The 2024 season begins in 10 days. Snell, Montgomery are still free agents

What are we even doing here?

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The reigning NL Cy Young award winner, Blake Snell, is still a free agent. The midseason trade pickup that helped propel the Rangers to their first-ever World Series championship, Jordan Montgomery, is also still a free agent. The 2024 Major League Baseball season kicks off on March 28, 10 days from this writing, and yet, the preceding two sentences can exist.

Some hesitation regarding Snell’s future is understandable, given that yes, he did win the Cy Young, but he also did this by allowing the fewest hits per nine of any NL starter — which isn’t exactly something you can bet on repeating to that degree — and his 180 innings is the most he’s thrown since 2018, when he managed two-thirds of a frame more than that en route to his first Cy Young award. It’s not that 180 innings is terrible in this day and age when starters aren’t allowed to pitch deep into games, it’s that Snell’s low inning totals come from a combination of high pitch counts and injuries. He made 32 starts in 2023, and threw at least 100 pitches in 18 of those, so it’s not like he was getting constantly pulled early in his day.

This isn’t meant to say that the league is correct for staying away from Snell, it’s more that it’s just a little understandable that no one would want to pay him like a third Cy Young was imminent: in between those two Cy Young campaigns came four seasons where he averaged 103 innings per year and posted a pedestrian 104 ERA+ while allowing quite a few more dingers than usual as well. But when you combine that hesitancy with a general distaste for paying anyone besides the top stars, well, that’s how it gets to be post-St. Patrick’s Day, and there are reports that teams like the Astros have “balked” at Snell’s asking price, even though it’s now at the point where it’s kind of silly to not jump on it.

Reportedly, Snell isn’t looking for some long-term deal: at this point, a short-term, high-average annual value contract with an opt-out that lets him re-enter the market is the ask. The Astros don’t want to exceed the luxury tax threshold by signing Snell, so they’ll be worse on purpose even though a killer season from him would be a boon to their rotation that they’d only have to pay for the one year. The Giants could use Snell given their offseason of whiffing on target after target, but the word is that they’re still waiting for the price to drop further, too. Yes, $30 million per year is a lot of money, but $30 million per year for just two years — and maybe just one, if Snell is anywhere near as good in 2024 as he was in 2023 — isn’t a significant commitment for a multi-time Cy Young award recipient, even if you don’t believe another year like it is coming right away: PECOTA still has him being worth about three wins with a 3.44 ERA and over 150 innings, which, the Astros could use that, and so could the Giants. And what the hell are the Orioles doing, given they need upgrades in the rotation and wouldn’t be forced to commit to a pitcher of Snell’s ability over a long-term deal?

As for Montgomery, he threw just under 189 innings in 2023 between the Cardinals and Rangers, and posted a 138 ERA+ in the process. That’s by far his best work, and understandably, he was reportedly looking for a major contract coming off of it. It’s unclear if he’s still looking for the kind of Aaron Nola and Carlos Rodón-esque contract that was rumored earlier this year, but chances are good that, like with Snell, this Scott Boras client has switched to a high-AAV, low years ask. He’s projected to be a comfortably above-average starter, with higher percentile projections suggesting he could replicate his 2023 season; if he were able to do that, then it might be an easier solve in getting that long-term deal next winter. Still, plenty of teams need pitching, and yet, Montgomery mostly seems to have his name bandied about in rumors without nothing then coming of any of them.

My general take is that you can “blame” Boras for wanting to get the best deals he can for his clients, and with how teams that aren’t the Dodgers are seemingly refusing to pay for most players this offseason unless they get a widely accepted steal on the contract, of course none of his guys are going to hit their initial asking prices, or close. Blame is in quotes there, though, because he’s just doing his job: giving in because you know the other side is going to keep the staring contest going doesn’t help now nor in the future, when they believe you’ll merely blink again. If anything, his side is being reasonable in trying to get something done that would appeal this late in the game while still giving his players a chance to get their big payday a year from now, but — weird! — teams are still complaining about the pricing. Whose fault is all of this, again?

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