There are a lot of things wrong with the Blake Snell trade. A pennant winner shipping off their ace is reminiscent of the Marlins tear downs after winning the World Series. Folks are crawling out of the woodwork to say things like, “Relax, the Rays have won more games than 25 other teams since 2008,” or “Trust the process.” Blake Snell didn’t find out about the trade while he was streaming on Twitch, so we’ll never know what colorful language he used to describe his own return.
The worst thing by a mile is that it’s boring. There’s not a lot to unpack here. A cheap team sold off an excellent, ostensibly expensive player for financial flexibility and prospects but mostly the financial flexibility. That’s it. The Rays absolutely got worse in the short term to save money.
This winter, Tampa Bay went from a rotation starting with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow to one of Glasnow, Ryan Yarborough, and Michael Wacha. The Rays’ top three was one of the reasons they were two games away from winning their first championship as a franchise. Maybe if they still had Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth they would have won it all.
Of course, with playoff expansion inevitable, the Rays can get worse without giving up much. When the bar is lowered, teams don’t have to be good to be successful. The Rays don’t have to win the World Series to get a share of playoff revenue. They don’t have to deliver a good product in order to be profitable.
We can pick apart the return and perhaps even conclude that Tampa Bay “won” the trade. Luis Patiño is quite good. Francisco Mejía gives the Rays another catcher. Blake Hunt and/or Cole Wilcox could eventually become stars. In ten years, we could add up the money spent on by each team and divide it by the WAR and maybe the Rays come out ahead in that calculation.
This is how the Rays operate. They’re not playing five-dimensional chess. If a trade will save them money for every win, they do the trade. If it won’t, they don’t do the trade. All other considerations, including how many wins this will return or how much the fans like the player, are secondary or irrelevant.
The Rays can continue to win games with good, young, underpaid players and then trade them for more good, young, underpaid players. If half the league is allowed into the crapshoot that is the playoffs, they could luck into a title without ever truly going for it. To the Rays’ credit, they’ve mostly been successful in player evaluation and development which is more than we could say about some other teams that have been just as cheap. Looking at you, Pirates.
Meanwhile, it might be decades before a player goes into the Hall of Fame wearing a Rays cap. If Evan Longoria’s number isn’t retired then the wait to retire anyone else’s could be just as long. For all the regular season wins the Rays have racked up since 2008, they still have Desmond Jennings, Julio Lugo, and Aubrey Huff on their Baseball Reference banner of all-time greats.
Blake Snell won’t have his number retired in Tampa Bay or wherever the franchise may find itself when his career is over. If things continue they way they have, none of the players the Rays received in exchange for him will either no matter how well their careers turn out. If any of them are as good as Snell, they’ll be traded once they make any amount of money, and the cycle will continue.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.