What Blake Snell Trade Means For Rays, Red Sox And Future Of AL East

Boston won't miss facing the former Cy Young Award winner

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Allow us to shoehorn the Boston Red Sox into a blockbuster trade between the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays and Padres continue to be fascinating trade partners, reportedly striking a late-night deal Sunday when Tampa Bay agreed to send former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to San Diego. In return, the Padres parted with a bevy of top prospect talent.

What does it all mean for Red Sox chief of baseball operations Chaim Bloom? We’ll get there.

First, a look at the reported parameters:

San Diego acquires: LHP Blake Snell
Tampa Bay acquires: RHP Luis Patino (No. 23 prospect overall, MLB.com), C Francisco Mejia, C Blake Hunt, RHP Cole Wilcox (Padres’ No. 7 prospect, MLB.com)

The initial takeaway is San Diego did a helluva job. Starting pitching was the Padres’ biggest weakness a year ago. In Snell, they have a bona fide top-of-the-rotation arm. Even better, they didn’t have to part with any of their high-end young talent on the big league roster. To make such a move and not have to deal prospects like MacKenzie Gore or CJ Abrams is the icing on the cake.

It’s the sort of deal that validates a rebuild and tells you a team is heading in the right direction. You get an elite player by trading players who might be good eventually, all while keeping your farm system intact. It’s the sort of trade we’ve become accustomed to seeing from teams like the Dodgers or Astros in recent seasons.

The Rays did well, too. Their small-market hindrances are borderline cliche at this point, and they weren’t going to be able to keep Snell for the long term. Despite coming within a couple of games of a world title last year, they cashed in their chips sooner rather than later. In the process, their prize acquisition in the deal is Patino. The right-hander has electric stuff and is poised to improve after a so-so debut in 2020. Tampa Bay’s propensity for developing young pitching makes it even more exciting.

So, how exactly do the Red Sox play into all of this? For starters, Boston’s American League East rehab project just got slightly easier. The Rays are worse in the short term, and Tampa Bay series just got a little more comfortable for Red Sox hitters, who scored just six runs in Snell’s eight starts against the intra-division rival since 2018.

Even without Snell, though, Tampa Bay probably still holds an edge over the Red Sox in 2021.

From a long-term perspective, this trade serves as a reminder of the Rays’ willingness to make a bold move before it’s too late and reload with an eye on the future. Even if they aren’t “good” in 2021, that sort of trade return likely ensures they’ll contend again before too long — and then we do this all over again.

This is what the Rays do. Bloom, who spent most of his baseball life with the Rays, knows this as well as anyone. It’s not what the Red Sox should be doing, though, at least not over the long term. Bloom is in the midst of a rebuild with the Red Sox, which is something we can all acknowledge by now.

The hope is to accelerate that process where possible. The Red Sox obviously are better suited financially for long-term sustainability than Tampa Bay, so moves based solely on money shouldn’t be the norm for Boston. That’s what makes hitting on trades — big and small — so important. The goal is to build a farm system like the Padres have so that you can pounce when teams like Tampa Bay come calling.

The Red Sox are money-rich. Bloom hopes to make them asset-rich. When you’re both at the same time, that’s when you can make trades for the Blake Snells (or Chris Sales) of the world.

There’s still work to be done, but Sunday night’s blockbuster is a reminder of how important balance is to getting to and staying atop the baseball world.

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