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Can the Rays Contend After Trading Blake Snell to the Padres?

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Can the Rays Contend After Trading Blake Snell to the Padres?
Former Tampa Bay Ray and now San Diego Padre Blake Snell #4 is taken out of the game by manager Kevin Cash. Tom Pennington/Getty Images/AFP

Given the success they’ve had in the past, including winning the 2020 American League Pennant, it’s tough to criticize or even question the moves made by the Tampa Bay Rays. Still, we can’t help but scratch our heads and wonder how competitive the Rays will be in 2021 after dealing away a young pitcher like Blake Snell.

That was the question posed by the editors at SBR’s free MLB picks page: Can Tampa Bay compete in 2021 without having Snell at the top of their rotation? The simple and quick answer is yes, the Rays can still be competitive and make it into October baseball. Making it deep into the postseason without Snell, well, that’s a whole different story.

If it was just the loss of their prized lefty, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. After all, the Rays got a nice load of prospects in return from the San Diego Padres for Snell. But it is not just his subtraction, and with other moves Tampa Bay has made – or in some cases, not made – one has to wonder if the Rays themselves expect to contend in 2021 and defend their AL flag.

Rebuilding Rotation an Offseason Project

It will be Snell’s final performance in a Tampa Bay uniform that ultimately leads to more second-guessing than the Rays’ decision to trade him. Manager Kevin Cash’s decision to remove Snell in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, after just 73 pitches and with the Rays up 1-0, saw the southpaw exiting the mound and shaking his head. Snell ultimately came to the defense of his manager, though the Los Angeles Dodgers ended up scoring three runs to clinch the Fall Classic.

“I respect him, and I’ve always trusted him. He knows how to win,” Snell told reporters after the game. Those were well-chosen words by Snell, but those words will never stop Tampa Bay fans from wondering what if.

Snell isn’t the only arm the Rays have to replace. The club also decided not to re-sign veteran Charlie Morton, who ultimately moved on to a free agent deal with Atlanta. Snell and Morton combined to make 20 of Tampa Bay’s 60 regular season starts, plus 10 more in the playoffs. When MLB futures odds for 2021 went out in November, the Rays were 14/1 to win the World Series; now, they are 18/1 or higher. The only three starters remaining are Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough and Josh Fleming, and Tampa Bay is going to have to come up with another couple of viable options for the rotation.

Charlie Morton
Former Tampa Bay Ray Charlie Morton #50. Tom Pennington/Getty Images/AFP

Are Any of the Players Coming Over from San Diego MLB-Ready?

Tampa Bay received pitchers Luis Patiño and Cole Wilcox plus catchers Francisco Mejía and Blake Hunt in the swap with the Padres. Patiño is the real centerpiece in the deal for the Rays, and could ultimately fill one of those slots in the rotation. He turned 21 a day after Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, and made 11 appearances – 1 start – for San Diego this past season, registering a 5.19 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 14 walks in 17+ innings.

Mejia took a step back in 2020 following a decent 2019. There’s potential with the bat, but many scouts question whether or not the 25-year-old Dominican can stick behind the plate defensively. Hunt is a true catcher with solid upside defensively, but the reverse is true for the former 2nd-round pick from 2017 at the plate.

Wilcox was a 2nd-round pick last June out of the University of Georgia, and the truncated college baseball season makes him a bit of a mystery. The righthander was being groomed as a starting pitcher in 2020 after working in relief with an upper-90s fastball the previous year. He’s got at least a couple of minor league seasons ahead before we see him in the majors.

Luis Patino
Former San Diego Padre Luis Patino #62 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AFP

Can Young Hitters Lead Rays to Postseason?

Of course, one of the best ways to combat a little less pitching is with a little more offense. Tampa Bay has a couple of rising young stars to help in that category, and we got a little taste of what might be ahead for Randy Arozarena at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs. Arozarena will turn 26 at the end of February, and launched 7 HR in 23 regular season games before banging another 10 in October.

The Rays should also be ready to finally promote Wander Franco, the game’s top prospect. Not having a minor league season in 2020 might mean Tampa Bay brings him up after the 2021 schedule begins, since he’ll only be 20 next March, but Franco will be in the lineup soon.

It’s clear right now that the biggest winner in the trade was Snell. San Diego also acquired Yu Darvish from the Chicago Cubs, and the Padres have zoomed up the board from 12/1 to 6/1 at most betting sites to win the 2021 World Series as a result of those trades. But while a World Series title might be within their grasp, the best hope for Snell’s former club is just being in the running late for an AL Wild Card.