Inside Blake Snell’s free-agent odyssey to San Francisco: ‘This is where I belong’

Blake Snell figured he’d sign sometime in January. Then the calendar flipped to February. Then March. 

Still unsigned, the two-time Cy Young Award winner was more perplexed about what teams were thinking than he was bitter; more incredulous than he was upset. 

At a time when he could’ve been mentally drained by the uncertainty, worn down by the stress or disillusioned by a free-agent process that hadn’t gone the way anyone envisioned, he found his outlet coaching kids. His experience starting the Zilla National 12U travel ball team in his native Seattle gave him perspective and made him appreciate the game even more, but it didn’t remove the confusion in a winter in which most contenders were sitting out of the top end of the market, leaving a number of top free agents still looking for work as teams reported to camp. 

“The whole goal is to win,” Snell told FOX Sports last week. “I feel like I’m a really good pitcher, and there was not a lot of attention until, like, two weeks into spring. I’m like, ‘It just doesn’t make sense. What are we doing?’ I didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to be on a team.’ I never felt that. I was like, ‘I’ll go where I’m meant to be. My worth is my worth, and I’m sticking to that.’ I’m big on, if you earn it, you deserve it. If you don’t get it, keep working.” 

Eventually, just 10 days before Opening Day, he found his match in San Francisco.

Snell will make his 2024 debut Monday night versus the Nationals in the Giants’ 11th game of the season, in what could be the start of yet another contract year for the 31-year-old southpaw, after he agreed to a two-year, $62 million deal with an opt-out after this season. 

The average annual value of the contract places him among the elite pitchers in the game, though the length of the deal wasn’t commensurate with most prognostications. Snell, who said he wasn’t going to sign until he got what he was worth, is at peace with his decision. 

“This is where I’m supposed to be,” he told FOX Sports. 

Snell isn’t sure if another standout season like last year’s, when he led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, will ultimately yield the long-term, six-figure deal many expected the Scott Boras client to get this winter. But he harbors no resentment about how everything played out and feels grateful to have ended up where he did.

Ultimately, the Giants checked all the boxes. 

“There’s no bitterness, nothing,” Snell continued. “I’m happy, and I don’t mind proving myself.” 

While staying on the West Coast wasn’t necessarily a prerequisite — Snell said he was open to anything — he liked that San Francisco was close to home. And, after all the offseason additions, the Giants gave him a chance to win. 

The rotation will include both the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Snell and the runner-up in Logan Webb. While Snell didn’t know Webb well when he signed, the two always respected each other. Webb’s comments after they faced off late last season — he called Snell the best pitcher in baseball last year — went a long way with Snell, as did the Giants’ interest in him from the start of free agency. 

“If someone’s going to show love and be constant about it, it’s hard to ignore that,” Snell said. “You’ve got to be appreciative of someone that wants you to be a part of this.” 

Relationships, Snell said, are everything. 

That’s why the presence of Alex Cobb, a veteran pitcher who had a significant influence on him when the two were teammates in Tampa Bay, and Bob Melvin, the skipper he played for last year in San Diego, also played a significant role in Snell’s choice. His comfort and trust in Melvin was especially important in a peculiar spring. 

From home, Snell did everything he would normally would to prepare for a season, but doing so without the adrenaline of ramping up against professional hitters in camp was admittedly different. He trusted that Melvin would afford him the time needed to build up properly. 

After pitching against Giants Double-A players, there was a thought that Snell might be ready to debut last Wednesday against the Dodgers, just two weeks after joining the team. Snell understood why fans wanted him to start as soon as possible, but he had to be honest with himself. 

If he wanted to make a good first impression, he knew he needed reps against big-league hitters to feel comfortable starting major-league games. 

“He was facing high school hitters before he got here,” Melvin said. “It’s really, really tough to kind of simulate what you have to do in a big-league game when those are the types of outings to get you ready.” 

So, instead of facing the Dodgers, Snell used last Wednesday at Dodger Stadium to throw a simulated game against Giants teammates. 

Seeing swings from Austin Slater, who was always a tough at-bat against him, and Mike Yastrzemski, who gave him a lefty look, provided better feedback about where he was at. His curveball, which opponents hit .079 against with 109 strikeouts last year, was where he wanted. But he was pushing his changeup on occasion and getting around his slider to where the spin was obvious early out of his hand. 

The controlled environment allowed him to correct the issues, see the life on his pitches, get his fastball where it needed to be and build up to a more normal workload as he prepares, finally, to put the long winter behind him and get back to doing what he loves most — aside from coaching kids.

“Where I’m at right now, I’m so happy, thankful,” Snell reiterated. “No bitterness toward any teams. Nothing. This is where I belong.”

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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