What is a Cy Young award worth? To the Tampa Bay Rays, only a $15,500 raise, apparently.
On Sunday, the Rays officially renewed the contract of ace and reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell unilaterally. They will pay him $573,700 this coming season, not much above his $558,200 salary from a year ago. The minimum salary increased $10,000 to $555,000 this year, so Snell's $15,500 raise is effectively $5,500.
"It's disappointing. You want fair. But at the same time they don't have to do it, so I understand the business side of it.," Snell said to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times recently. Snell also released a statement Sunday through his agents:
"The Rays have the right under the collective bargaining agreement to renew me at or near the league-minimum salary. They also have the ability to more adequately compensate me, as other organizations have done with players who have similar achievements to mine. The Rays chose the former. I will have no further comment and look forward to competing with my teammates and field staff in our quest to win the World Series in 2019.''
Topkin notes the Rays did drop their usual $5,000 renewal penalty for Snell, which I guess is better than nothing. Otherwise he would've been looking at a $10,500 raise in an offseason in which the league minimum rose $10,000.
Snell has two years and 72 days of service time (commonly written as 2.072), meaning he is not yet eligible for arbitration. Teams can essentially pay pre-arbitration-eligible players whatever they want, as long as it is no less than the league minimum and no less than 80 percent of their previous year's salary. The Rays didn't do anything against the rules here.
Most clubs have a sliding salary scale for pre-arbitration players based on service time, with escalators for awards finishes and things like that. They usually negotiate a salary with pre-arbitration players to maintain a good working relationship, though there are times the two sides can't agree to terms, and the team unilaterally renews the player's contract at a salary of their choosing.
Prior to Snell, the last pitcher to win a Cy Young in his pre-arbitration years was Tim Lincecum back in 2008. He won the Cy Young and received a $245,000 raise after the season. Kris Bryant received a $398,000 raise the year after winning MVP during his pre-arbitration years. Win an award and receive a significant raise. That's usually how it works. Not in Snell's case though.
Keep in mind pre-arbitration and arbitration raises are based on the player's salary in the previous year, so Snell's small raise this year will carry over into future years. This move will add up through his years of control and result in smaller than expected raises, assuming Snell goes year-to-year rather than sign a long-term at some point. This isn't a one-time salary hit.
Even though the Rays were within their rights to renew Snell at something near the league minimum, it's difficult to look at the move as anything but the team being incredibly cheap. They're slated to go into next season with a $51.7 million payroll, the smallest in baseball, and they won't even give the reigning Cy Young winner a raise commensurate with the accomplishment.