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Rays Need to Sign Blake Snell to an Extension

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If they don’t do it now, it’s going to cost a whole lot more later.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone around MLB is talking about the Rays and their pitching depth: How lucky they are to have so many high quality arms, and how that talent could help them challenge for a playoff spot.

Well, if it’s really that valuable shouldn’t the Rays think about maintaining that depth beyond 2017? If so, the Rays should commit to a Blake Snell extension.

He’s got the size, strength, and motion to project as a healthy pitcher going forward. There are no red flags in his delivery, and he’s a LHP, something that increases his value.

The current ace of the staff is Chris Archer; Jim Hickey thinks that Snell is potentially better than both Archer and ex-Rays LHP David Price in the long-run. That screams “sign me” and it’s not the first time we’ve heard that scream.

Craig Edwards of Fangraphs touched the subject last February, before Snell had even thrown a pitch in MLB. As he noted, the Rays are no strangers to signing players early. They did it with Chris Archer, Evan Longoria, and Matt Moore, and approached Melvin Upton Jr. In short, it’s a tactic they use more often than most and should now consider for Snell.

Performance Pre-Extension: Archer and Snell

Here’s what each Archer and Snell had accomplished to the point where we want to look at an extension:

Archer and Snell Pre-Extension

Pitcher IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Pitcher IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Archer '12 29.1 11.05 3.99 0.92 0.29 4.6 3.4 3.42 0.5
Archer '13 128.2 7.06 2.66 1.05 0.253 3.22 4.07 3.91 1.3
Snell '16 89 9.91 5.16 0.51 0.356 3.54 3.39 4.35 1.8

Looking at the data above, you can see that each had some struggles, as well as signs of promise, early on. At this point in their respective careers each had reached the 1.8 WAR level total. If Snell were to take the same kind of step forward that Archer took during his second MLB season, you begin to wonder whether waiting a year would price the Rays out of an extension.

To offer some perspective, let’s compare the team friendly deal signed by Archer (with the expectation that he was likely to be Super 2) with the recent Carlos Martinez extension by the Cardinals, who waited until he dominated before extending him. Here’s what the deals look like side-by-side:

Archer and Martinez Extensions

Cost Item Archer Martinez Difference
Cost Item Archer Martinez Difference
Signing Bonus $1,000,000 $1,000,000 $0
Year 1 $500,000 $4,500,000 $4,000,000
Year 2 $1,000,000 $11,500,000 $10,500,000
Year 3 $2,750,000 $11,500,000 $8,750,000
Year 4 $4,750,000 $11,500,000 $6,750,000
Year 5 $6,250,000 $11,500,000 $5,250,000
Year 6 $7,500,000 $17,000,000 $9,500,000
Year 7 $9,000,000 $18,000,000 $9,000,000
Option Buyout 1 $1,750,000 $500,000 $1,250,000
Year 8 $11,000,000 N/A
Option Buyout 2 $250,000 $500,000 $250,000
Max Value $43,750,000 $86,500,000 $42,750,000
Min Value $34,750,000 $52,500,000 $17,750,000
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/

Putting inflation over the last few years aside and looking at the differences between the two deals, you can see how much more expensive Archer could have been had the Rays waited a year or two to sign him to an extension.

With Snell having a small amount of playing time under his belt, you could expect him to be offered a deal that is somewhere in between the two examples listed above. Without the Super 2 issue ahead, the Rays are under less pressure to get a deal done. But if they wait until after 2017 and Snell has a breakout season, the deal would cost them.

Without the Super 2 being an issue, Archer would have been guaranteed only $20M. He would have received a $1M bonus, $500K in 2014, $1M in both 2015 and 2016, $3M in 2017, $4.75M in 2018 and $7M in 2019. At the time, the guaranteed amount was the most ever for a player with less than 1 year of service time.

So what might a Blake Snell extension look like?

