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  • Annie Heilbrunn

Disillusioned with free agency, Blake Snell looks to prove himself again with Giants

On Thursday, as the Giants prepared to open their season against the Padres at Petco Park, Blake Snell was busy reuniting and reminiscing.

He posed for pictures with front office staffers who once delighted in his dinosaur-themed pizza parties and high fives. Big bear hugs were given to coaches and teammates who had seen him through the last three years in San Diego, culminating with the National League Cy Young award in 2023. Fans cheered the pitcher who was always ready with a sideways quip or an unconventional, yet charming, interview.

And then, clad in a black and orange sweatshirt, the 31-year-old left hander walked back to the visitor’s dugout and up the stairs to the opposing clubhouse he now calls home.

It has been a long and winding offseason for Snell.

He is happy to be with the Giants, who signed him to a two-year, $62 million deal about a week before the season began for San Francisco. He is grateful for the interest shown by President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi since he hit free agency.

He is also disheartened by what he deems to be a lack of competitiveness throughout the league and a dampened desire by teams to win.

“It definitely sucks when you've proven yourself and you can't get a long term deal,” said Snell, a two-time Cy Young winner. “I could say other things, but I don't want to throw shade. But yeah, it's just when you've proven yourself, you expect teams to be excited about the opportunity to bring, you know, someone onto their team that has proven experience and has done things in this game that a lot of people haven’t.

“[Teams] are making money. So it's like, wouldn't you want to be competitive? Like, two-time Cy Young, wouldn't you want that guy on your team? It wasn't competitive until the very end. And for me, as someone that loves baseball, I was disappointed.”

It was a quiet and often puzzling free agent market this offseason, particularly for veteran players, some of whom took minor league deals or remained unsigned through much of spring training. Outfielder Tommy Pham, who started every game for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series, is still without a team. So is first baseman Brandon Belt, who posted a .369 on-base percentage and .858 OPS last season over 103 games.

Snell, entering his ninth year in the majors, owns a career 3.20 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He pitched 180 innings in both Cy Young years and more than a hundred in four of the other six, amassing 992.2 total over his major league tenure. He finished his 2023 campaign leading the majors with a 2.25 ERA and also leading the league in walks, resulting in an improbable career year.

His contract with the Giants includes an opt-out after the 2024 season, meaning he’ll have to prove himself … again.

“It’s just like, what do you have to prove?” He said. “Two Cy Youngs is two Cy Youngs. And they'll use innings, yeah, I don't have a lot of innings on my arm, that's good for [the team]. And they'll be like walks, and I'll be like, I won a Cy Young with them. Now what? ‘We need to see more.’ I’ve thrown 1,000 innings in The Show … I know people that have thrown way less that have gotten way more money. So it's like, what are you talking about? Then they're like, the age thing. ... What about the experience? How come I never hear that?

“I don't know. I don't agree with it. But it's not for me to agree with.”

Snell’s first year in San Diego was not his kindest, something he attributes to the discomfort of leaving the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that drafted him and housed the first five years of his major league career. He struggled at times early to find his footing with the Padres, including a few slow starts.

He fell in love with San Diego and considers it a home — along with his hometown near Seattle — and said that at the beginning of the offseason he had hoped to remain with the Padres before learning it wouldn’t be a financial fit for the team, which cut payroll significantly since last year.

"I love pitching in San Diego," Snell said. "I've always said that. At the beginning of the offseason, I wanted to be here the rest of my career.

“I never take for granted how beautiful this place is, and the fans, I've loved them since day one. I've enjoyed pitching for them, pitching in front of them. Now that I'm [with the Giants] I've got to transfer my focus to this team. But yeah, I love San Diego, I love the fans. And they show so much love still. It means a lot.”

The long offseason means Snell is still ramping up his arm. His next appearance on a big league mound is to be determined, though pitching in the first series of the season against the Padres was always out of the question. He realizes that when he does face them — and he ticked off the nicknames of almost the entire starting lineup thinking about it — it will be “weird.” But for now, his eyes are forward, focused on what’s next while putting the offseason in the rearview mirror. 

“You can be bitter about it but it's not going to do anything for you,” Snell said. “It's just going to make me a worse player and I don't want to be that. I want to be the best version of myself so I'm gonna invest into this team, love them, be the best me I can be and at the end of the year we'll figure out what happens.

“I’ll go prove myself again,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

-- Annie Heilbrunn




Happy to be reading your features again, Annie! The players clearly respect you and feel comfortable opening up - as Blake did here. Thank you!


T Olivas
T Olivas

Hi Annie! It’s always a pleasure to read your articles about the players. You always humanize them in a way that only you can.


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