Mariners Missed Giant Opportunity to Sign Top Free Agent Pitcher

The Mariners have been rumored to be in the running for some of the top 2024 free agents. They ended up missing on a GIANT opportunity to make a big signing
Snell Poses with his Cy-Young Award at the 2024 BBWAA Dinner
Snell Poses with his Cy-Young Award at the 2024 BBWAA Dinner / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Shoreline native Blake Snell was practically begging to be a Seattle Mariner. He raised the 12th Man Flag and sounded the siren at Husky Stadium. He reportedly was quoted as saying “Come and get me” in reference to a fan asking him to pitch with the Mariners. NBC’s Mike Tirico told millions of watchers that Blake Snell “wants to pitch for the Mariners.” Not to mention, he spent the entire offseason in Seattle, becoming the head coach of a 12U baseball team, while also working out and keeping in shape.

From an outsider’s perspective, it may have appeared to be the perfect match. The stars were practically aligned for Blake Snell to become a Seattle Mariner. And yet, he just signed a two-year, $62M contract with the San Francisco Giants. If Snell wanted to be a Mariner, why weren’t they able to get a deal done? 

Because the M’s front office had other ideas. With the ongoing Root Sports debacle causing financial uncertainty, the Mariners did not appear to even try to negotiate with the star pitcher, who was essentially pining to join the team all offseason.

Sure, there is a question of how Snell would fit into the team. With Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Byrce Miller, & Bryan Woo making up a solid five starting pitchers, the need for Snell wasn’t huge. But having starting pitching depth is never a bad thing. Bryan Woo has never thrown 100 innings in a season, and could have benefited from spending time in the bullpen. The bottom line is, it’s never a bad idea to sign a star player, even if that means less playing time for younger players. 

And Snell is indeed a star. He has won two Cy-Young awards, one with the Rays in 2018, and another last season with the Padres. Only 22 pitchers in the history of baseball have multiple Cy-Young’s, a testament to Snell’s greatness. He boasts a career ERA of 3.20, which is better than all five of the Mariners starters (George Kirby leads the Mariners in career ERA, at 3.37).

Snell is also extremely reliable; he’s never suffered a major injury, and in the past seven years, he has made 172 starts, while missing just 37. He set a career-high in K’s last season with 234, led the league in ERA, and had a 98% Whiff Rate. Baseball Savant gave him a perfect score of 100 for his pitching run value, making him, for all intents and purposes, the best pitcher last year. 

Snell does have a downside, which is his lack of control. He led the league in walks last year and has struggled with control throughout his entire career. The Mariners, who last year flaunted their motto of “Dominate the Zone,” may have been steered away from Snell based on his high walk rate of 13.3%. Snell, however, is an anomaly, given that he routinely walks a lot of batters, and still doesn’t give up many runs. And it’s not like the Mariners refuse to utilize players with high walk rates.

Last season, Andres Munoz (10.4%) and Matt Brash (9.4%) both ranked among the highest BB% for relief pitchers, and the recently-signed Ryne Stanek also walked batters at a 9.9% clip last year. It’s hard for me to buy that the only reason the Mariners didn’t pursue Blake Snell was due to his lack of control. 

I, like most Mariner fans, understand that this is John Stanton’s decision. The finances do play a factor here, and Stanton once again showed his true colors this offseason of being a cheap owner, unwilling to put any sort of financial risk into his team. The Mariners currently have a payroll of $128M on the books for 2024 (17th in the MLB), just about $1M more than they had on the books a year ago today. Had they signed Snell to the same contract the Giants did, that number would have climbed to $159M, which would still put them outside the top 10 teams in terms of payroll. 

For a team with serious World Series aspirations, a bonafide superstar in Julio Rodriguez, and the 11th-highest attendance in 2023, the Mariners should continue to increase their payroll, but instead, they would prefer to act like a small-market team. And so Snell, who may have even signed for a hometown discount, finds himself in San Francisco, on a short-term, team-friendly deal that the Mariners could have offered, but chose not to. Now, Stanton and the M’s ownership group will hope this doesn’t prove to bite the Mariners down the road. If a starter goes down with a season-ending injury, it will make the unwillingness to sign Snell look even worse. 

The Giants, meanwhile, get a solid pitcher in his prime, and only have to pay him for two seasons. So if Snell struggles, this won't affect the Giants payroll long-term. If Snell succeeds, the Giants could be a real threat to the Dodgers in the NL West this year. They've also added considerably to the offense, with Jung Hoo-Lee, Matt Chapman, and Jorge Soler all signing with San Francisco. Blake Snell will make what was already a good Giants team even better.