Snell, Monty, Imanaga: Who signs first? Where will each pitcher land?

January 3rd, 2024

The ball has dropped, the confetti has been cleaned up in Times Square, and now we all must get used to writing a new year on our checks.

(Who am I kidding? Nobody writes checks anymore!)

Welcome to 2024. Spring Training is only a matter of weeks away, yet a number of notable free agents remain unsigned. Available hitters include Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman and Teoscar Hernández, while the top reliever – Josh Hader – is also looking for a new baseball home.

The Dodgers have made headlines this winter with the signings of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, while the Phillies, D-backs, Giants, Reds and Royals have all spent more than $100 million on free agents. Thirteen teams have spent less than $15 million in free agency this winter, including four – the Yankees, Cubs, Marlins and Rockies – that have not spent any money yet (though the Yankees did swing a big trade for Juan Soto).

With January upon us, let’s take an FAQ-style look at the three top starting pitchers left on the board and where they stand.

There are three intriguing left-handed starting pitchers still out there – and Shōta Imanaga. Are there teams in on all three, and if so, who are they?

The markets for the three lefties have not crystalized the way many expected they would once Yamamoto signed with the Dodgers, but it appears that a number of the teams interested in them do indeed overlap.

The Yankees and Angels have been connected to all three, while the Cubs, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox and Giants are believed to have interest in at least two apiece.

That the Yankees, Mets and Giants are among the interested teams should not be a surprise after the three clubs took their best shots at signing Yamamoto. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the three pitchers land with these three teams, though the other aforementioned clubs will certainly have something to say about that.

Which pitcher do you sense has the most robust market in terms of the number of teams seriously pursuing him?

Although Imanaga lacks the track record of either Snell (two Cy Young Awards) or Montgomery (World Series champion), the Japanese lefty might have the most competitive market of the trio.

Why, you ask? For starters, he’s a year younger than both Snell and Montgomery, who each turned 31 last month; Imanaga won’t turn 31 until September, pitching most of the 2024 season at age 30. Perhaps more importantly, Imanaga is expected to land a contract closer to the five-year, $75 million deal that Kodai Senga signed with the Mets a year ago, making him a more affordable option than either of his fellow southpaws.

As we saw with Yamamoto, Major League teams don’t tend to have much hesitation when it comes to signing pitchers from Japan, as most of the high-profile arms that have come to North America from Nippon Professional Baseball have succeeded in the Majors.

Imanaga has a 2.96 ERA in more than 1,100 innings over eight years, including a 2.50 ERA over his past three seasons, with some scouts projecting him as a No. 2-3 starter in the big leagues.

How much does the qualifying offer impact Snell's market (since he's the only one who has one)?

Some clubs are firm in their desire not to sacrifice Draft picks for free agents, so it’s impossible to say the qualifying offer has no impact. That said, most teams willing to spend on a pitcher of Snell’s magnitude are doing so with the idea of competing in the immediate future, so the loss of Draft capital seems unlikely to stand in their way if they believe Snell will help them get to the next level.

“I don’t think guys of that quality tend to get hurt much by the QO,” one executive said. “I don’t think anyone who signs him will care quite as much about the Draft pick since they are clearly trying to win now. The AAV and length of the deal are more of the concern.”

Just last year, both Jacob deGrom and Carlos Rodón were among the players to reject a QO, and they signed free-agent deals worth $185 million and $162 million, respectively.

In what order do you think they will sign?

It feels like an obvious answer, but Imanaga should be the first of this trio to sign – because he’s the only one with a hard deadline to do so. Imanaga’s posting window expires on Jan. 11 at 5 p.m. ET, giving him a little more than a week to sign with a Major League club.

The guess here is that Montgomery is the second to sign, as he is believed to be seeking less money than Snell, who is coming off his second Cy Young campaign.

Can you predict where each guy will ultimately land?

Based on conversations with executives and other industry types, I’m not sure that strong favorites have emerged yet for any of the three. Predicting these things never seems to go well, but if I had to guess right now (which apparently I do), I would say Imanaga signs with the Mets, Montgomery reunites with the Yankees and Snell signs with the Angels … or Giants.