If we use something that takes the Archer extension into account, as well as inflation, we could wind up looking at something like this:

  • Signing Bonus $1M
  • $510K in 2017
  • $1M in 2018
  • $1.2M in 2019
  • $4M in 2020 (Arb1)
  • $6.75M in 2021 (Arb2)
  • $8.75M in 2022 (Arb3)
  • Team option $11.5M for 2023 with $1.75M buyout
  • Team option $14M for 2024 with a $1M buyout

Total Guaranteed: $25M

Total with Options Picked Up: $48.7M

If we assume a possible extension somewhere in the $22-$27M guaranteed range, I think it’s something both sides would be happy to consider. The total with options picked up is just over $5.4M more than Archer’s deal.

The win for the Rays would be locking up a potential top-end starter through his first two years of FA at a reasonable rate.

The win for Blake Snell is that it secures his future earnings regardless of any health issues, and if the Rays don’t pick up his option he becomes a FA at 29 years old. If they pick both up, he’s still only 31 and gets to sign a large contract at that time. As Zack Greinke showed all of us last offseason, you can still earn a $206M contract at 32 years old.

The Interest in 2016 and The Agent

There have already been discussions between the Rays and Blake Snell’s representatives about a potential extension, as discussed here from this time last year. When discussions begin before a pitcher has thrown an MLB pitch, you know the Rays are very interested in getting something done.

Sometimes, though, whether or not a pitcher signs an extension can be determined by how the information is viewed, presented, and supported by the agency representing the player. Well, in Snell’s case, we already know that the agency will support the possibility of an extension.

In 2011, the same agency - Sosnick Cobbe & Karon - represented Matt Moore when he signed an extension with the Rays. The same agency also obtained an extension for Jon Singleton. In short, they see the value in getting their clients signed early on and are unlikely to be an obstruction to a possible extension.

The Rays Rule of 3

Since 2008, when the Rays first dove into the unknown and signed Evan Longoria to an extension (despite having played only a handful of MLB games), the Rays have locked up a player to an extension every 3 years.

  • 2008: Evan Longoria $17.5M guaranteed
  • 2011: Matt Moore $14M guaranteed
  • 2014: Chris Archer $20M guaranteed
  • 2017: Blake Snell $25M guaranteed?

I know it’s a long shot, but the trend is intriguing, isn’t it?

Risk and the Past

Sure, there is risk in such a transaction. Snell still has a ways to go before proving he is top-end pitching caliber. But when you look around MLB and how much guys like Charlie Morton ($14M over 2 years) are getting, and you wonder how bad Snell would have to be in order to not earn the contract listed above. Also, looking back on the extensions completed in the past by the Rays, have any of them not worked out? Aren’t they all considered very team friendly deals now?

Rays Need to Extend Blake Snell Now

When you consider the value that Chris Archer holds within the Rays rotation, to other pitchers who depend on his advice, and add in his potential trade value, you can’t help but wonder where things would stand if he hadn’t been extended.

After all, 2017 would have been his first Arb year, and as we currently see with Jake Odorizzi, things aren’t always easy when it comes to Arb issues. Even though the Rays have a ton of pitching talent in house, they need to build some stability in the rotation. Just as Archer’s value is so high right now, the Rays need to consider what happens when he leaves. Who’s going to take the reins then? Blake Snell is that guy.

Finally, if the Rays don’t sign him now, there’s a good chance that Snell will “Price” himself out of TB (pun intended). When you look above at the Carlos Martinez extension, ask yourself: can the Rays afford that? The answer is a clear and resounding no, so if they’re serious about keeping talent around and competing in a very tough division, they need to extend Blake Snell now.

If the Rays don’t extend Snell this season and decide to do so next off season, it could cost them a significant amount. If they don’t extend him after the 2018 season, he’s as good as traded before 2021 comes around, which is coincidentally the same year that will finish Chris Archer’s current contract should the Rays pick up their second option on him.

It’s not my money, but if it were, I’d offer an extension to Blake Snell right now, and then I’d sleep soundly knowing the future of the rotation is that much brighter.