sox. And as for Boston being able to match that package, I don’t see how it happens. And that’s probably bad news for any potential Luis Castillo deal as well.
Josh Bell traded to the Nationals
The Snell trade turned out to be the biggest move of the offseason thus far, but there was a decently big trade on Christmas Eve as well with the Pirates continuing their eternal rebuild by sending Josh Bell to the Nationals in exchange for a pair of young pitchers in Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean.
It goes without saying that this is not Snell, but Bell is a fine player in his own right and getting him out of Pittsburgh has the potential to be a boon for his career. We’ve seen flashes of a very good player from the now-former Pirate, who takes over at first base for Ryan Zimmerman in the nation’s capital. Bell, who will be 28 for most of the 2021 season, had a rough 2020 but has been better than average at the plate in all of his other major-league seasons including 2019 when he made the All-Star team and finished with an impressive 135 wRC+. Washington is banking on their ability to get that guy back as they look to make their way back to the postseason.
On the other side, Ben Cherington’s Pirates are just spinning in place right now, as they have been for the better part of the last quarter century minus those couple of wildcard seasons last decade. Bell was one of their best trade chips, and to be fair they did fairly well here. Crowe doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but the former second round pick has the makings of a major-league starter and got a cup of coffee in 2020, meaning he could be ready for a full-time role early in 2021. Yean, meanwhile, is significantly further behind at 19, but he’s been a fast riser the last couple of years and could be the best part of this return a few years down the line.
As for the Red Sox angle here, Bell never would’ve been on their radar. They could use help at first base if there is roster space, but that would be for a depth piece not someone like Bell. The part for Red Sox fans to care about is that there had been some whispers of talks between the Pirates and Yankees for a deal including Bell and pitcher Jameson Taillon, so this at least closes the books on half of that possibility.
Rangers sign Kohei Arihara
The two trades were the biggest moves of the last few days, but the Rangers also made a bit of a splash in free agency by signing Japanese pitcher Kohei Arihara. Arihara isn’t the top pitcher coming over from the NPB this winter — that would be Tomoyuki Sugano — but he is a potential mid-rotation starter (more likely a back-end arm) who is 28 and got a contract of $6.2 million from Texas, plus their posting fee.
This is big news for Red Sox fans as they were reportedly one of the finalists for Arihara. On its own, this is a bit of a blow but nothing major, as there are plenty of other options out there. That said, this is the latest in a line of second place finishes for them this winter, and at a certain point (we’re not there yet in my eyes, to be clear) you have to wonder if pitchers just don’t want to come to Boston, where they have not been very good at getting the most out of their arms. They are also considered among the favorites for the aforementioned Sugano, so we’ll keep an eye on that.