Over the span of three days, three MLB franchises have shown the aces up their respective sleeves.
“Aces up their sleeve” could be taken in a literal sense. This is baseball, after all, and close to nothing defines baseball more than nasty, workhorse starters dominating the mound every five days, much to the dismay of baffled opposing batters.
For the San Diego Padres, the phrase can be taken in an even more literal sense, as they traded from their player surplus to obtain not one, but two aces in Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays and Yu Darvish from the Chicago Cubs.
For the Padres, the moves simplify the obvious – they are ready to go for it. Even after acquiring Mike Clevinger at the trade deadline, a hole in the Padres’ starting staff needed filling, which only became more apparent for the upcoming season after Clevinger underwent Tommy John Surgery on Nov. 17.
The Rays and Cubs, meanwhile, used the moves as a means to go in a better direction for the long-term longevity of success for both respective franchises. Tampa Bay, in particular, reinforced an already stout farm system. On the flip side, the Cubs used the deal as a way to jump-start a needed rebuild.
Three cherished franchises. Two trades. Who came out ahead, though? Within this article, I grade both trades from the perspective of both sides of the trading table. Without further ado, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Date of trade: Dec. 29, 2020
Teams involved: San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays
San Diego receives: LHP Blake Snell
Tampa Bay receives: RHP Luis Patino, RHP Cole Wilcox, C Francisco Mejia, C Blake Hunt
This deal was officially announced by both teams on Dec. 29. The obvious headliner of the transaction comes in the form of Snell, who, since 2016 (his first year at the MLB level), has pitched to a 3.24 ERA in 556.0 innings pitched and has won an American League Cy Young Award to boot (2018). Since 2017 (Snell’s first season he started 20 or more games), his 3.18 ERA and 10.60 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9) ranks 10th and 13th among 63 starters to pitch at least 450 innings during that span. Add in the fact that Snell is under team control for the next three seasons for a hair under $41 million combined, and you have a pitcher in his prime heading over to a favorable pitcher’s confine in Petco Park (Petco ranked 23rd out of 30 MLB stadiums in terms of park factor during 2020) with an offense readily able to support him.
The Rays, on the other hand, get cheaper, younger and most importantly, more prospect-savvy with this deal. The 21-year-old Patino brings the blue-chip capital of the prospect haul, as the Colombian native flashes a plus fastball and slider to supplement good control and electric velocity. Although the box score shows an ugly ERA (Patino possessed a 5.19 ERA in 11 games with San Diego last season), the raw stuff is there for the youngster, even at the top-flight MLB level. Mejia, a former top prospect when he was traded to San Diego in the Brad Hand deal during the 2018 MLB season, gives Tampa an affordable backstop option that should garner more playing time than he received while in San Diego. Hunt and Wilcox sprinkle off the haul, as both players bring high-talent ceilings that Tampa Bay will readily take and develop accordingly for the betterment of both the team and the players.
Short-term, there is no contest. San Diego benefits from this trade. Long-term, Tampa Bay benefits – the addition of Patino gives the Rays seven top 100 prospects, per MLB Pipeline. Even still, Tampa Bay might struggle to find viable innings from traditional starters over the upcoming 2021 campaign. With Snell and Charlie Morton going elsewhere, the reigns will fall to Tyler Glasnow, who has only pitched over 100 innings once in five MLB seasons. Can he stay healthy and take a leap forward? Will Patino get an extended look during Spring Training? Will Tampa Bay be forced to rely on the “opener” strategy more this season? All of these questions, and then some, will just crack open the American League East door just a bit more for a team like the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays to barge their feet through.
San Diego grade: A
Tampa Bay grade: B
Date of trade: Dec. 29, 2020
Teams involved: San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs
San Diego receives: RHP Yu Darvish, C Victor Caratini, cash considerations
Chicago receives: RHP Zach Davies, SS Reginald Preciado, SS Yeison Santana, OF Owen Caissie, OF Ismael Mena
Similarly to the Snell deal, the basic gist of the trade is as clear as day from San Diego’s perspective – the Padres want to double down on a strength that is their new-look rotation. Just like Snell, Darvish, even with his inconsistencies (to put it lightly) over the past several years, has shown to be a force. When dating back to 2017, Darvish’s 3.70 ERA ranks 24th out of 63 starters with a minimum of 450 innings pitched over the span. Darvish’s ever-expanding arsenal, which practically includes every pitch under the sun, has also helped him accrue a knack for picking up swings and misses, as he has never possessed a K/9 under 10.00 in his eight seasons of MLB work. Last season, he was even able to take it to the next level in regard to control, as his 1.66 walks per nine innings pitched (BB/9) was a career best. The 2.01 ERA over the course of the shortened 2020 season, in fact, coupled with a 2.23 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark, netted the 34-year-old a second-place finish in National League Cy Young Award voting ballots. To potentially carry over the 2020 success, the Friars brought in Darvish’s personal catcher in 27-year-old Victor Caratini, who was behind the dish for all 12 of Darvish’s starts last season.
For the Cubs, the move signifies a financial shift toward shedding salary as opposed to gaining it. Shedding salary is not a complete truth, however, as the Cubs will eat a portion of the remaining $59 million Darvish is owed over the next three seasons. Even still, the Cubs bring back nice a floor value pitching option in Davies, who had a renaissance year last season (his 2.73 ERA and 8.18 K/9 were both career bests) and super raw position players in Preciado, Santana, Caissie and Mena. While they are not household names, the Cubs have a reputation for developing position talent – it paid off during their 2016 World Series run.
Again, San Diego’s perspective of the trade is straightforward. They added another frontline starter. The question for San Diego, however, will now be an intangible one, as they will have to jostle around Darvish, Snell, Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet and a slew of other starting options (including an MLB Pipeline top five prospect in MacKenzie Gore) for playing time this season, and then attempt it all over again when Clevinger comes back from his surgery the season after. It could work, but then again, San Diego thought their 2014-15 offseason splurge would work, too. The chemistry certainly was not there for that team, and although there are different circumstances this time around, the question will still remain until the team takes the field. As for Chicago, they went with a lesser gain in prospect return for a greater chance for San Diego to eat up salary. These financial trades serve a purpose, but for a rebuilding team (in addition to a high-spending team) like the Cubs, one would think they would bite the bullet, eat up more money and get a better return.
San Diego grade: B+
Chicago grade: C+