Hawpe, then 31, sparked keen interest when he achieved free will in the midst of a pennant race. He eventually signed a minor league contract with the Rays, who at the time were in a hotly contested fight for AL East supremacy with the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays finished with 96 wins and a division crown this season before falling to the ALDS, but their regular season success was not the case for Hawpe. He made his debut with Tampa Bay on September 1 and then hit .179 / .304 / .333 with two homers in 39 at-bat in his uniform.
Hawpe was not part of the Rays’ playoff series, and shortly after his conclusion, he rejected their offer of arbitration in order to revisit the free market. Because he was a Type B free agent in the old MLB system, the Rays were entitled to a compensatory draft choice for losing Hawpe. And they watched him come out when he took the $ 2 million guarantee from San Diego in January 2011. Hawpe didn’t produce as Padre or as a member of the Angels, with whom his career spanned completed in 2013, but the Rays have benefited enormously from his short term with them and should continue to benefit from it in the long term.
Essentially, the Rays traded a month of Hawpe – which cost them very little money – for the project’s 52nd selection. The Rays used this choice on a lefty from Washington State High School Blake snell. The year Tampa Bay recruited him, Baseball America wrote in his scout report: “Because of his signing ability, speed and performance in front of cross checkers, Snell could be as high as the first extra round, although on pure talent he would probably go a few rounds later. “
The bet worked for the Rays, with whom Snell has sometimes been elite since his first season in 2016. He then spun 89 innings of 3.54 ERA, and although Snell struggled enough the following season to win a short term demotion to minors, he returned to the MLB to finish with a decent ERA 4.04 in 129 1/3 images. But it was in 2018 that Snell really took off; partly due to a speed jump, he pitched at an ERA of 1.89 with 11.01 K / 9 and 3.19 BB / 9 over 180 2/3 innings en route to AL Cy Young honors.
With disturbing injuries, Snell was unable to reign at the top of the AL last year when his ERA climbed to 4.29 in 107 innings. However, that doesn’t mean it fell completely off the map. You’d be hard pressed to find a team that would not register for the 3.32 FIP and 12.36 K / 9 versus the 3.36 BB / 9 it posted last season.
The Rays have already extended Snell on a $ 50 million warranty contract over five years before the previous campaign, keeping a high-end starter under control until 2023. To think it all started with the minor addition of Hawpe a decade ago. Not bad.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.