The Phillies re-signed Aaron Nola early in the offseason, made a big push to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and a chance still remains that they could make one more splash in the free agent pitching market. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Philadelphia would be open to bringing Blake Snell into the fold, but not on a long-term deal. A one-year pact or a shorter-term contract would be the Phils’ preference, or quite possibly the kind of three-year deal with multiple opt-outs recently signed by other Boras Corporation clients Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman.
The news isn’t surprising in the sense that plenty of teams would similarly love to have Snell on these terms, though the Phillies’ interest in Snell was described by The Athletic’s Jayson Stark back in November as “lukewarm.” In Stark’s view, the Phils saw Snell as a fallback plan if they couldn’t add their higher-priority targets (i.e. Nola or Yamamoto). There is also the fact that the Phillies already have a set rotation on paper, with Nola, Zack Wheeler, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker, and Cristopher Sanchez combining to form a very solid starting five.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has spoken multiple times this offseason about how much he likes his rotation options, and about how the Phils’ other forays into the starting pitching market were focused on depth additions. That said, Dombrowski also noted last month that “I can’t tell you that somebody doesn’t fall into your lap at some point where you say, ’Gee, that’s an opportunity we can’t turn down.’ ” It seems possible that Snell’s seemingly limited market might now represent such a possibility for the Phillies to get involved.
Snell’s reported willingness to consider shorter-term offers could mean that a five- or six-year contract simply might not be on the table at this late date in the offseason. Even back in mid-February, MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald wondered if Snell would be better off aiming for a very high average annual value within a short-term deal, so the left-hander could then potentially opt out next winter when the market is more favorable and more teams might be willing to spend. The Yankees, Giants, and Angels have all been linked to Snell’s market, and that list probably widens considerably should the reigning NL Cy Young winner start focusing on just short-term contracts with opt-outs attached.
Philadelphia is undoubtedly in win-now mode, and both Dombrowski and team chairman John Middleton have a history of making aggressive moves in search of a World Series crown. Signing Snell and moving to either some kind of six-man rotation or in making Sanchez something of an over-qualified swingman would improve what is already a good rotation, and no postseason opponent would want to face the trio of Snell, Wheeler, and Nola within a short series.
Even as a short-term signing, however, Snell has its drawbacks for the Phillies. The club would have to give up $1MM in international bonus pool funds and its second- and fifth-highest picks in the 2024 draft, because Snell rejected a qualifying offer and because Philadelphia was a luxury-tax payor in 2023. In fact, the Phils have crossed the Competitive Balance Tax threshold in each of the last two years and are poised to make it a trifecta in 2024, with a projected CBT number of $261MM (as per RosterResource).
This figure is already over the second-highest penalty threshold of $257MM, and adding Snell would surely put Philadelphia over the third tier of $277MM. Teams who cross that third tier face the further penalty of a ten-slot drop for their first selection in the following season’s draft, as well as even steeper financial costs. As a three-time tax payor, the Phillies would be taxed at a 95% rate for every dollar spent above the $277MM mark.
For a one-year splurge on Snell, Middleton might deem the CBT costs as worth it if the left-hander is a final piece who can nab the Phillies that elusive championship. But the risk is obvious, as if Snell struggles in 2024 or gets injured, suddenly what might’ve looked like a one-year deal with Snell opting out now looks more like a fuller commitment or two or three years, and a further strain on the Phillies’ books. This might not be ideal for a team that has been prioritizing an extension with Wheeler, and most of the Phils’ most prominent players are signed through at least 2025.