clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Should the Yankees sign Blake Snell? Breaking down the pros and cons

As rumors swirl about the star lefty’s interest in heading to New York, let’s take a look at the arguments for and against the move.

Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at Oracle Park on September 25, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With Yoshinobu Yamamoto off to L.A., several spurned suitors are left scrambling to find rotation upgrades on a suddenly thinning starting pitching market. No suitor is scrambling harder than the New York Yankees, the team Yamamoto reportedly spurned to go to L.A.: The pressure is on Brian Cashman and Co. to get back to the playoffs (at a minimum) after a dreadfully disappointing 2023 season, and it’s hard to see how that happens without a significant talent infusion behind the stalwart Gerrit Cole.

If the Yankees are hoping to make one more splash before spring training, options are dwindling. But as luck would have it, there just so happens to be a reigning Cy Young winner still available — and he appears to be very interested in donning the pinstripes. Per SNY’s Andy Martino, former Padres star Blake Snell has privately expressed an interest in playing for the Yankees:

Granted, there’s a chance this is all just posturing: Snell is represented by one Scott Boras, and it would be a very Boras move to float interest from the Yankees in order to gin up a more competitive market for his biggest remaining client. Still, New York is all but a lock to add at least one significant arm at some point between now and spring training, and Snell is one of only a few remaining options — it’s not hard to see momentum for a deal picking up steam pretty quickly.

But that begs the question: Is signing Snell actually a good idea for the Bombers? There isn’t a more polarizing player available this offseason, a two-time Cy Young winner who nonetheless has seemed to have a somewhat difficult time building a market for his services so far. There are compelling options for and against bringing Snell to New York, so let’s break it all down.

Why the Yankees should sign Blake Snell

A ton of upside

The No. 1 argument in favor of Snell is simple: When he’s at the top of his game, there are few pitchers better in the entire sport. The lefty led the Majors in ERA last season, combining an elite ability to miss bats (98th percentile in whiff rate) with an elite ability to avoid hard contact (83rd in hard-hit rate). The arsenal is downright electric, with a mid-90s fastball and three different offspeed pitches (curveball, slider, changeup) with a whiff rate above 45%.

You may have heard some concerns about Snell’s lack of command, and yes, he also led the Majors in walks in 2023. But that should be read less as wildness and more as a conscious choice — Snell steadfastly refuses to miss over the middle of the plate, which consequently makes him awfully hard to square up. He’d much rather allow a walk than an extra-base hit, confident that his stuff is so good that opponents will have a hard time cashing in the runners he puts on base. And again, when he’s on, the results are undeniable: Snell allowed more than two runs just seven times in his 32 starts, only four times from May 1 onward. Yes, it comes at the cost of going deep into games, but how many starters go deep into games anymore? This sort of run prevention is very, very hard to come by.

It’s now or never

The Yankees, obviously, would have rather landed Yamamoto. But the Japanese ace went elsewhere, and Cashman can ill afford to sit on hands. New York has one year of Juan Soto before the superstar hits free agency. Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge aren’t getting any younger. The Yankees are about as win-now as a team can get, a fact made clear by Cashman’s decision send a ton of high-Minors pitching out the door to land Soto and Alex Verdugo earlier this winter. The goal is to maximize this group’s window of contention, and the way to do that is to find as much starting pitching as possible. Speaking of which ...

A lack of other impact options

The Yankees aren’t going anywhere unless they substantially upgrade their rotation, and how many paths are remain to doing so right now? The other three free-agent starters of note are Jordan Montgomery, Marcus Stroman and Shota Imanaga. But Montgomery is reportedly leaning toward a return to the Texas Rangers, while Stroman has very little interest in coming to the Bronx. That just leaves Imanaga, and while the Japanese lefty is certainly intriguing, he comes with plenty of question marks — namely, will his lack of a true third pitch limit his ability to turn a lineup over multiple times, and will his stuff play as well in the States as it has in Japan? Maybe the answer is yes, but that’s a real risk, one that will apparently come with a pretty hefty price tag. Imanaga is about as old as Snell is; wouldn’t you rather pay a little more to grab the guy you know for sure can produce at an elite level in the Majors?

Of course, there’s also the trade market, but after acquiring Soto, it’s unclear whether the Yankees have the goods to land someone like Shane Bieber, Corbin Burnes or Dylan Cease. If New York wants to add a significant pitcher, Snell probably makes the most sense.

Why the Yankees shouldn’t sign Blake Snell

His age

Snell just turned 31 in December, meaning that a six- or seven-year deal would take him well into his mid-30s. That’s a very real concern, especially considering how reliant he is on raw stuff to be effective; if his pitches lose a half-grade or so as he ages, what are the chances that he’ll be able to adjust to an inability to produce so many swings and misses? Paying pitchers are Snell’s age is a risky proposition to begin with, one that very frequently doesn’t work out well — the likes of Cole and Max Scherzer are outliers here. And that’s not even getting into the fact that Snell’s track record is already a bit spottier than you’d like.

His inconsistency

The two Cy Young Awards are the headliner on Snell’s resume, and understandably so. But they’re also far and away his two high points — the only two seasons in which the lefty has managed to even clear 130 innings. In the four seasons between the Cy Young campaigns, he pitched to a 3.85 ERA while averaging just 103 innings per season. That’s closer to a No. than it is to the ace production you’d expect from a player making the kind of money Snell’s likely to demand this offseason, and the fact is that the style that makes Snell so effective also makes him prone to some blowups. When you hand out as many walks and put as many runners on base as Snell does, you’re walking a tightrope — sometimes you make it to the other side unscathed, and sometimes you fall. It’s hard to know exactly which Snell season you’re going to get, and that’s a hard thing to stomach for a Yankees team that would be counting on the lefty to be the missing piece in their rotation.

Durability concerns in a rotation full of them

And speaking of the Yankees rotation: This is already a group long on talent but short on certainty. Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes Jr. have plenty of potential; they also have plenty of downside risk, in terms of both injury and ineffectiveness. What New York needs most isn’t a high ceiling — it’s the sort of sturdiness embodied by a guy like Montgomery, someone who you can feel confident will take the ball every fifth day, chew up quality innings, keep you in the game and allow you to avoid gassing your bullpen. If Snell, Rodon and Cortes are all healthy and throwing the ball as well as they have in the past, this could be among the best rotations in baseball. But it’s just as easy to imagine a scenario in which all three are either hurt or off their game, taxing a New York bullpen that fell apart down the stretch in 2023.