By midday Tuesday, the better part of two days since it had been decided they’d part ways, Blake Snell was sorting through his new life and Erik Neander seemed just kind of melancholy.
Snell had a new puppy. “Goose,” he called it, seemed to bring him some comfort. Neander, general manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, who had traded Snell to the San Diego Padres for four players, has grown a beard.
They said they understood they had every reason to be happy. From at or near the front of a new rotation, Snell was headed for the coolest city in the country to lead the swaggiest team in baseball as it is finding itself. And Neander, he has been through this before, having seen or pulled the trigger on deals that sent away David Price, James Shields, Chris Archer and Matt Moore, and those are just some of the pitchers, and in his heart believes this is how healthy franchises in smaller markets that don’t draw stay healthy.
The story is how now the Padres, who have never won a World Series, endeavor first to become the best team in Southern California, with Snell (and, soon, presumably, Yu Darvish). And how now the Rays figure a way to win the two games they didn’t at the end of 2020, with four new guys but not Snell. The story is the rise and fall of markets that scout and commit to and develop and win with a player they can no longer — or choose not to — afford into his prime, how that works when a pandemic is layered in, and how one of those markets sells long and the other buys short.
Then, how it pains them both in some corner of their souls, coming up on a decade since a gangly 18-year-old left-hander with a big fastball and sad eyes was available at 52nd overall. They — together — grew that into a Cy Young Award winner and a guy who’d get them to the sixth inning of Game 6 of the World Series with a one-run lead, which is some kind of a decade, which is why parts of Erik Neander were sorry he had to do it and parts of Blake Snell were sorry to go.
At that, there came a yowling from near his feet.
“Even my dog’s upset,” Snell said. “And he’s only 4 months old.”
Once, the Rays made organizational decisions based on the fact Snell was coming. Archer was traded halfway through Snell’s Cy Young season. That trade brought Tyler Glasnow, just as Matt Garza had once brought Archer.
“The economics have to be a consideration, you know?” Neander said. “Our revenues and what we bring in is what it is. This year was a challenging year for everyone. I’m gonna keep that in the right perspective. There are a lot of people out there that have had it a lot more difficult than any of us had. This is just a game. But this was done not because we were looking to move Blake. This was done in a large part because of the talent that we’re getting back. That was the big driver for us here.
“We didn’t actively pursue this. … We went into it with an idea, there was going to be a strong price that we were going to set and if anyone was going to engage and push us on it we were going to have to consider it. And that’s what happened more than anything here.”
Snell is three years from free agency. He is due a $3.5 million raise — from $7.6 million — in 2021. By 2023, he’ll be making $16.6 million. So, at 28 years old and with a fine résumé, a bargain. He said Tuesday he knew his time would come eventually, that that is part of being a Tampa Bay Ray, saying goodbye and being the one to leave. He’d hugged enough guys on their ways out to know.
Still, man, no matter how good he’ll have it where he’s going (in 24 minutes, he said “super excited” 14 times and “excited” or “exciting” 19, so nearly 1.4 times per minute), there seems to be something about being a Ray in a land of Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers that settles in your heart. The first call he made after learning he’d been traded was to his now former pitching coach, Kyle Snyder. Before his family. Before his friends. Before, maybe, even Goose.
He called it bittersweet.
“They really raised me and groomed me,” he said. “I was a kid when I got there and they turned me into a, I’d like to say, a good man. So, yeah, there’s a lot to be thankful for there. There’s a lot I’m going to be appreciative of. A lot of relationships that I’m very happy I was able to make. But, you know, with all that said, it prepared me for when they traded me to the Padres to be ready for this opportunity and to take advantage of it.”
That said, he added, the hours leading away from the call telling him he was the latest to go, “It was just sad. Honestly, it was just sad. I haven’t really processed what it’s going to be like to have an Arizona spring training, to go play in San Diego with this team. I was just more reflecting on the last 10 years of my life and what I’ve been through. And the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met and the importance it’s had on my life.”
At that he smiled, presumably because of the life it’s been so far and the life that now awaits. He said the Padres definitely have “drip,” which apparently is good and means they know who they are and like it, which suits his personality fine. Besides, he can always call his old teammates, he can always call Snyder in particular, because, he said, “That’s what he signed up for when he signed up to be my second father,” and he’ll carry good memories, even the ones that ended with one out in the sixth inning.
“I’m gonna start turning that and focusing on all the positives of, you know, the Padres and what that’s going to bring and stuff like that,” he said. “As I start to look forward and start to get ready for the season, it’s going to be something that’s super exciting for me and it’s new. I’m excited to be part of this team. It’s a very talented ballclub. … We’ve got a chance to win a World Series right away and you’ve got to love being a part of that.”
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