Less than two weeks after Blake Snell made it known how miffed he was that his team would pay him only barely more than the league minimum the year after he won the Cy Young, the Rays pitcher has signed a much richer five-year extension with the club. He’ll get paid about eight times the $573,700 that he was set to make in 2019, with steadily escalating salaries that total $50 million. That’s according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan:
Snell is betting against himself here, in a sense, by sacrificing money that he could have won down the road in arbitration for a solid guarantee now. But there’s more to it than that. Given the paltry contract that the Rays initially gave him, which was just about the minimum guaranteed in the league’s collective bargaining agreement, Snell had no leverage. He was still a year from arbitration, and faced with the choice between $50 million guaranteed and about $600,000 guaranteed, which would you take? Crucially, this deal also does not include a no-trade clause. Given the Rays, this means that they don’t really intend to pay out the last year or two of that heavily backloaded contract themselves. When the time is right, Snell will be flipped for the next round of leverage-less prospects, who will have no choice but to accept the next set of minimal raises.
This contract will cover the 26-year-old Snell through his years of team control, plus the first of what would have been his free agent seasons. If he keeps pitching as he did in his sophomore campaign last year, when he posted an ERA of 1.89 and a FIP of 2.95, Snell’s value, to whichever team he plays for, will be significantly higher than the $10 million a season the contract averages out to. For some rough comparisons to the paydays that Snell might have expected, Trevor Bauer got $13 million last month in his second-to-last year of arbitration, while Snell will get $10.5 million in his equivalent year, according to Spotrac. And Jake Arrieta got $15.6 million in 2017, his final year of team control, while Snell will get $12.5 million. In his first year of free agency, Snell could theoretically command something more in line with the $30 million that Arrieta made last season, but instead he’ll get $16 million.
But as players have learned the hard way this offseason, talented free agents are far less in demand than cheap youngsters, to the point where teams will pass on signing star-quality pitchers—particularly those whose ages start with a 3—seemingly on principle. This offseason’s insultingly tepid market is likely a big reason why Mike Trout just said yes to a massive contract to keep him an Angel forever, and why White Sox prospect Eloy Jimenez just signed a deal that could delay his free agency two years.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to work, but also, nothing’s really working right at this moment. It’s not ideal or fun that Snell had to play it safe, here, but given how apathetic the current penny-pinching free agent climate looks in MLB, and how little he had been able to get out of the the Rays before this, who could blame him?