Snell Needs A New Home

For a guy with a pretty nondescript track record, Ian Snell sure is making a lot of news lately. Five days ago, the Pirates optioned Snell to Triple-A, at his request, so he could work on getting back to the pitcher he was a couple of years ago. The Pirates organization are clearly fed up with him, and it seems likely that the feeling is mutual. Today, Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington was quoted as calling the contract extension he gave Snell a year ago “a mistake”, and then went out to say that while the contract made sense at the time, “you could argue very easily that we missed on the player.”

He finished the remarkably negative public quotes by talking about “salvaging” the deal, either by trading Snell to someone else or bringing him back to the majors as a relief pitcher. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of his future in Pittsburgh, is it?

Given the comments and the situation, you’d think that Snell had been the worst pitcher in the history of baseball or had physically assaulted a teammate or something. But, no, he’d just struggled a bit with his command and stranding runners, which has led to an ERA (5.36) that’s about a run higher than his FIP (4.56). That’s the kind of performance that gets you banished from Pittsburgh nowadays?

It’s not like Snell can’t pitch anymore, either. Yesterday, in his first start in Triple-A, away from the “negativity” of the situation at the major league level, he threw seven innings, gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out 17 batters. At one point, he blew away 13 Toledo hitters in a row. I know it’s Triple-A, but you can’t rack up 17 strikeouts against professional hitters without some talent.

If the Pirates are tired of Ian Snell’s personality, there should be a pretty decent sized line of teams ready to take him off their hands. The “mistake” contract that Huntington refers to pays Snell $3 million this year, followed by $4.25 million next year, which means that the total obligation to Snell going forward is about $6 million through the end of 2010. The contract then contains two fairly reasonable club options that would be no-brainer pickups if Snell stays healthy and shows a bit of return to his previous form.

In a market where a bunch of contenders are pining for a starting pitcher, Snell would make a really good buy-low option for practically all of them. At worst, he’s a capable #5 starter, and he’s got the talent to be significantly more than that. Maybe it won’t work out for him in Pittsburgh, but this seems like a case of the Pirates flushing an asset for reasons that better management would be able to overcome.

Don’t be surprised if you see Snell pitching well for some other team in the next few weeks.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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14 years ago

It’s really interesting that he struck out 17 in AAA in one game and in the majors this year he had less than 5 strikeouts in 11 of his 15 games. Really makes me wonder what the hell is going on in Pittsburgh.