Just because there’s smoke doesn’t necessarily mean there’s fire when baseball’s Hot Stove is heating up.
Rumors run rampant during the early stages of free agency as player agents feed propaganda to national writers and broadcasters in an effort to get their clients paid. That’s just how it goes, and anything churned off the always-entertaining off-season rumor mill should be taken with a large grain of salt.
That said, rumors abound about the Phillies’ interest in free agent left-handed starter Blake Snell.
Aaron Nola's number starts at $30 million for probably 7-years, a contract the Phillies will not do, according to @howardeskin.— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) November 7, 2023
Howard says Blake Snell is a possible replacement. https://t.co/ZArNRxgGrx pic.twitter.com/GEoYRO1ML4
“He [managing partner John Middleton] wouldn’t mind bringing back Nola, but they were four years and about $100 million apart in their negotiations last winter, and it’s highly unlikely the gap will completely close.
“GMs believe that the Phillies will let Nola walk, and will turn their attention to Blake Snell, who’s about to win his second Cy Young Award.”
Snell is likely to be the NL Cy Young Award winner this year off a season in which he posted an NL-best 6.0 WAR and went 14-9 with a 2.25 ERA that was lowest in baseball. Here are his rankings in the following categories:
- WHIP: 1.189 (9th)
- Hits/9: 5.750 (1st)
- K/9: 11.7 (2nd)
- Innings: 180.0 (10th)
- Strikeouts: 234 (2nd)
- Home Runs/9: 0.750 (2nd)
- Adjusted ERA+: 182 (1st)
- Fielding Independent Pitching: 3.44 (6th)
- Wins Probability Added: 4.2 (T-2nd)
In his final 23 starts of the season, Snell posted a 1.23 ERA. That’s insane, and it’s why he’s going to win his second Cy Young. If the Phillies are going to replace Aaron Nola with Blake Snell, it’d be hard to find a pitcher that is more of a divergence from the Phils’ lanky right-hander.
While Nola relies on pinpoint command to get hitters out, Snell led all of baseball in free passes last season (99). Unlike Nola, he danced through the raindrops with men on base more effectively by allowing the fewest hits per nine innings and piling up the most strikeouts per nine innings. He allowed just a .174 batting average with runners on base last year, compared to Nola’s .289.
And whereas Nola has passed 200 innings in three of the past five non-pandemic shortened seasons and threw 193.2 last year, Snell has only pitched more than 130 innings in a season twice, last year and his first Cy Young season, in Tampa in 2018 (180.2). No, he’s not going to throw any complete games, but for those of you complaining he’s never going to make it through the sixth inning in any of his starts, consider he went at least six innings in 20 of this 32 starts last season, including in each of his last nine.
So while Snell will almost always require you to get at least nine outs from your bullpen in his starts, you’re likely to be leading when the game gets to them. It’s not like Nola was going 7-8 innings every time out there this year.
Snell also has postseason experience, with 10 starts and 12 appearances under his belt and a career 3.33 ERA and a 4-3 record in the playoffs. He pitched 10 innings in the 2020 World Series and gave up just three earned runs in those 10 innings. His last postseason start was against the Phils in Game 2 of the NLCS in which he gave up four fluky runs in the Padres’ 8-5 win.
Health is a big concern for a pitcher who will enter his age-31 season. He has missed significant chunks in each of the three non-pandemic seasons between his Cy Young years, making 23, 27 and 24 starts in 2019, ‘21 and ‘22. The walks are always going to be a concern, especially if, as he ages, his 37.3% whiff rate (2nd only to Spencer Strider last year) falls into a more human-like realm. Of course, Snell has always had a whiff-rate in the mid-to-upper 30s, but past is not prologue.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Snell will get seven years and $200 million in free agency, numbers relatively close to what Nola has said he’s looking for. Would the swap be worth it?
If the Phillies are committed to having a bat-missing bullpen, adding Snell makes a lot of sense, especially in Game 2 of a postseason series when the starter is typically getting pulled before going through an opponent’s batting order a third time. In October, a dominant 5-6 innings of Snell could be just what the doctor ordered.
There will be less expensive options in free agency — Jordan Montgomery, Sonny Gray, and Eduardo Rodriguez to name a few — and signing Snell to a $200 million contract would come with risks. So would all the other free agent starters on the market. There’s also the need to keep some money around for a potential Zack Wheeler extension, which is likely to happen this winter if it’s going to happen at all.
For a team with a World Series window that is open right now, Snell seems to be a better bet than Nola for close to the same cost. That’s why there’s so much smoke right now.