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Rays Blake Snell Extension: The time is Now

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MLB: Chicago Cubs at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There have been many frustrating story lines to follow this offseason for the Tampa Bay Rays and their fans. After all, it’s not every year that you turn over half of the players on the field including the face of the franchise. And with that, isn’t it time for some good news?

Well, as Rays fans know very well, that good news often comes in the form of an extension, and this year may be no different. This is one that I suggested should have happened last year and that should still be a priority, if possible.

Blake Snell: Prime Extension Candidate

When the Rays signed current staff leader Chris Archer to an extension, he had just turned 25, had thrown in 30 games and 158 innings over two season, and managed 3.39 FIP/0.5 WAR his first season (2012) and 4.07 FIP/1.3 WAR his second season (2013).

Snell has just turned 25 years old, has thrown in 43 games and 218.1 innings so far over two seasons, and managed 3.39 FIP/1.9 WAR his first season (2016) and 4.19 FIP/1.9 WAR his second season.

And the similarities don’t end there.

If you take a look at Archer’s Brooks Baseball page here, you can see that from the first year through to the end of the second year he managed to add 2 MPH on his 4-seamers and sinkers, while also adding 2 to 4 MPH on his change up and slider.

Similarly, if you look at Snell’s page here, you’ll see that he has taken his 4-seamer up 2-3 MPH, from 93-94 to 95-96, his change up from 83-85 MPH to 88-89 MPH, his Slider from 83-84 MPH to 88 MPH, and his curve from 74-76 MPH to 81-82 MPH.

Why is this important?

It points to the fact that both pitchers - through their first two seasons - are making good on their abilities and showing the improvements that can take them a step or two further. And that’s something you want to invest in.

Let’s assume for a second that some believe the Rays may want to wait and see more from Snell before investing in him for the long-term. Here’s how he looks compared to other LHP SP in MLB with some details on his abilities.

Blake Snell vs other Left-Handed Starters

4-seamer

Described by Brooks Baseball as follows:

“has much less armside movement than typical, has good “rising” action and has well above average velo”

Among LHP, Blake Snell finished 4th in 2017 with an average 4-seamer velocity of 94.2 MPH, behind only Luiz Gohara, James Paxton, and Chris Sale. But as was noted above, he ended the 2017 season with another two MPH added, so there’s a good chance that he tops the list in 2018.

The 4-seamer proved especially effective for Snell as he placed 3rd in called strikes with it and 7th in swinging strike, ahead of David Price.

Curve

Described by Brooks Baseball as follows:

“generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ curves, results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves, is slightly harder than usual and has primarily 12-6 movement”

Snell finished 14th in curve velocity but more importantly finished 12th in swings and misses and 18th in getting it called for strikes or fouled.

Slider

Described by Brooks Baseball as follows:

“is thrown extremely hard, generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sliders and has less than expected depth”

With the slider, Snell placed 13th in swing and miss and 7th in called strikes.

Change Up

Described by Brooks Baseball as follows:

“is thrown extremely hard and has an extreme amount of backspin.”

The change up was effective for Snell, as he place 5th in swing and miss and 6th in called strikes.

What this all adds up to is that Snell, with just 43 games under his belt, has managed to become one of the better LHP in the majors and one that holds the promise of becoming even better than what he has already shown us and MLB.

Snell improved from a .254 average and .341 wOBA against in the first half to .216 average and .282 wOBA in the second half. That helped him land among the leaders in most categories over the second half: tied-9th with Sonny Gray in average against, 14th in Whip, 17th among all MLB SPs in both FIP and WAR (1.7).

A pitcher with as limited experience as Snell managing to place himself solidly among the top-20 within such a short time speaks to how outstanding his stuff and abilities to use it are.

We know he has the arsenal and results to deserve an extension. But....

Blake Snell: Why would he sign with the Rays?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I wonder if it’s worth more when it’s a picture - or video - re-tweeted by the individual in question? The video above was retweeted by Snell.

