Sweet Snell of Success | FanGraphs Baseball

Sweet Snell of Success


Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It was closer than a lot of us thought it’d be, but Blake Snell has found a job before the Second Coming. The reigning Cy Young winner, left unemployed past St. Patrick’s Day by the merciless vicissitudes of the market, has come to terms with the San Francisco Giants on a two-year, $62 million contract with an opt-out after the 2024 season. Snell’s compensation includes a $17 million signing bonus, payable in January 2026, and a $15 million base salary in 2024.

The contract itself is something of an anticlimax for a player who supposedly turned down a similar AAV over six years because he wanted the same annual compensation over nine. And it’s not the one-year megabucks prove-it contract I speculated about six weeks ago. It’s probably not even worth the eyes emoji he posted to Instagram last Sunday.

Snell’s agent, Scott Boras, ran out the usual playbook — leave it late, hold the line, appeal directly to ownership. Boras has gotten more players nine-figure contracts than most agents have in their email contacts, and this is how he does it. And at the risk of being a huge bummer about Snell getting a top-10 AAV ever for a pitcher, the plan seems to have backfired.

When teams give out $30 million-a-year contracts to pitchers, they like consistency. That’s hard to guarantee, as the life of a pitcher is as precarious as the life of a spider in Jonathan Edwards’ fireplace — one false move and it’s a year lost, maybe two, to Tommy John surgery. Even acknowledging the risk inherent in signing a pitcher, Snell is a bit unpredictable.

He’s one of the hardest-throwing left-handed starters out there, with one of the best curveballs in the game, and a plus changeup. When it works? Well, last year, he led the league in opponent batting average by 19 points, and in ERA by almost half a run. He struck out a higher percentage of his opponents than any starter apart from Spencer Strider.

But he nibbles. He led the league in walk rate by 1.7 points over second-place Charlie Morton. “What would a pitcher have to do to win the Cy Young while leading the league in walk rate?” must’ve been the premise of an Effectively Wild listener email somewhere along the line.

Sure, it’s easier to pull off Snell’s unique double in a season in which only 44 pitchers qualified for the ERA title. By lowering the innings requirement to 100, we can expand the sample to 127 pitchers; of those, Snell had the second-highest walk rate and his ERA was still the lowest. Moreover, Snell’s two Cy Young campaigns are the only seasons in which he’s broken 130 innings. When he’s on, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. When he’s not, it’s frustrating. And in such small portions, too.

So here’s a pitcher with an aggressive agent and wild variation not only in his personal performance, but in perception of his ability. You’d expect his biggest supporters and his biggest detractors to disagree over his value. And with a qualifying offer attached to him, Snell would cost more than money. A team that’s over the CBT threshold would forfeit two draft picks and $1 million in bonus pool money. A team that’s not a tax payor and doesn’t receive revenue sharing would lose its second-highest pick and $500,000. That’s an afterthought when Shohei Ohtani is on the table, but a team that already has doubts about Snell would hardly be emboldened by these further penalties.

And then the market shrank. When big-spending teams were willing to break the bank for a pitcher, they were talking about Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Aaron Nola, both of whom went off the board early, as did Sonny Gray. The Mets are taking this season to reset rather than throwing around big money again. The Rangers, Yankees, and Cubs went for mid-tier options like Tyler Mahle, Marcus Stroman, and Shota Imanaga. The Padres and Orioles traded for Dylan Cease and Corbin Burnes, respectively.

By this past weekend, Snell’s options had narrowed to the point that any further hesitation might imperil the first half of his season. The Astros were reportedly in on Snell over the weekend. Both they and the Giants had already signed a qualified free agent, and would be subject to reduced draft penalties (San Francisco is now over the first tax threshold and will lose its third- and sixth-highest picks) as a result.

But by signing Matt Chapman two weeks ago, the Giants already established themselves as this offseason’s premier opportunists. Chapman’s deal — three years, $54 million — also has an opt-out after the first season.

Snell’s signing with San Francisco now is a bit like marrying Colonel Brandon after having one’s heart broken by the dashing but caddish and unreliable Mr. Willoughby. It might not be what he was hoping for at the start, but it’s a safe port in a storm. He’ll have a year in a pitcher-friendly park in which to convince the league that he’s worth $30 million a year over a much longer term, and when he hits the market again, he won’t be encumbered by a qualifying offer.

And he’ll have a shot to win, sure, but from that standpoint this is probably a lateral move from San Diego, or before that, Tampa Bay.

The Giants finished just under .500 and a distant fourth in the NL West last year. Even with their late signings, the Giants have been overshadowed by the Dodgers, who added Ohtani, Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, and Teoscar Hernández. The race for second place in the division, between the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Padres, is too close to call.

But San Francisco has been sneakily active this offseason. Even before adding Chapman and Snell, they signed Jorge Soler, Jung Hoo Lee, and Jordan Hicks, and traded for Robbie Ray. A rotation headlined by Snell, Logan Webb (Snell’s stylistic opposite), and Kyle Harrison looks pretty formidable. And it will only become more so once Ray and Alex Cobb return from injury.

Even so, the offense still has holes, especially compared to the Dodgers. And even if Los Angeles falters for some inexplicable reason (maybe Ohtani was the problem all along, and not the Angels!), the Giants will still have two other high-quality opponents standing between them and a division title.

Snell arrives in San Francisco at a time when the Giants are stumbling into one ugly headline after another. The Giants squandered much of the goodwill they generated by signing Chapman when they released their incumbent third baseman (and Chapman’s college roommate) J.D. Davis. The Giants had taken Davis to an arbitration hearing over a difference of $345,000. Having lost that hearing and signing Chapman, they elected to release Davis, using a CBA loophole to pay him $1.1 million in termination pay rather than his full contract. That saved the Giants $5.8 million, but cost Davis — who signed with the A’s for about a third of his original contract value — some $3.6 million.

Among those who took offense: Members of the Giants’ major league roster, including infielder Wilmer Flores, who said it was “not fair,” and Webb, who called it “a shitty part of the business.” Then, hours before news of the Snell signing broke, the Giants announced they were parting ways with popular PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon, who was reportedly being forced out after 24 seasons with the club.

Ultimately, people have a much higher tolerance for stuff like what the Giants have pulled over the past week when the team in question wins. Signing Snell undoubtedly advances the team toward that end, and at a later time and much, much lower cost than anyone would have dreamed when free agency opened.

For the Giants, this signing is a step toward respectability. For Snell, it’s a shot at the contract he must feel he was owed from the beginning. For both, it’s a clear step in the right direction, but it’s only the start.


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