Rays, ace left-hander Blake Snell agree on 5-year, $50 million contract

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to terms with 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell on a five-year, $50 million contract. The deal extends through the 2023 season, which would have been his first year of free agency, and could pay him an additional $2 million in incentives. It is the largest contract in major league history awarded to a pitcher before reaching arbitration.

Snell will make his first career Opening Day start on Thursday at Tropicana Field, opposite the Houston Astros and Justin Verlander. Two days later (Saturday, March 30), fans will receive a Blake Snell Cy Zilla Bobblehead, presented by DEX Imaging, while supplies last, and can watch a pregame presentation recognizing Snell for his historic Cy Young campaign. Over the duration of the deal, Snell has elected to make annual donations to the Rays Baseball Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization and the official charity of the Rays.

“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,” said Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg. “We’re looking forward to seeing him take the mound for the Rays for years to come.”

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In 2018, the lefthander became the second pitcher in Rays history to win the award, following David Price in 2012. Snell went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA (180.2-IP, 38-ER) and 221 strikeouts over 31 starts last season, leading the AL outright and setting club records in both wins and ERA. He became the youngest pitcher to win a Cy Young Award since Clayton Kershaw (25) of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, and the youngest in the AL since Félix Hernández (24) of the Seattle Mariners in 2010.

No AL pitcher had matched Snell’s combination of wins and ERA since Ron Guidry (25 wins, 1.74 ERA) of the New York Yankees in 1978. Since the advent of the designated hitter in 1973, Snell was only the third AL pitcher to record at least 20 wins and a sub-2.00 ERA, along with Guidry in 1978 and Roger Clemens (21 wins, 1.93 ERA) of the Boston Red Sox in 1990. Snell’s 1.89 ERA ranked third in the AL in the DH era, behind Guidry in 1978 and Pedro Martínez (1.74) of the Red Sox in 2000—both unanimous Cy Young Award winners.

Finishing the 2018 season at age 25, Snell was the majors’ youngest 21-game winner since Kershaw in 2011 and the AL’s youngest since Barry Zito of the Oakland Athletics in 2002. In the live ball era (since 1920), only three other pitchers age 25 or younger have matched his combination of wins and ERA: Dwight Gooden (24 wins, 1.53 ERA) of the New York Mets in 1985, Vida Blue (24 wins, 1.82 ERA) of the Athletics in 1971 and Hal Newhouser (25 wins, 1.81 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers in 1945.

Twelve of Snell’s 31 starts came against the five AL postseason teams—the Red Sox (4), Yankees (3), Cleveland Indians (2), Astros (2) and Athletics (1). In these 12 starts, he went 9-2 with a 2.00 ERA (72-IP, 16-ER), including eight starts allowing one run or fewer. He made five starts against a former Cy Young Award winner and went 3-0 with a 0.59 ERA (30.2-IP, 2-ER).

Snell went 10-1 in 14 starts at Tropicana Field with a 1.27 ERA (85-IP, 12-ER)—the lowest home ERA by an AL pitcher since Nolan Ryan (1.07) of the California Angels in 1972. He yielded one earned run or fewer in 14 consecutive home starts from September 12, 2017 through August 26, 2018, the longest such streak in the majors since 1913—when earned runs were officially kept in both leagues, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Snell also won the 2018 Warren Spahn Award as the majors’ top left-handed pitcher, based on wins, ERA and strikeouts, joining Price (2010) as Rays to earn the honor. He was selected to his first career AL All-Star Team and was named the AL Pitcher of the Month for both August and September, the youngest pitcher in either league to win back-to-back awards since Johan Santana (July, August, September) of the Minnesota Twins in 2004. He went 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA (26-IP, 3-ER) in five starts in August and 5-0 with a 1.26 ERA (35.2-IP, 5-ER) in six starts in September.

Snell is entering his fourth major league season, all with the Rays. He was selected in the first round (52nd overall) of the 2011 June Draft out of Shorewood (Wash.) High School and was named 2015 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America and USA Today.