SEATTLE: Starting pitcher Ian Snell #35 of the Seattle Mariners is removed from the game by manager Don Wakamatsu #22 as catcher Eliezer Alfonzo #41 looks on against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
It looks like it's the end of the road for Ian Snell, and it's a rather appropriate end, given the course of his career.
I saw the damnedest thing on Twitter on Wednesday. That sentence is an exaggeration - I've seen more ... damned ... things on Twitter before, and I've seen only a negligible fraction of all tweets. But of all the tweets I saw on Wednesday at least, there was one in particular that stood out from the rest, and it had nothing to do with the season-opening game in Japan:
The Dodgers also released RHP Ian Snell.— Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) March 28, 2012
Goldstein was just running down a list of notable and somewhat notable minor-league transactions. In the middle of them, boom, Ian Snell, out of nowhere. I saw that tweet and I thought, yeah, that sounds about right.
There's a Pittsburgh Pirates angle to take here, especially given this other tweet from Goldstein around the same time:
The Padres also released RHP John Van Benschoten, the 8th overall pick in 2001 (Pirates). Career destroyed by arm injuries.— Kevin Goldstein (@Kevin_Goldstein) March 28, 2012
Throw in the fact that Zach Duke was just recently cut by the Houston Astros and you have the makings of a grim Pirates pitching retrospective. That might be worth pursuing, but that's not what I'm doing here.
Rather, I just think that this is a perfectly fitting end for Ian Snell. And I do strongly believe that this is the end. I don't see anybody else wanting to take the chance, and I don't see Ian Snell wanting to take the chance. To explain what I mean, we have to review.
You know the name Ian Snell, and you know it because, once upon a time, Ian Snell was pretty good. A 26th-round draft pick in 2000, Snell climbed the ladder and broke through in 2006. As a 24-year-old righty with a lively fastball, he made 32 starts and struck out nearly a batter an inning. The next year, Snell made another 32 starts, and while his strikeouts were down a little bit, so were his walks, and so were his homers. Snell had established himself as a rotation fixture, or so everyone figured.
He didn't, and 2008 was bad. Snell's ERA ballooned. Then 2009 was somehow even worse, and that's when things got strange. Snell was demoted to triple-A, but he was demoted by his own request, citing too much negativity in the majors:
Why seek a demotion?
"Too much negativity. I want to be a positive person if I'm going to be here. I felt like I was going to be negative if I was going to be here, and I didn't want to ruin this team. I wasn't going to allow them to say what they want. I told them I wanted to go down."
Upon joining Indianapolis, Snell proceeded to dominate. Not for long, but the numbers don't lie:
In his first start at the level, he struck out 17 batters. Snell looked to be comfortable, and he made himself appealing again.
He wound up getting traded to the Seattle Mariners, as the Pirates understandably weren't wild about the prospect of bringing Snell back, and Snell probably wasn't wild about the prospect of re-joining the Pirates. The Mariners thought that Snell might have turned the corner in the minors. They put him in the rotation, and he was awful. He issued more walks than he generated strikeouts. He did not have command, of his pitches, or anything.
Somewhere before the trade, it became pretty common knowledge that Snell was an odd duck, dealing with anxiety and depression. Those are very serious issues, but Snell never seemed to take the initiative to try to conquer them. In Pittsburgh, he blamed other people for his problems. In Seattle, he blamed other people for his problems. His 2010 started in the majors, but it took him to the minors. Snell was bad there, too. The Mariners let him become a free agent, three years removed from having major-league success.
Now I'll let Baseball-Reference tell the next part of the story:
October 8, 2010: Granted Free Agency.
January 14, 2011: Signed as a Free Agent with the St. Louis Cardinals.
April 11, 2011: Released by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals decided to give Snell a look. Midway through spring training, they re-assigned him to minor-league camp, and Snell elected to retire. A few weeks later, he unretired. The Cardinals released him. Towards the end of May, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave him a contract and sent him to Albuquerque. Observe Ian Snell in triple-A Albuquerque:
He literally allowed a home run every other inning. After a short time, he was suspended for the rest of the season for breaking team rules. Details are mysterious. I've seen speculation that Snell just didn't come back in the second half. It's irresponsible of me to pass that speculation along, but then I don't have any better ideas.
And this all brings us back to Kevin Goldstein's tweet on Wednesday. Goldstein tweeted that the Dodgers released Ian Snell, and the typical response was "I didn't know the Dodgers had Ian Snell." I don't have any inside knowledge, but given that Snell retired a year ago and has only seen his situation get worse, I wouldn't be surprised if he retired again, more permanently. He's 30, and I don't know who would still find him interesting in a way you want to see more of.
I think this is the end, and I think it's absolutely fitting that Ian Snell is ending like this. It's the proper conclusion for the career that he built and couldn't develop. Used to be that Ian Snell was a something. Then he very steadily descended the career staircase that's led him to the present day. In 2007, Snell was one of the better young starters in the National League. In 2012, Snell was never mentioned until he got released. People didn't know he was even still around.
When things went wrong, Snell didn't know how to deal with the pressure. There's no pressure where he's going. I guess in a way, Ian Snell has gotten what he wanted.