AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell signs $50 million deal with Tampa Bay

The Rays ace sold his first year of potential free agency for some financial stability.

Blake Snell Rays
FILE - In this Monday, March 11, 2019, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays' Blake Snell pitches to the Philadelphia Phillies during the second inning of a spring training baseball game in Clearwater, Fla. The Rays bolstered a pitching rotation led by Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File) –AP Photo

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell will go into his first career opening-day start with a lot more financial security than he envisioned just a few days ago.

The 26-year-old left-hander said Thursday he was almost certain he wouldn’t receive the raise he felt he deserved until he hit arbitration next winter until he and the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to a $50 million, five-year contract that will keep him with the team through 2023.

“I’m excited we got it done. Honestly, surprised,” Snell said, adding that negotiations intensified in the past three or four days.

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The deal covers three seasons of arbitration eligibility plus one year after he could have become a free agent.

It also comes less than two weeks after the Rays renewed Snell’s contract at a salary of $573,700 for the upcoming season. That would have been a raise of just $15,500 from 2018, when he led the major leagues with 21 wins.

The new contract includes a $3 million signing bonus payable within 30 days of the deal’s approval by Major League Baseball and a raise to $1 million for this season. He gets $7 million in 2020, $10.5 million in 2021, $12.5 million in 2022 and $16 million in 2023. His 2023 salary could escalate by up to $2 million based on Cy Young Award voting in the first four years: $1 million for each win, $500,000 for each second-place finish and $250,000 for each third-place finish.

“It’s just a perfect deal for me, a deal I’m very comfortable with,” Snell said, reiterating his strong desire to remain with the Rays,

Tampa Bay launched a youth movement a year ago and still wound up winning 90 games — more than any other team that didn’t make the playoffs.

Rays general manager Erik Neander called Snell the driver of last season’s turnaround and said this demonstrated the club’s commitment to winning for years to come.

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“To say it’s well-deserved is an understatement,” Neander said, adding “while the dollars are big, his achievement is big.”

Snell went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA last year, setting franchise records for wins and ERA. It was the best combination of wins and ERA for an AL pitcher since Rob Guidry won 25 games with a 1.74 ERA for the 1978 New York Yankees.

“I am happy to be here. I want to be here. I don’t want to go anywhere,” Snell said. “I think with the deal I made with them, it’s going to keep me here longer than if I didn’t. … I like the team we’re building, and I want to be here.”

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It was the second long-term deal with a young player announced in as many days by the budget-minded Rays, who were 29th among the 30 teams in attendance last year at 1.15 million.

Rookie infielder and outfielder Brandon Lowe, who made his big league debut last August, agreed to a $24 million, six-year contract on Wednesday. That deal includes club options for 2025 and 2026 with escalators based on MVP voting that could make the agreement worth $49 million over eight seasons.

“I was very happy to see they are investing into the team. … They understand our youth is good and they’re trying to lock it down,” Snell said. “They are just showing they want to win, and they want to win now.”

Snell will make his first opening day start next Thursday against the Houston Astros and Justin Verlander, who finished second in last year’s AL Cy Young balloting. The lefty said the new deal will allow him to relax and just focus on pitching.

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“The goal is still the same for me. I’ve got to get better,” Snell said. “The money is good security, but I’m here to get better, here to be the best.”