The Yankees and their fans likely have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to giving out big contracts to 30-year-old southpaws. No one would blame them, as Carlos Rodón’s six-year $162 million deal from last offseason got off to about as bad a start as one could envision. There are five years remaining to right the ship on the nine-figure deal — or to perhaps lament it even more.
This offseason, there is another top of the line lefty available on the free agent market in Blake Snell. Just this past week, he was voted as the National League’s Cy Young Award winner, the second time he’s earned the honor in his eight-year career thus far. As talented as Snell has shown himself to be, his inconsistency has perhaps been his greatest weakness. While the Yanks may not feel they’re in a position to invest even more in the rotation on a pitcher of his nature, there is no denying his talent when everything is clicking.
In an effort to not overthink his Cy Young 2023 season, Snell was simply excellent for the Padres. Over the course of 32 starts and 180 innings of work, the lefty crafted an outstanding 2.25 ERA which led major league pitchers by a significant margin, and his 31.5-percent strikeout rate was second behind only Spencer Strider. He was named the NL’s Pitcher of the Month in both June and September. Indeed, from June onward, he posted a flashy 1.23 ERA and a .485 OPS against, helping him post a Senior Circuit-leading 6.0 rWAR on the season as a whole.
As usual, Snell relied on his elite curveball to pave the way for his excellent season, throwing it nearly 20 percent of the time and to great success. He was in the 100th percentile for Savant’s run value on breaking balls, and he maintained his highest ever whiff rate with the pitch outside of the shortened 2020 season. He clearly had things working in 2023, and he leaned heavily on his excellent breaking ball.
It was another special season for Snell, and easily his most productive since he won his first Cy Young in 2018 with the Rays. The 30-year-old should be in line for a big payday, and despite the circumstances, a pitcher of his caliber is a good fit on any team, including the Yankees.
I did mention his inconsistency, though, and it is certainly worth considering for those pursuing his talents. He has a pair of Cy Young awards under his belt, something very few pitchers in the history of the game can say (he’s one of just seven to win in both leagues). But, those two seasons are also the only in which he’s received any votes at all for the award, or even been elected to his league’s All-Star team. He has never been truly bad, but for someone who has reached the highs he has, he is certainly prone to some rather pedestrian stretches.
Sitting behind his sparkly 2.25 ERA, Snell also owned a 3.44 FIP in 2023. Which is by no means bad, but it’s significantly higher, and points to the biggest hole in his game: the dreaded walk. The disparity explains why the nibbler extraordinaire led the NL in rWAR but was sixth in fWAR. His 13.3-percent walk rate was easily the highest among qualified big league starters, and was also the highest he’s posted in any of his eight seasons on the mound. Not only can he be inconsistent a frustrating watch from year to year, but also at-bat to at-bat.
There is also the question of a potential fit with the Yankees in 2024 and beyond. FanGraphs’ crowdsourced projections have him somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and $125 million, and MLB Trade Rumors went even higher at seven years and $200 million. With nearly half a billion dollars tied up in Rodón and Gerrit Cole, either of those contract possibilities would be a lot of eggs in one basket. This is not to say it’s a cut-and-dry bad decision, Snell is a very good pitcher, and good pitchers tend to help teams get better.
It does not feel as though the Yankees are in full spending mode, which may be needed in order to get Snell to the Bronx. But while his fluctuation in production over the years is a reasonable concern, at his ceiling, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball — something the Yankees sorely missed outside of their own Cy Young winner.