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Rays trade Blake Snell to Padres for prospects, including RHP Luis Patiño

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4:1 swap makes Rays cheaper, not better in 2021

World Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Six Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Rays are continuing their cost cutting, removing another meaningful starting pitcher from the team’s World Series run by trading ace Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres.

Snell was due $11 million in 2021, with approximately three years and $40 million remaining on his contract. With no options, Snell will become a free agent after his age-30 season, in 2024. That’s three seasons the Rays could have had a remarkably cheap, top flight pitcher on their roster. Instead... who knows.

The return appears to be centered on undersized RHP Luis Patiño, a Colombian, athletic pitching prospect on the brink of the majors. He ranked as the No. 10 prospect in baseball at FanGraphs, and No. 16 at Baseball America during each site’s 2020 update.

Baseball America:

Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55

His swing-and-miss arsenal as well as his feel to fill up the strike zone make it likely that he gets a shot to pitch...

FanGraphs:

Fastball: 65 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 60

Patiño’s velocity came on in a huge way as he got on a pro strength program and he’s added 40 pounds of good weight and about 10 ticks of velo since he signed. He’s a charismatic autodidact who has taken a similarly proactive approach to learning a new language (he became fluent in English very quickly, totally of his own volition) as he has to incorporating little tricks and twists into his delivery (he’s borrowed from Mac Gore) to mess with hitters. Were this a college prospect, he’d be in the conversation for the draft’s top pick, and I’m very comfortable projecting on the command and changeup because of the athleticism/makeup combination. I expect Patiño will reach the big leagues this year in a bullpen capacity and compete for a rotation spot in 2021.

The deal is complimented by three players: one failed top-20 prospect, one system top-ten catcher, and one likely future reliever that should have been a first rounder from 2020, had he not been expensive. More specifically, they are as follows:

Francisco Mejia is technically a catcher who is technically a switch hitter but none of that has materialized at the major league level. As a former Top-20 prospect in all of baseball, his acquisition post-hype is charitably in the Rays style of targeting players like Tyler Glasnow, but it’s not clear that the Rays would rely on such a poor performer behind the dish, given their reputation for targeting high-end framing catchers.

Mejia was worth negative value as a framing catcher per Statcast in 2019, and negative value by Baseball Prospectus’s cumulative CDA in both 2019 and 2020. Despite a career 75 wRC+ there’s a lot of promise left in the bat, but the Rays do not have the luxury of adding a designated hitter to the roster when Yoshi Tsutsugo is due $7 million in 2021. Something has got to give.

Blake Hunt, meanwhile, is a true catcher and may have ranked in the Top-10 of the stacked Padres system. He’ll likely graduate to the Double-A level this year, with a decent chance to hit well for a catcher, depending on how the transition goes after 2020 wrecked the prospect landscape. He re-worked his swing in the pandemic instructional league.

Cole Wilcox is a promising arm who likely would have found his home in the Padres bullpen, where his near triple-digit stuff can play its best, but it’s possible the Rays want to see what he can do as a rotation piece, as they’ve treated Shane McClanahan.

Here’s the FanGraphs write up on Wilcox:

As a starter in 2020 Wilcox was sitting 93-96 with more consistent command (he walked no hitters in his final three starts and walked just two in 23 total innings) than he had as a freshman, and more effective slider shape. When it’s right, Wilcox has a biting, two-plane out pitch in the slide piece, which sits in the 85-89 range and often has more length than any pitch that hard has a right to be. Those two pitches and his current command would be enough to project Wilcox in a late-inning bullpen role, but a better change or split (the development of which was slowed by his freshman role) would enable him to be a mid-rotation piece so long as he retains his velo in pro ball, since the shape of the heater makes it velo-dependent.

Hunt and Wilcox could rank in the 10-20 range on a Rays prospect list, but that does not sugar coat this loss. Patiño is a great talent, and he could pitch in the major leagues today, but given the Rays way of keeping prospects in the minors until they are a known entity, the Opening Day Rays rotation will likely be in need of improvement.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether Mejia or Wilcox can fill positions of need on the Rays roster as the American League champions seek another post season run.

Overall, this is a devastating loss for a team coming off a World Series appearance, and a possible death knell for a team that also was too poor to keep Charlie Morton despite having his contract option in hand.

Moving forward the Rays roster will be:

RHP Tyler Glasnow
LHP Ryan Yarbrough
RHP Michael Wacha
LHP Josh Fleming
RHP Luis Patiño / place holder

Without drastic, unexpected improvements this is not a World Series rotation, and a sad day to be a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays.