HomeMLB RumorsAstros Reportedly "Long-Shots" To Land Blake Snell

Astros Reportedly “Long-Shots” To Land Blake Snell

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The Astros have been the buzz of the baseball world this weekend following reporting that indicated the club was in “serious pursuit” of the top remaining free agent, reigning NL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell. Reporting from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale earlier today indicates that the club may be a “long-shot” to ultimately land the southpaw, however. Nightengale reports that the club has “balked” at the asking price from Snell’s camp, which he adds stands at a $60MM guarantee over two years that includes an opt-out following the 2024 season. Houston, Nightengale adds, is conscious of being pushed over an additional luxury tax threshold by a Snell deal with an AAV in the $30MM range. Nightengale goes on to suggest that the Giants currently appear to be the favorites for Snell’s services, though he makes clear that San Francisco has been waiting for Snell’s price to drop even as they’ve remained engaged with the southpaw.

It’s not necessarily a surprise that the Astros would be worried about stomaching a $30MM annual commitment for Snell’s services. The club is already in unprecedented territory with regards to its player payroll; Cot’s Baseball Contracts notes that Houston has never entered a season with a projected payroll above their $187MM figure from the 2021 season, but RosterResource projects the club to blow that figure out of the water this year with a whopping $240MM payroll entering the 2024 campaign. That figure reaches nearly $256MM for luxury tax purposes, just over $1MM shy of the second, $257MM tax threshold.

Virtually any addition to the club’s payroll at any point this season would push them past that level, but a more significant addition such as Snell would leave the club at risk of going over the third threshold, which stands at $277MM for the 2024 season. While the first two brackets of the luxury tax come with only financial considerations, the penalties get stiffer when a clubs surpasses the third threshold. Those penalties most notably include the club’s highest pick in the following year’s draft being pushed back ten places, which is further compounded by an associated cut to the club’s bonus pool for signing their draft picks that year. Given the elevated costs involved with a pursuit of Snell, it was hardly surprising when GM Dana Brown suggested that the club wasn’t interested in pursuing additional starting pitching this spring, even name-dropping Snell specifically as a player the club would “love to have” but didn’t expect to sign.

Of course, it’s hard to overstate just how impactful Snell could be for the Astros rotation even in spite of those ancillary concerns. Right-handers Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis García Jr. are both set to open the season on the injured list and miss considerably time this season. They’ll also be joined at least for the early days of the campaign by veteran ace Justin Verlander, whose start to the season has been delayed soreness in his right shoulder. Those injuries leave the club’s rotation depth in an tough spot entering the season, and a recent injury scare regarding Jose Urquidy has only exacerbated those concerns. KRPC2’s Ari Alexander reported recently that Urquidy has been dealing with “forearm stiffness” per a source, while manager Joe Espada told reporters yesterday that the right-hander has flown back to Houston from the club’s spring complex in Florida to meet with team doctors.

Losing Urquidy could leave the club to rely on depth options such as Hunter Brown, J.P. France, and Ronel Blanco behind a front-of-the-rotation duo featuring Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier, at least for the start of the season. Adding Snell to that mix would not only give the club much-needed additional pitching depth early in the season, but would also add an impactful, playoff-caliber arm to a rotation that saw each of Verlander, Valdez, and Javier take steps back in 2023 from the 2022 form that saw the group stand among the very best starting trios in baseball that year. While Snell certainly has flashed inconsistencies of his own throughout his career, posting a relatively pedestrian 3.85 ERA and 3.44 FIP from 2019 to 2022, he’s nonetheless ranged from a dependable mid-rotation arm to an elite, front-of-the-rotation flamethrower throughout his eight years in the majors and would be a surefire upgrade to an Astros club looking to make an eighth consecutive postseason appearance this fall.

On the other hand, Snell would provide all those same benefits to the Giants. San Francisco has had a busy offseason, bringing in Bob Melvin to replace Gabe Kapler in the managers’ chair while adding the likes of Matt Chapman, Jorge Soler, Jung Hoo Lee, and Jordan Hicks in free agency. With that being said, the club has done little to address a rotation mix that delivered the least innings among all major league clubs last year. Hicks has moved from the bullpen into the rotation since joining San Francisco, and the club could also receive a boost from trade acquisition Robbie Ray midseason upon his return from Tommy John surgery sometimes this summer. With Ray, Alex Cobb, and Tristan Beck all set to open the season on the injured list, however, it leaves the club with minimal certainty in the rotation behind staff ace Logan Webb.

Given how much the club would benefit from another front-of-the-rotation arm to pair with Webb, it’s not a surprise that the Giants continue to be involved in Snell’s market. Despite comments from club chairman Greg Johnson back in February that suggested the club planned to rely on young rotation arms such as Kyle Harrison and Keaton Winn entering the 2024 season, reporting has indicated that San Francisco has remained in the mix for Snell in recent weeks, though the club has signaled that it did not anticipate further major additions after signing Chapman earlier this month.

While it’s unclear how far Snell’s price would have to fall for San Francisco to pounce, the club’s books figure to have far more flexibility than those in Houston. RosterResource projects the club for a payroll of just $177MM entering the 2024 season, likely leaving ample room for the club to fit Snell into the budget. While the club’s luxury tax payroll stands at a somewhat higher $226MM figure, even an AAV approaching Snell’s reported $30MM asking price would leave the club just a touch under the second luxury tax threshold.

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