With Hader off market, where will top FAs sign?

January 20th, 2024

Another major free-agent domino finally fell on Friday, as Josh Hader agreed to a five-year, $95 million deal with the Astros
With the top relief pitcher now off the market – and Robert Stephenson reportedly agreeing to a three-year deal with the Angels shortly after the Hader news broke – the bullpen market could become very active in the coming days.
“That was the big one,” one National League executive said of Hader. “Things should move quick now because teams aren’t going to want to get left out altogether.”

Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Hector Neris, Jakob Junis and Ryan Brasier are among the best relief arms still available, leaving a number of options for clubs still looking for a bullpen boost.

Even if the relief market begins to thin out this week, there are a number of notable free agents still waiting to find the right deal. Coincidentally – or maybe not? – the top four are all represented by agent Scott Boras, who has never been afraid to take his free agents into February or, in some cases, March and beyond. Boras also reps Rhys Hoskins and J.D. Martinez, among other free agents, so he has a lot to accomplish during the next month.

Here’s where things stand with the top four players remaining on the market:

A number of teams would benefit from the addition of Bellinger, the 2019 NL Most Valuable Player who won Comeback Player of the Year honors last season after posting strong numbers for the Cubs.

The Angels, Giants, Mets and Mariners all make sense as potential landing spots for Bellinger, but none of those clubs appear to be ready and/or willing to pay the asking price, which is believed to be north of $200 million.

The Blue Jays have been considered by many to be a serious contender, and although Toronto re-signed Kevin Kiermaier to play center field, that shouldn’t stop the Jays from pursuing Bellinger, who can also play first base to give Vladimir Guerrero Jr. some days as the designated hitter. As is often the case, the price tag will be the determining factor.

Then there are the Cubs, who must still be viewed as favorites to bring Bellinger back to the North Side. Chicago hasn’t done anything to this point to replace his bat in the lineup, but with few teams making an aggressive push for Bellinger, the Cubs front office has shown great restraint, not wanting to bid against itself to get Bellinger signed.

Ultimately, the widespread belief within the industry is that Bellinger and the Cubs will reunite, but only if/when his asking price comes down.

The Yankees reportedly offered Snell a six-year, $150 million contract, but the reigning NL Cy Young winner turned it down, wanting either a higher average annual value – a deal worth at least $30 million per year – or a longer contract. New York’s offer is the only actual offer that has been extended to Snell, according to a source, though a number of teams have expressed interest in the lefty.

Many believe Snell is seeking a deal worth more than $200 million after winning his second Cy Young Award, a figure that hasn’t been out there to this point in the offseason. It remains to be seen whether the Yankees – who have since added Marcus Stroman to their rotation – will take another crack at Snell, but the Angels and Giants could also get into the mix for the 31-year-old.

The Blue Jays, Mets and Red Sox have also been loosely connected to Snell at different points during the offseason, but none have been willing to meet Snell’s asking price. If that ask comes down, one American League executive predicted that multiple clubs could throw their hat in the ring – which could result in a bidding war that would benefit Snell in the end.

A return to Texas has seemed like the logical move for Montgomery, who helped lead the Rangers to the first World Series title in franchise history last fall. A local barbecue joint located near Globe Life Field has even done its part in trying to lure Montgomery back to Texas, offering the left-hander free BBQ for life if he re-ups with the Rangers.

So why hasn’t it happened? Montgomery could simply be falling victim to a market that – outside of the Dodgers – has seemingly been hesitant to make big deals.

The Rangers make the most sense for Montgomery, who has also been connected to the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Angels and Giants in recent weeks. A reunion between Montgomery and the Yankees appears to be a long shot at this point, though the other clubs could still be in play. That said, a return to Texas remains the most logical and likely conclusion to Montgomery’s free agency.

One thing Montgomery has working in his favor is that, unlike Snell, he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, so any team that signs him will not need to sacrifice Draft picks to do so.

Chapman’s market has been relatively quiet this offseason, though a number of teams have been connected to the third baseman at various points of the winter.

The Giants – who were also mentioned as a serious Bellinger suitor prior to their signing of Jung Hoo Lee – are the team many consider to be the best fit for Chapman, a four-time Gold Glove winner and the 2019 AL Platinum Glove winner.

San Francisco has been relatively active this winner, trading for Robbie Ray and signing Jordan Hicks in addition to signing Lee, but the Giants missed out on Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, leaving them with plenty of payroll flexibility to use for another player such as Chapman or Bellinger.

Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations, is quite familiar with Chapman, who was drafted by the Athletics in the first round in 2014, when Zaidi was part of Oakland’s front office. So is Giants skipper Bob Melvin, who managed Chapman in Oakland from 2017-21.

The Cubs could be a potential landing spot for Chapman, especially if Chicago doesn’t bring back Bellinger. Ditto for the Blue Jays, who currently have Isiah Kiner-Falefa penciled in as their third baseman.