Snell seems perfectly at home with the Rays and is able to fit into the rotation behind a good friend in Archer, someone he obviously gets along with. Archer has been very vocal about his belief that the pitching staff in Tampa is able to match up with any team in the majors, and that despite all of the moves made, he’s committed to the Rays and has received assurances that he won’t be traded any time soon.

Now, assurances can be changed overnight, we all know it’s a business, but when you look at the Rays in general there’s a lot to consider when it comes to Snell signing an extension.

On the positive side, aside from Archer who may be there for up to four years, you’ve got one of the - if not the - best centre-fielder in MLB in Kevin Kiermaier behind you and signed through 2022. Snell also knows that the Rays system is filled with talent, as they ranked 1st to 4th depending on the outlet.

Great team mates, solid stars, and outstanding system....check. So what’s next?

Health and Guaranteed Money

The real focus in talking extensions - particularly for pitchers - lies in health and guaranteed money. The Rays have had a lot of success signing pitchers to extensions not only because they develop many talented pitchers, but because those pitchers are weighing the risk vs reward aspects of signing extensions.

For our first example, Archer’s extension was as follows (Cot’s Contracts), signed with less than one year of service time but expected to reach super two status:

  • 6 years/25.5M (2014-19), plus 2020-21 club options
  • signed extension with Tampa Bay 4/2/14, replacing 1-year contract for $0.5112M signed 3/2/14
  • $1M signing bonus
  • 14:$0.5M, 15:$1M, 16:$2.75M, 17:$4.75M, 18:$6.25M,19:$7.5M, 20:$9M club option ($1.75M buyout), 21:$11M club option ($0.25M buyout)
  • if Archer does not qualify for arbitration as a Super 2 after 2015 season, guarantee is reduced to $20M (16:$1M, 17:$3M, 18:$4.75M, 19:$7M)
  • at signing, largest deal for player with less than 1 year of service, since exceeded by Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong

The note on the not qualifying for Super 2 is important as this significantly drives down the cost of the extension.

Prior to Archer signing, the Rays had also managed to lock up Matt Moore to the following (Cot’s Contracts), and he had a minute amount of service time (0.017):

  • 5 years/$14M (2012-16), plus 2017-19 club options
  • signed extension with Tampa Bay 12/9/11
  • $0.5M signing bonus
  • 12:$1M, 13:$1M, 14:$1M, 15:$3M, 16:$5M, 17:$7M club option ($2.5M buyout), 18:$9M club option ($1M buyout), 19:$10M club option ($0.75M buyout)
  • 2017 club option increases by $0.5M with 600 IP in 2014-16
  • 2018 club option increases by $0.25M each with 1) 85 starts or 570 IP in 2015-17, 2) 90 starts or 600 IP and 3) 95 starts or 630 IP
  • 2019 club option increases by $0.5M each with 1) 98 starts or 600 IP in 2016-18 and 2) 66 starts or 400 IP 2017-18

The clauses in Moore’s contract could bring the value up to $40M overall.

These two extensions are shown to provide examples of what an extension may look like, but also to indicate what kind of security each pitcher received in turn. And as you’ll see below, the costs escalate quickly if the team decided to wait.

Hindsight is 20-20 and it’s easy to look at Archer now and say he may have done better by not signing an extension, but how many pitchers wind up getting injured - like Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon have - or have lacking performances - like Jake Odorizzi has - before getting the chance to sign an extension that provides them guaranteed millions?

The risks are fairly significant for pitchers, and it’s much easier for a fan to think it’s all going to be alright than for a player to ponder whether his health will remain intact through years of pitching at high velocity.

We also know that Matt Moore and Snell are part of the same agency, Sosnic Cobbe & Karon, giving them a track record of making such deals - with the Rays, no less. That agency also represent many players who have had health issues, such as Chad Bettis and Josh Johnson, making them keenly aware of how quickly things can change when it comes to health. Other extensions they’ve been a part of include Johnson, Jay Bruce and Ricky Nolasco (all in 2010), and Jon Singleton (2014).

