Astros In “Serious Pursuit” Of Blake Snell

Astros In "Serious Pursuit" Of Blake Snell

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The Astros are facing various questions around the health of their rotation and are now in “serious pursuit” of Blake Snell, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal and Chandler Rome of The Athletic.

At this point, it’s unclear if any kind of deal is close but it’s a noteworthy development and resembles an earlier situation for the Astros. Back in January, their bullpen took a hit when Kendall Graveman required season-ending shoulder surgery. Astros general manager Dana Brown initially downplayed the club’s desire to go out and sign free agents to address the problem but the club signed closer Josh Hader a few days later.

In the intervening two months, a lot has changed with the rotation. The Astros already knew that Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis García Jr. were going to be starting the year on the injured list, as both underwent elbow surgeries last summer, but this spring has seen a couple more dominos fall. Justin Verlander has been slowed by some right shoulder soreness which doesn’t seem terribly serious but it delayed him enough that he’ll start the season on the injured list. Earlier today, José Urquidy departed his start early due to some pain in his right elbow.

If Urquidy needs to miss time, then the Opening Day rotation would project to include Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown in the front three spots. J.P. France was also slowed by a shoulder issue this spring but seems to perhaps be on track to take over a spot at the back end. That would still leave one rotation spot open and Houston is a bit thin in terms of options to step in there.

Ronel Blanco has just 58 1/3 innings of major league work on his ledger and was only recently moved from being a primary reliever to more of a swing role. Brandon Bielak has a 4.54 ERA in his 174 1/3 innings but with uninspiring peripherals, including an 18.9% strikeout rate and 10.1% walk rate. Shawn Dubin has just nine innings of major league experience.

It seems the club is considering a notable strike in free agency to get out of this injury hole, similar to their move to grab Hader after Graveman went down. Brown again downplayed the club’s desire to add pitching, including Snell, though that was before Urquidy’s injury surfaced.

Some may question whether Snell is ready to help a club like the Astros since he hasn’t been pitching in official spring games and Opening Day is less than two weeks away. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reports that Snell recently threw 60 pitches over four simulated innings to try to get ready outside of official Spring Training contests. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com relays the same info, adding that scouts from the Giants and Astros were in attendance.

Snell has lingered on the open market far longer than anyone anticipated coming off a Cy Young season. He turned in a 2.25 ERA over 180 innings with San Diego a year ago. He surely envisioned a long-term pact at the start of the offseason, but a deal to his liking has obviously yet to materialize. At this point, it looks as if he’ll follow in the path of Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman and turn to a short-term guarantee with opt-outs. Rosenthal and Rome report that he is believed to be seeking a three-year guarantee with a $30-32MM annual salary that would allow him to test free agency after each of the next two seasons.

The cost for the Astros would go beyond whatever it takes to get Snell to sign. They’re into luxury tax territory. RosterResource calculates their 2024 CBT number around $256MM. A contract anywhere near Snell’s expected price would vault them beyond the $257MM second penalization and the third threshold at $277MM.

Houston did not exceed the competitive balance tax a year ago, however. Unlike some other reported Snell suitors (most notably, the Yankees), the Astros are not facing exorbitant fees as repeat payors. They’d be responsible for a 20% tax on their next $1.3MM in spending, followed by a 32% tax on the following $20MM ($6.4MM) and a 62.5% hit on the ensuing $20MM. Signing Snell to a contract with a $32MM average annual value would come with an approximate $13.3MM tax bill for this year.

A Snell signing would also deal a small but not completely insignificant hit to the farm system because he rejected a qualifying offer from the Padres. The Astros forfeited their second-round pick (#64 overall) in the upcoming draft and relinquished $500K of international signing bonus space to sign Hader. They’d need to surrender another $500K from the international pool and their third-round pick (#102) for Snell. Meanwhile, pushing past the $277MM luxury threshold — which would be all but assured for a Snell signing — would move back Houston’s first-round pick in the 2025 draft by 10 spots.

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