A day after the Tampa Bay Rays made waves by informing other teams they are open to the idea of trading left-hander Blake Snell (more on that below), the team was dealt a major blow when Atlanta announced it inked a one-year, $15-million deal with right-hander Charlie Morton. Mark Feinsand (MLB.com) reported that Tampa Bay was the other finalist in Morton’s market.
The loss of Morton stings, especially given that his $15-million contract with Atlanta matches the sum for which the Rays could’ve retained him had they exercised his club option for the 2021 season. It would appear that Tampa Bay had hoped to keep the right-hander at a lesser rate for the upcoming season — MLB Trade Rumors projected Morton to receive an $8-million, one-year contract, albeit with the Mets. Morton now returns to the franchise that originally drafted him back in 2002.
The 37-year-old Morton battled shoulder fatigue and was limited to nine starts and 38 innings in 2020 while pitching to a 4.74 ERA. Yet, after his stint on the Injured List, he returned with improved velocity and a 3.72 ERA across his seven remaining regular-season starts, then went on to post a 2.70 ERA through 20 postseason innings. More than that, however, Morton was a leader in the Rays clubhouse, especially during the Covid-19 shortened season.
The question begs: How will Erik Neander fill Morton’s shoes?
The free-agent market is one option, with Cory Kluber (MLBTR projected $12-Million), Robbie Ray (MLBTR projected $6-Million), and Adam Wainwright (MLBTR projected $6-Million) still available and relatively reasonably priced. As Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) also noted, the Rays could conceivably add multiple pitchers they believe they can tweak and take to another level. “That has been something they’ve done frequently with relievers, but it’s certainly not out of the question they could do so with potential starters.” Tampa Bay could also use some of their position player depth to help fill any gaps in the rotation. That would help add a veteran presence among the emerging arms that likely will be leaned upon, such as Shane McClanahan, Brent Honeywell, Joe Ryan, and Josh Fleming.
Solondz was also quick to remind that the Rays have bounced back from situations like this in the past.
Certainly, Erik Neander and the rest of the Rays front office have done the right things during their current climb. In the year they traded Evan Longoria and then Chris Archer in-season, Tampa Bay jumped to 90 victories.
The following year, the team unloaded popular Mallex Smith and CJ Cron after arguably his best season yet made the playoffs and won 96 games. Then the team traded Tommy Pham and Emilio Pagan and ended up in the World Series in 2020.— Neil Solondz
In short, while this stings, it’s still just November. With the dearth of players on what appears to be a very slow free-agent market, the Rays do have a few things that work in their favor, such as a winning environment, the clubhouse culture, and the lack of state income tax in the State of Florida.
As I alluded to above, the Rays have made it known that they are open to the idea of trading left-hander Blake Snell. Pay attention to the phrasing though: “open to the idea of” is clearly not the same as “actively looking to trade him.”
Tampa Bay recently inked a five-year, $50-Million extension with Snell before the 2019 season. However, the budget-conscious ball-club could move on from the southpaw if it receives an enticing enough offer. Snell still has three years and $39-Million left on that deal and is set to earn $10.5-Million in 2021, $12.5-Million in 2022, and $16-Million in 2023.
Snell, after receiving word of the news, mentioned that he is committed to Tampa Bay and would love the opportunity to remain with the Rays.
The club has made similar moves in the past with the trades of David Price, James Shields, Chris Archer, Evan Longoria, and Tommy Pham. But more often than not, the Rays front office first makes a proclamation that it is open to the idea of trading a player in order to test the waters of the market, then waits until there are two years of team control remaining in his contract before they pull the trigger on a deal. And based on the kind of returns the Rays would expect if they were to trade Snell, don’t expect any team to emphatically say “yes” to the opportunity of looking like the next Pittsburgh Pirates.
At any rate, JT Morgan (DRaysBay) wrote an excellent piece on what the Rays could get in return from the three likeliest teams that could cobble together a deal for Snell: the Seattle Mariners, the Los Angeles Angels, and the San Diego Padres. You can read that article here.
For what it’s worth, given the amount of instability in Tampa Bay’s pitching corps, it would make more sense to hold onto Snell for the time being, which I’m sure Neander is well aware of. Then again, when have your feelings ever factored into the team’s financial decisions?