A hot stove season that's been slow to warm up thus far was rocked to life Monday with a report the Tampa Bay Rays are open to trading ace Blake Snell.
Outside of Trevor Bauer in free agency, Snell is now likely the best pitcher available this winter. The Rays will undoubtedly ask for a lot given Snell's on a fairly friendly contract - he's owed $39 million over the next three seasons. But this is a former Cy Young winner with a recent track record of performing in the postseason, so there will be no shortage of suitors.
Here are five teams that should step up and trade for Snell.
It's easy to see how Snell fits with the Braves. Atlanta's rotation in 2020, save for Max Fried, was a weak spot. The team's 5.51 ERA was the worst in the National League, and the staff accrued just 2.0 WAR, per FanGraphs, good for 26th overall. Snell's a significant upgrade over Drew Smyly, who the Braves signed last week, and he'd allow Smyly or Kyle Wright to work as a swingman if needed. A rotation headed by Snell, Fried, Ian Anderson, and a healthy Mike Soroka would be one of the NL's best.
Tampa Bay would likely command either Cristian Pache or Drew Waters to headline a package for Snell. After coming agonizingly close to the World Series in October, this is the kind of swing Atlanta almost has to take.
Death, taxes, and the Angels desperately needing to add pitching to help Mike Trout. Snell would be a boon for the Halos, immediately providing them with the ace they've sought for years.
The fit is not a question - they're already believed to be interested in Snell, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand - but, as always, the issue is what L.A. has to trade. Their farm system isn't as thin as it once was, but they still only have two prospects - outfielder Brandon Marsh and left-hander Reid Detmers - in MLB.com's top 100. This means general manager Perry Minasian will have to get creative while crafting a package to the Rays' liking. It's a heck of a challenge for a rookie GM that's barely two weeks on the job, but one that Minasian can't back down from.
Snell's a Seattle native, so he'd probably be thrilled to go home and try to lift this franchise out of the doldrums. The Mariners are coming off a tough season, but Kyle Lewis' emergence as AL Rookie of the Year was one of several bright spots for a young team that's only getting better. GM Jerry Dipoto - who's completed 10 trades with the Rays since 2015 - has constructed an excellent farm system that's about to bring some great young players to Seattle. He has more than enough pieces to trade with six top-100 prospects.
Even if Snell isn't the final piece of the Mariners' puzzle in 2021, there may not be a better time for them to take this shot. The AL West might be there for the taking next year. Oakland and Houston could lose key players to free agency, the Angels will remain a question mark if they can't trade for Snell, and Texas is rebuilding. Snell is under contract for two more seasons, so Seattle has room to grow if it isn't an immediate contender.
A.J. Preller loves to make a splash, and this is a moment where he probably needs to make another. Mike Clevinger's Tommy John surgery has created a hole in the Padres' rotation that Snell could step into seamlessly. Simply put, Snell would put an already dangerous San Diego team over the top as a true ace who's proven he isn't afraid of the rival Dodgers. Even if Clevinger were healthy, adding Snell would make a ton of sense.
Despite dipping into his farm system at the trade deadline to acquire Clevinger and Austin Nola, among others, Preller still has the pieces to pull this off with five top-100 prospects. It would surely take at least one of those five, if not two, to satisfy the Rays in a Snell deal, but the Padres can afford it.
Tampa's division rival might be a good fit from a trade perspective. Catching is the Rays' most glaring weakness, and the Blue Jays are teeming with young backstops. Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, or Reese McGuire could be the start of an appealing package that would also include a few other intriguing names from an excellent farm system. On the field, a one-two punch of Snell and Hyun-Jin Ryu would make Toronto's staff that much more formidable in a division where you can't have enough pitching.
It would probably take a lot more than just one catcher to convince the Rays to deal Snell to a division rival - the Blue Jays are probably looking at an "AL East tax" of sorts - but it's the right time for the burgeoning birds to take the risk. Toronto has made no secret about thinking big this winter, and trading for Snell would send a strong message to free agents considering the Jays.