So we know mitigating health risks can work in a pitcher’s favor, that Snell and his agency may be open to extension talks, that brings up the other side of the equation: if pitchers are risky health wise, why on earth would the Rays front office take the risk and sign Snell now?

Rays Blake Snell Extension: the Front Office angle

The reason the Rays front-office should sign Blake Snell to an extension asap is already on the field for them. Just look at what the Rays are reportedly asking teams to give up in return for Chris Archer. As Jon Heyman reported,

the team’s lofty asking price; one rival executive suggests that the Tampa Bay front office “wanted our whole farm system” to move Archer.

And the Rays are not hiding the fact that he is a huge portion of the team’s future.

One of the main reasons Archer is so valuable to the Rays, aside from performance, is the fact that he’s affordable for the long-term. Imagine the Rays paying Archer without an extension in 2017. How much would he be making and how likely would it be that they could extend him through 2021 at an affordable rate and with the luxury of the options which mitigate risk?

The answers? Much more expensive and close to impossible to extend on a Rays budget.

In January 2017, the Royals signed Danny Duffy to the following extension after he had managed over 5 years of service time (from Cot’s Contracts):

  • 5 years/$65M (2017-21)
  • signed extension with Kansas City 1/16/17 (avoided arbitration, $8M-$7.25M)
  • 17:$5M, 18:$14M, 19:$15.25M, 20:$15.25M, 21:$15.5M

Now, it’s true that by that time he had already exceeded $4M in salary through Arbitration and is controlled for three more years, but the money beyond arbitration is guaranteed - no options - and is much closer to market value as compared to Qualifying Offers (QO) which were just over $17.4M for 2018.

Moving closer to Snell’s service time, the Cardinals signed Carlos Martinez a year ago to the following extension after earning 3.073 in service time:

  • 5 years/$51M (2017-21), plus 2022-23 options
  • signed extension with St. Louis 2/2/17 (avoided arbitration, $4.25M-$3.9M)
  • $1M signing bonus
  • 17:$3.5M, 18:$11.5M, 19:$11.5M, 20:$11.5M, 21:$11.5M,22:$17M club option ($0.5M buyout), 23:$18M club option ($0.5M buyout)
  • assignment bonus: $0.5M if traded before the end of 2019 season. $1M if traded after 2019 season
  • perks: suite on road beginning with 2020 season

As you can see, just by shaving off the two years of service time from Duffy’s extension to Martinez’ extension, the terms change substantially. Two of the years become options, and only those two seasons come near what a QO may be at the time.

So signing Snell early has a direct impact on both overall costs and risk mitigation.

Combined with the previously mentioned trade value, should the team decide to go that route down the road, it makes an extension very attractive to the team.

That’s why the front office should move quickly to get this done, if they can and assuming Snell is open to it. Because if Snell has a few Carlos Martinez like seasons - as many of us expect he has the capability to do - he may cost the team approximately double what he may cost today (as compared to the difference in costs between Archer and Martinez).

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

A Blake Snell extension: the time is now

With so many contracts moved recently, there’s really no reason or excuse to be shy about spending into the future, particularly when the amount should be relatively low in comparison to free agency.

Overall, Blake Snell would get a signing bonus and security for him and his family. No worries about contract situations, instead focusing on pitching and setting himself up for a larger payday in the future.

For the Rays, they’d have solidified two fifths of their rotation for up to the next 4 years and could focus on Jacob Faria and/or others who may deserve similar attention. Within a few years, if they do get the right situation and return for Archer they have the replacement to lead their staff signed.

Another component of this is that if the Rays do get more heavily involved in free agency, those free agents would know how strong the starters are, something that could entice them to join the team. It’s a small part of the equation, but still matters.

It’s really a win-win scenario when thought through, with the sole caveat being that if Blake Snell bets on himself and waits another year or two, he could earn a Carlos Martinez style extension vice one similar to Chris Archer’s.

Not that I need to sell anyone on Snell’s abilities here, but I’ll leave you with his rookie year highlights. Enjoy the dazzle.