Less than two weeks after drawing criticism for giving Blake Snell, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, a mere $15,500 raise, the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday announced they were giving their ace quite a bit more, after all.
Confirming reports earlier in the day, the club announced it had agreed to terms with the left-handed Snell on a five-year, $50 million contract that runs through the 2023 season, which would have been Snell’s first year of free agency. The deal could pay an additional $2 million in incentives, the club said.
According to the Rays, it is the largest contract ever given to a pitcher before he has reached arbitration, topping the $42 million in total value Gio Gonzalez got from the Washington Nationals in 2012, and it could top the $10 million average annual value in the contract that the Yankees gave Luis Severino earlier this off-season.
“Since being drafted in 2011, Blake’s talent and hard work have enabled him to establish himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in the game,” Stuart Sternberg, the Rays’ principal owner, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to seeing him take the mound for the Rays for years to come.”
Snell, 26, had one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory in 2018. He went 21-5 with a 1.89 E.R.A. with 221 strikeouts in 180⅔ innings over 31 starts. Snell’s innings total was the lowest for Cy Young Award-winning starting pitcher in a full season — partly because he missed two weeks in July with due to shoulder fatigue. On a team that regularly employed the strategy of “bullpenning” — eschewing traditional roles for starting and relief pitchers to take advantage of matchups — Snell was the lone Rays’ pitcher to remain as a starter from the beginning of the season to the end.
His wins and E.R.A. led the American League and set franchise records. His E.R.A. was the lowest by an A.L. starter since Pedro Martinez posted 1.74 in 2000. His 1.27 home E.R.A. is the lowest in the A.L. since Nolan Ryan’s 1.07 mark with the California Angels in 1972. He was also the hardest starting pitcher to hit last season: Opponents posted a major league-worst .178 batting average against him.
He became the second Rays pitcher to win the Cy Young, joining David Price, who won in 2012. He became the youngest Cy Young winner since Clayton Kershaw in 2013 and the youngest in the A.L. since Felix Hernandez in 2010.
A first-round pick by the Rays in 2011, Snell is 32-20 with a 2.95 E.R.A. in three seasons. He will make his first career opening day start this season, and he will do so for a team coming off a 90-win season and entering 2019 with playoff aspirations.
Earlier this month, the Rays renewed Snell at $573,700 for this season, a raise of just $15,500. As Snell is not yet eligible for arbitration, the Rays could assign him a salary for 2019 without his approval.
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