The San Diego Padres pulled off another blockbuster on Sunday night. A few months after a stunning flurry of trades at the deadline improve his roster tremendously, general manager A.J. Preller landed Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays in a five-player deal. It was a move aimed directly at wresting control of the National League West from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Snell is a 28-year-old former Cy Young Award-winner who will slot atop the Padres rotation in 2021. The Friars badly needed to find another top-of-the-rotation arm after losing Mike Clevinger to Tommy John surgery. Snell has been among baseball's most dominant starters in his five big league seasons and has taken things to another level during nine postseason appearances.
In 2018, Snell won the AL Cy Young by posting a 21-5 record with a 1.89 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 180.2 innings. The lefty struggled in 2019 as he dealt with an elbow injury that led to arthroscopic surgery. He bounced back in 2020 though, going 6-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 17 starts. He averaged 11.3 strikeouts per nine and opponents hit only .216 against him. He was also great against the Dodgers in two World Series starts.
If that isn't enough, Snell is under contract through 2023 for a reasonable $39 million. That's a paltry sum for a starting pitcher in his prime.
Snell didn't come cheap. The Padres had to send the Rays electric 21-year-old righty Luis Patino, 25-year-old catcher Francisco Mejia, 21-year-old fireballer Cole Wilcox and 22-year-old catching prospect Blake Hunt. Of the group, only Patino is considered a top prospect but the other three all have upside. Given that the Padres retained their top two prospects (lefty MacKenzie Gore and infielder C.J. Abrams) and managed to hold on to top catching prospect Luis Campusano, they have to feel great about the deal.
As Jeff Passan pointed out, this move sets the Padres up well for the next two seasons:
Snell and Dinelson Lamet will anchor the rotation in 2021, with Zach Davies and Chris Paddack following them, and one of the team's younger pitchers likely stepping into the fifth spot. The 21-year-old Gore is MLB's top pitching prospect, so he'll likely see the bigs at some point this season. In 2022, San Diego will get Clevinger back, which means it would have a three-headed monster of Snell-Lamet-Clevinger at the top.
While the Padres have made all these moves over the past six months simply to get better and fill holes, they've also been consummated with a eye aimed firmly up Interstate 5. The Dodgers own the NL West and have been the National League's best team three of the last four seasons. If the Padres want to reach the World Series they'll have to get past their rivals to the north. San Diego had loaded up on pitching for that reason alone.
Blake Snell is a huge addition for the Padres. Any lingering questions about whether they had the pitching to compete in 2021 have now been answered. All that's left is to challenge the Dodgers head on.