The Mariners struggle to bring in free agents. It has long been that way, and the problem has been amplified since Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais took over their respective positions in 2016.
There are a number of reasons for this: Seattle is isolated in the Pacific Northwest, the Mariners face the most grueling travel schedule in the league year in and year out, the team’s lack of on-field success, the reputation of the franchise. One could go on.
For hitters, the vastly unfriendly confines of T-Mobile Park also play a role (hence why the largest contract the Mariners have given to a free agent bat in the Dipoto era is a one-year, $7 million deal for AJ Pollock last winter).
But today’s topic is not about a bat. It regards a pitcher, a position that Seattle’s home stadium actually helps. And he’s a pitcher who openly wants to be in Seattle.
Blake Snell, a now-free agent who grew up in Shoreline, WA, has never been shy about expressing his affinity for his hometown over his eight-year big league career. In the offseason, you can find him rooting for the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Huskies, often taking his emotions over to Twitter (now known as X).
In this particular offseason, however, Snell has verbally taken that aforementioned hometown affection over to the diamond. While the reigning NL Cy Young winner will have no shortage of suitors for his services, he appears to have his eyes set on Seattle.
In fact, it is about as open as we have seen a free agent talk about playing for one specific team. Snell has left a trail of breadcrumbs that are impossible to miss.
It first started at the Seahawks game on Thanksgiving night when he raised the 12s flag before kickoff. As he did so, broadcaster Mike Tirico leaked some free agency information to the whole world:
That was no mistake. Tirico is not uttering those words to millions sitting at home unless that was confirmed by Snell himself or someone in his camp.
Then, two days later at the Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State, Snell sounded the pregame siren. And later, when some fans called out to him during the game, he had quite the interesting response:
Snell clearly wants this badly. The question becomes: Will the Mariners fork up the money he is asking for? And do they even have interest in him?
The Mariners reportedly have a measly $20 million budget for roster acquisitions this offseason after Xfinity, the main TV provider in the Pacific Northwest, moved the team’s regional ROOT Sports to its premium package. This will subsequently cost them viewership with some members unwilling or uninterested to pay the extra $20 a month for the premium package, and therefore will lose the team some revenue.
Whether they really only have roughly $20 million to spend this winter is unknown, and truthfully, it’s very unlikely, yet it is what they have claimed. That said, the Mariners are an extremely profitable team on several fronts.
The other piece of this puzzle is if the Mariners believe Snell fits their mold of a starting pitcher. Seattle has a team motto titled “Dominate the Zone”. Considering that they had two of the top five starters in the league in BB/9 in 2023 (George Kirby who ranked first and Logan Gilbert who ranked fifth) along with Bryce Miller, who did not toss enough innings to qualify for the league leaderboards but would have ranked sixth with 1.78 BB/9, the motto is backed up by on-field performance.
Snell, meanwhile, allowed the most walks in baseball in 2023. He averaged nearly five BB/9. He has issues pitching deep in games, working over six innings just three times all year. His career WHIP is over 1.20. That doesn’t exactly meet eye-to-eye with the team’s pitching philosophies.
But there are plenty of areas in which Snell thrives. The southpaw is a strikeout machine, and this past season just racked up 234. He also does not get hit hard (88th percentile in xBA and 83rd percentile in HardHit% per Baseball Savant) and does not allow many hits, period. He surrendered the lowest hits per nine in the majors in 2023 at 5.8.
And his curveball is absolutely ridiculous. Opposing bats hit .079 against the offering during his second Cy Young campaign. He posted a Run Value of a whopping 22 with his curve.
Ultimately, the Mariners should absolutely be in on signing Snell. And inking him to a deal would do a number of things.
First off, it makes the team objectively better while striking yet another level of fear into the eyes of their opponents. By midseason, when Robbie Ray is expected to return, the Mariners’ five starters could be Luis Castillo, Kirby, Snell, Gilbert and Ray. Talk about the opposition being put through the wringer.
And in that scenario, the Mariners don’t even need Snell to be the ace. He just has to be the No. 3 starter behind Castillo and Kirby.
It would also give Seattle the necessary depth to trade some arms for impact bats. That potential starting five leaves out both Miller and Bryan Woo, a pair of starters who were both wildly impressive at many points during each of their rookie seasons. If Dipoto cannot sign any marquee free agent bats, or does not see any of them as a fit, he can go out and make a trade to acquire the position players he is in search of.
Because as things currently sit, the Mariners need answers at third base, DH and two outfield spots. Miller and Woo certainly possess the value to bring back some true impact bats for the lineup.
The Mariners, once rumored to be in the mix, did not land the white whale in Shohei Ohtani. But there are certainly important pieces still available this winter that the team can acquire to build a roster capable of getting them back into the postseason. They can jump-start that process by meeting Snell’s requests and bringing the hometown kid back onto his own soil.