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.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

24 Responses to “Snell Needs A New Home”

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  1. BlackOps says:

    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.

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  2. mike says:

    I’m not a Pirates fan, but I’m curious about your treatment of Huntington lately (McClouth trade), especially coming from you, Dave, who has historically advocated most personell decisions by the Indians (and have called the Tribe one of the smartest organizations in the game), the club from which Huntington was poached. I think you should give Huntington the benefit of the doubt. No venom here; just curious, that’s all.

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  3. Tom Au says:

    The Pirates did the same last year, with Jose Bautista, who is now a “star” on the Toronto Blue Jays, with a .385 OBP, (albeit a .255 batting average). But pitch selection was his strength, which Toronto realized, and Pittsburgh didn’t.

    Worse, the Pirates traded Jason Bay for a Bautista replacement in Andy LaRoche and his own replacement in Brandon Moss.

    Bay and Bautista for LaRoche and Moss. Not a good deal. No wonder the Pirates keep losing.

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    • Torgen says:

      The Pirates did get Robinzon Diaz for Bautista, and he hasn’t been terrible by catcher standards, and with Doumit being so fragile I can’t blame them from wanting catching depth. I don’t think any Jays fan thought the Jays won that trade at the time, with many hoping the team would drop him after spring training for a month’s salary and spend the remaining $2M on one of the many cheap free agents–it would have been just like Reed Johnson, only correct this time. Anyways, if the Jays keep Bautista from facing RHP then maybe he’ll have an okay line for the rest of the year. The thing I don’t understand is why RHP have walked Bautista even once, let alone the 17 times they actually have this year. He’s slugging under .300 against RHP. He has shown no ability to punish RHP for missing in the strike zone, and they keep nibbling. They’re bound to figure it out sooner or later.

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    • Philip says:

      Bautista a star??!! Hilarious!! Bautista has only 123 at-bats and thats because he’d be exposed worse then he already has been this year if he played everyday. A .757 OPS is not a star player. Its basically an average offensive player. And not even worth looking into for a basically a ‘bench guy’, which Bautista is. The guy is also a trainwreck defensively, but thats another story. I’d take an everyday player above-average defensive 3rd baseman in Laroche over a bench player, below average defensive-has no business with a glove in his hand- player in Jose Bautista.

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      • joser says:

        You did see the quotes around “star” in that post, right? I realize it’s a subtlety, but you should reflect on what Mr Au was trying to say there.

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  4. David says:

    Snell appears to need “a chip on his shoulder” to pitch well. The Pirates know that the talent is there and are frustrated with his inconsistency the past two seasons. Yes, the comments from the GM look bad but my take is that this is their way of trying to motivate him.

    Is there any word about the Toledo team he was pitching to? Gorzelanny struck out 12 in 5 innings the day before. Sounds like a lot of free swingers in Detroit’s system.

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  5. Robert Dwyer says:

    Snell’s FIP in ’06, ’08, and ’09: 4.58, 4.57, 4.56.

    Other than his 4.01 FIP performance in ’07, this seems like it’s just what he is, no?

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    • Nick says:

      A 4.5 FIP isn’t bad, is about average.

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      • Robert Dwyer says:

        I agree…but why all the fuss of a player with one good year and amazingly consistent performances in the others?

        Instead of suggesting that he needs to get back on track, maybe this is his track!

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  6. David says:

    Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette delves into a lot of Snell questions in his weekly chat here:

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  7. Brian says:


    On the Toledo team that Snell faced (from ESPN’s Tristan Cockcroft in “Out of the Box”):

    • If Ian Snell’s demotion to Triple-A Indianapolis was meant to serve as a wake-up call for the 27-year-old right-hander, well, call received. He struck out 13 consecutive hitters, and a minor league season-high 17 overall, in his seven innings of work in his first start for Indianapolis. Snell’s opponent, Toledo, featured five hitters with big-league experience, but Toledo also leads the International League in strikeouts with 700, almost 100 more than any major league team has. In other words, Snell capitalized on the favorable matchup, but even more than you should have expected. Expect him back with the Pirates soon.

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  8. swyck says:

    Um, doesn’t last year count? This post is making it sound like he’s getting a raw deal, he’s stunk out the joint for two years now. At some point “luck” needs to turn into productivity. And yeah his FIP is higher then his ERA, but it’s not exactly stellar either.

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  9. CJ says:

    I have always liked Snell’s potential. I have seen him pitch a couple of times this year and his stuff was good. Sometimes it seemed like he did more nibbling that he really needs to do with his stuff. His biggest problem seemed to be constantly getting into deep counts and difficulty finishing hitters off. That is a pretty familiar problem for many young pitchers. I tend to agree with the author that Snell could turn out to be a good “find” in a change of scenery deal. Unless Huntington’s remarks were intended as motivational (as some have suggested), they seem counter-productive for getting good trade value from Snell.

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  10. David says:

    Yes Pittsburgh, the policy of trading your young stars the second they struggle (Aramis Ramirez anyone) that has worked out so well in the past should be continued. The only question is how many 26 year olds in A-ball the Pirates will make the Cubs give them in exchange for Snell.

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  11. Paul says:

    Trading Aramis Ramirez when he started to struggle? Wow, that’s revisionist history. Actually, the Pirates GM, Dave Littlefield, was forced by ownership, Kevin McClatchy, to reduce payroll due to financial difficulties (debt to equity ratio).

    He preferred to unload Kris Benson, but he got hurt.

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  12. Philip says:

    I follow the Bucs on a regular basis living here in the ‘Burgh and Snell is a complete headcase. This guy throws everyone under the bus, dumps it with gasoline, and then sets it on fire. In hindsight, this contract signing by Huntington does look like a bust. However, this Dave Cameron seems to worship at the ESPN and Baseball Tonight shrine, because ignorantly placing this management team as just “the same old Pirates management” is right along the lines of the equally ignorant national media.

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  13. Steve C says:

    Snell for Matsuzaka

    Can’t really hurt either team right?

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  14. JH says:

    Paging Dave Duncan…perhaps this can be Duncan’s next “reclamation” project. The Pineiro smoke/mirrors act has to end at some point and Todd Wellemeyer has returned to pumpkin status with a now sustainable (and career average) strand rate and the inability to get the ball over the plate in 3-ball counts.

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  15. dtoddwin says:

    Dave, way to negative on Pirates management. In your second sentence you not that Snell was optioned to Triple A at his request. Later you go on to question why he was “banished.” Uhhh, let’s see…..he requested it!!

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  16. micahjr says:

    When Dave says “banished” he isn’t talking about the move down to AAA, he is talking about the subject in the previous paragraph: managements comments that the contract was a mistake and they may try to salvage it by trading him. Trade would be banishment from Pittsburgh. Try reading something between the second sentence and the last sentence of the 3rd paragraph.

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  17. Dave Davidson fan says:

    Yeah, Snell sure does need a new home. What’s the Mariners AAA affiliate again?

    How about Cedeno’s jimmy-jacks? The one he hit last night was not only almost over the river, but it almost hit the US Steel building. I wouldn’t mind if he turned into the shortstop version of Garrett Freaken Jones for the Bucs.

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