On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays sent Blake Snell to San Diego in a five-player trade.

The Tampa Bay Rays made a gallant attempt* at defending the 2020 American League pennant by dealing Blake Snell to San Diego in a five-player trade. In return, the Rays received the Padres No. 3, 7, and 14 prospects — RHP Luis Patiño, RHP Cole Wilcox, and C Blake Hunt — and C Francisco Mejía. The deal is pending physicals.

It is a stunning, yet typical, turn of events for the perineally cheap Rays who were known to be open to offers for the left-hander, although there had been no indication prior to Sunday that any deal, much less this one, was particularly close. Tampa Bay continues to operate on the cheap in the name of payroll flexibility, showing a willingness to move anyone if it can recoup a sufficient value.

Between this deal, and allowing Charlie Morton to walk, the reigning AL champions have moved away from two of their top three starters this winter. They enter Spring Training with a reduced payroll, yet they are no less better. Erik Neander and the Rays front office now figure to add pitching as they look to fend off the Yankees and the Blue Jays at the top of the division. With Snell’s contract off the books, the Rays’ payroll is down to a projected $57-Million — $17-Million shy of last season’s opening payroll of $74-Million.

Opinions aside, the deal is all but done, and I may as well take this opportunity to introduce the newest Rays.

RHP Luis Patiño

Luis Patiño is a versatile pitcher — with regards to his ability to pitch in the rotation or out of the bullpen — that made his big league debut in 2020, working primarily out of the ‘pen. His first 17-1/3 big-league innings didn’t go well, as he struggled with command and performed to a 5.19 ERA/5.61 FIP. However, the right-hander had thrown 7-2/3 innings above A-ball entering the 2020 campaign and likely would’ve been given more minor-league time in 2020 if not for the pandemic shortened season. He was nothing short of dominant from 2018-19 (in the low minors) and boasts a high-upside arm that could contribute in Tampa Bay as early as 2021. He is controllable through 2026.

Patiño has swing-and-miss stuff as well as the ability to fill up the strike zone. FanGraphs views Patiño at least as Snell’s equal.

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.

— FanGraphs

RHP Cole Wilcox

Wilcox, a 2020 draftee out of the University of Georgia, was viewed as a first-round talent that fell because of a high bonus demand as a draft-eligible sophomore. San Diego signed the 21-year-old for a $3.3-Million signing bonus. The right-hander boasted a mid-90’s fastball (sitting 93-96 mph) as a starter in 2020, as well as an 85-89 mph slider with biting two-plane movement, and a changeup — his two promising secondary offerings. Wilcox was ranked twelfth among San Diego farmhands by Baseball America. He walked no hitters in his final three 2020 starts and walked just two in 23 total innings.

Wilcox’s fastball and slider, as well as his current command, are enough to project him in a late-inning bullpen role, although a better changeup would enable him to be a mid-rotation hurler.

C Blake Hunt

Hunt has emerged as a top 100 caliber prospect after three decent seasons in which he slashed .255 BA/.331 OBP/.381 SLG/.712 OPS with five home runs in 89 games for Class-A Fort Wayne in 2019.

Per Eric Longenhagen (FanGraphs), the 22-year-old catcher has “been hitting to all fields with power” and shown high-end arm strength in recent workouts.

After two consecutive years of above-average offensive performance relative to his league and continued resolve that he is a viable defensive catcher, Hunt now looks like he has a real chance to be an everyday backstop. I’ve seen him pop as low as 1.88 on throws to second and, despite his size, he’s agile enough and has sufficient hands to receive and frame big league stuff. Hunt also has a contact-oriented approach at the plate, one that’s quite conservative (zero leg kick) and doesn’t take full advantage of his movement skills. It relies entirely on Hunt’s hands to generate power, and that will likely result is 12-ish homers and a bunch of doubles. It’s a second-division look to me, but I think there’s more ceiling on the game power if Hunt’s lower half gets more involved in his swing.

— Eric Longenhagen

His gap-to-gap ability, combined with his defensive foundation, make Hunt a good everyday catching prospect that will graduate to Double-A in 2020.

C Francisco Mejía

Mejía is not far removed from being seen as an elite catching talent although he comes with question marks about his catching aptitude and has compiled just a .225 PA/.282 OBP/.386 OBP/.668 OPS slash line in 362 career plate appearances over the past four seasons.

Daniel Russell (DRaysBay) summed up Mejía well, writing:

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.

— Daniel Russell

To sum things up, the trade does bring back good value for Snell — that should not be overlooked. Whether Patiño or Mejía (in the least) can offset the loss of Snell, an affordable top-tier hurler, in 2021 fails to be seen though. Put differently, the deal gives the Rays payroll flexibility to compensate for the money they didn’t actually lose in 2020. And while Stu Sternberg should’ve issued a simple edict to the Rays’ front office — focus on the 2021 World Series — he and the front office instead focused on payroll flexibility which doesn’t mean a damn thing in the context of the 40-man roster if they are not willing to actually spend money.

*If that sentence had you scratching your head, that was by design.

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