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Is Blake Snell worth what he’s asking for?

Saying the 2023-24 MLB offseason has been an unusual one would be an understatement. We’ve seen record-setting contracts with absurd deferrals while the international market dominated the acquisition lists. We’ve seen interesting blockbuster trades and plenty of head-scratching moves as well as moves that made plenty of sense. What we’ve also seen is a lot of inactivity concerning some of the game’s biggest free agents. Namely, the clients of super agent Scott Boras have found themselves waiting a long time to find a new job as they try to wait out the clock of his gambit to get the maximum amount of money possible. Cody Bellinger finally landed on a new deal with the Chicago Cubs but two of the best pitchers remain free agents in the forms of Jordan Montgomery and the 2023 National League Cy Young winner Blake Snell remain unemployed.

Snell is the most interesting gambit of the two. Entering the offseason it was believed that Snell was essentially looking for a deal north of $200 million. The two-time Cy Young winner is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career. He led the league with a 2.25 ERA, a 182 ERA+, had 234 strikeouts in 180 innings, and averaged a league-best 5.8 hits per nine innings. In many cases, his asking price isn’t exactly absurd from his point of view but the problem he has run into is that MLB teams have not shared the same assessment of his services.

Snell has fielded offers from a number of teams. Notably, the New York Yankees reported offered a six-year, $150 million contract, to which Snell and Boras countered with a nine-year, $270 million offer. The goal for Snell appears to be earning $30 million or more annually, and Boras has been floating the idea of shorter-term deals with opt-outs to teams.

Over the weekend, it was reported that the Houston Astros were actively pursuing Snell. It seemed like a match made in heaven, but that courtship quickly unraveled after it was reported that Snell had asked for $60 million guaranteed over two years with an opt-out after 2024. The Astros seemingly balked at the proposal and withdrew from consideration. The Astros were quite cognizant of their luxury tax situation and didn’t want to risk getting pushed further into the tax thresholds by signing Snell.

This then puts the San Francisco Giants in a position to make a run at Snell, but they could also still be waiting for his price to drop. So, is Snell worth what he is asking for?

The offseason has been filled with uncertainty for plenty of teams. The collapse of Regional Sports Networks has caused many teams to slash budgets and scramble to figure out that extra source of revenue. Yes, teams likely have plenty of money to spend, but owners are unwilling to shell out $60 million on such a short-term deal for a pitcher like Snell.

The cause of hesitation for signing Snell along with the asking price has been concerns about his ability to pitch late into ballgames. In eight seasons his career-high in innings pitched is 180 2/3 innings. 2023 was just the second time he has thrown over 130 innings in season. Now, part of this problem could be the facts that the Rays didn’t develop him to pitch deep into ballgames. He pitched seven full innings just three times last season in 32 starts.

However, Snell turned in 20 quality starts, where he allowed three runs or fewer over six innings. That kind of stability is worthwhile for any team, especially in today’s game of elite relievers. It would be fantastic if Snell could pitch deep into ballgames and throw complete games, but his value isn’t diminished because he doesn’t regularly pitch into the seventh inning. If he’s going to be the ace of a team, he would need to show that he can reach 200 innings but doesn’t necessarily have to do so.

Analytically and on paper, data shows that Snell is an elite pitcher. His 29.7% strikeout rate is seven points higher than MLB average and he has excelled at getting ground balls and limiting home runs. Opponents are batting just .214 against him in his career and have slugged .649, both of which are well below the league average. The main flaw that perhaps impacts his ability to pitch deep into games is the number of walks he has issued in his career.

Snell features an 11% walk rate for his career, three points higher than the league average. In 2023 he led the league with 99 walks, beating his previous career high of 69. Perhaps it’s a testament to his ability as a pitcher to work around that many walks in 180 innings, but strikeouts don’t hurt. Still, a career-high in walks during his age-30 season could be concerning to some clubs.

All this boils down to whether teams are concerned about the player’s performance or if it simply is the asking price. Entering his age 31 season, Snell is still primed to be on the best pitchers in baseball. The crafty lefty can lead a rotation and dominate with strikeouts and limiting opposing batters, yet there is the factor that he isn’t the typical starting pitcher in some ways. His value has never been dependent on how many innings he can throw in a year. Snell is the free agent data pitcher that teams are trying to reconcile how they value such a pitcher.

He was worth 4.1 fWAR in 2023 which equates to a $32 million AAV according to FanGraphs WAR conversion to a dollar amount. Now, Snell has mostly been for $30 million this offseason. For a two-time Cy Young award winner that doesn’t seem like an absurd amount, but yet the wait continues. It’s hard to tell how far teams are waiting for the price to drop or what exactly the right deal is. Compared to other free agent pitchers in the past of his caliber, they were able to easily get the money they desired. While Snell may not have the counting stats that team would want, he’s still relatively young and has plenty of years ahead of him. Perhaps teams are hoping to avoid a signing like Robbie Ray or Carlos Rodón where neither pitcher has played up to their contract yet.

At the end of the day, Snell is worth a good amount of money. $30 million seems tame by pitcher standards these days, but an AAV between $23-30 million seems like a reasonable pact. It’s understandable that Snell and Boras want to get the full worth they believe is owed them, but at some point they too have to compromise and figure out what exactly their priority is. Do they just want to play where they get the most money? Or do they want to play where they can compete and win a World Series? There are teams willing to pay a good amount within reason, and many that could easily pay out the money he’s asking, but it takes two to tango and right now, neither side is willing to budge on the dance floor.




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