12:56pm: SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets that talks between the Rays and Snell, to this point, have been preliminary in nature. Nothing is particularly close for the time being.
8:31am: The Rays have discussed a long-term deal with top left-handed pitching prospect Blake Snell, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports near the end of a lengthier profile on the former No. 52 overall pick. An extension for Snell would be a move that is very characteristic to the Rays, who have a penchant for locking up potential stars early in their careers as a means of securing control of free-agent years.
Locking up the 23-year-old Snell, though, would be a somewhat of a precedent-setter for the Rays, as Snell has yet to accrue even one day of Major League service time. Even prior extensions such as the long-term deals for Matt Moore and Evan Longoria came when Moore had 17 days of big league service (and some additional postseason experience) and Longoria had cracked the Opening Day roster and picked up six days of service (though, realistically, the Longoria negotiations almost certainly began before the season when he, like Snell, had no MLB experience). The Rays have also secured long-term control over the likes of James Shields, Wade Davis and Chris Archer, among others, in this capacity. While those deals were finalized when Andrew Friedman was the club’s general manager (Friedman is now with the Dodgers), present-day GM Matt Silverman was club president for all of those extensions.
Were a deal to be reached prior to Opening Day, Snell would become just the second player in Major League history to sign an extension without a single day of Major League service time under his belt. Notably, the other player — Houston’s Jon Singleton — shares the same representation as Snell, who is a client of Sosnick, Cobbe and Karon Sports. (Sosnick, Cobbe and Karon also represents Moore.) Singleton received a $10MM guarantee over five years before ever stepping foot on Major League soil, and his contract also contained a trio of options that would’ve allowed the contract to max out at $35MM. Moore’s deal was a five-year, $14MM contract that can max out around $40MM over the life of eight years by virtue of club options and escalators.
Certainly, none of this means that a deal is likely to be struck. For one thing, Topkin notes only that the two sides have had discussions — not that talks are currently active or advanced. Beyond that, the numbers will have to make sense. We often hear of long-term extension talks for players that have limited or no Major League experience, but rarely do such deals come to fruition. The incentive for the Rays (or for any club) to check in with their top prospect is easy enough to see, and there’s a possibility that the talks amounted to little more than due diligence for the agency, though their history of early extensions does make the Snell scenario seem more plausible.
The Rays will have control of Snell for at least six seasons from the time he makes his Major League debut, meaning he’d be under control through the 2021 season were he to crack the Opening Day rotation. That seems unlikely, with Archer, Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and Erasmo Ramirez all serving as options on the big league roster, though a spring injury could potentially create an opening. It’s worth pointing out, of course, that the Rays could extend that club control through the 2022 season by stashing Snell in the minors for as little as three weeks to open the season — a trade-off that seems highly worthwhile from a business standpoint, especially for a small-market club.
Snell skyrocketed up prospect rankings this past season on the strength of a dominant minor league campaign that saw him begin the year at Class-A Advanced and finish in Triple-A. Snell rattled off 46 consecutive scoreless innings to open his season and finished the year with a combined 1.41 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and a 51.8 percent ground-ball rate in 134 innings. As Topkin notes, Snell’s success could be attributable to a heart-to-heart with his father — a former minor league pitcher himself — who implored his son to increase his work ethic prior to the 2015 campaign. Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics told Topkin that Snell’s talent was obvious from the day he was drafted, though he added that Snell was “okay with the work ethic but not to where needed him to be” earlier in his career. Lukevics explained to Topkin that those questions evaporated beginning in Spring Training last season, as Snell looked like a player that had “turn[ed] the light switch on.” The entire profile is well worth a read for Rays fans looking to get to know a bit more about Snell, who rated as the game’s No. 12 prospect according to Baseball America. Snell also ranked 14th on the top 100 of Jim Callis & Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com, 14th on the top 100 of ESPN’s Keith Law and 21st on the top 101 over at Baseball Prospectus.