The calendar has flipped to 2024, and with the holiday behind us, expect the Hot Stove to get cranking again soon — with 14 of our top 25 free agents still available and lots of money freed up now that Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto are off the market. So who’s heading where? Each weekday, we’ll be bringing you the latest news, rumors and reports from around MLB. Monday’s edition features plenty of interesting pitching items, from another contender expressing some interest in Blake Snell to the Yankees and Rangers both in search of a bullpen upgrade.
MLB Hot Stove rumors: Monday, Jan. 15
Another contender kicks the tires on Snell
The Yankees appear to have taken themselves out of the running for the reigning NL Cy Young winner, but another AL East contender has entered the chat. The Blue Jays have been “quietly monitoring” the market on Snell, reports USA Today, one of several other clubs who remain in the hunt for the left-hander and are waiting to see whether his price drops between now and spring training. Snell is the clear top pitcher remaining on the market, but there are also reasons to be wary about handing him the megadeal he clearly seeks — and the closer we get to pitchers and catchers reporting, the more teams will be hoping to snag him at a depressed price.
On paper, rotation help would not appear to be a priority for Toronto. They have a legitimate ace (Kevin Gausman), three other quality arms (Chris Bassitt, José Berríos, Yusei Kikuchi), a top young prospect in the high Minors (Ricky Tiedemann) and a reclamation project in No. 5 starter Alek Manoah. That said, there is no such thing as too much pitching, and if the Jays can’t make a splash in their lineup this winter, the rotation will have to do. Plus, signing Snell would allow the Blue Jays to more easily trade a starter (in a seller’s market, no less) for that much-needed bat.
Yankees, Rangers in on Neris
The relief market has been very slow going, even by the standards of a slow offseason. We have some signs of life regarding one of the biggest names available, though: Per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, the competition for veteran righty Hector Neris has begun to heat up, with the Yankees and World Series champion Rangers emerging as potential frontrunners. Neris is one of the game’s great workhorses, averaging 70 appearances across his last seven full seasons, and he has plenty of experience working high-leverage innings.
But he’s also about to turn 35, and it’s possible that all that wear has started to take its toll. Neris pitched to an excellent 1.71 ERA for the Astros in 2023, but that production came with some red flags under the hood: His average fastball dipped from 94.3 mph in 2022 to 93.0 mph, and the whiff rate on his trademark splitter dipped from an otherworldly 52.4% to a merely very good 42.2%. Given his age (he’ll turn 35 in June) and his workload, it’s fair to wonder whether the team that signs him will be doing so a year too late.
Cardinals, Goldschmidt could wait on extension
A looming question in St. Louis, as the Cardinals attempt to rebound from a deeply disappointing 2023: What does the future hold for former NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt? The first baseman is now 36, coming off a relatively down season (albeit still one in which he hit 25 homers with a 120 OPS+) and entering the final year of his contract. He’s still a very good and very important player for St. Louis, but we could be seeing age finally catch up to the seven-time All-Star — and Cardinals GM John Mozeliak demurred when asked about the possibility of extending Goldschmidt over the weekend.
“I think right now, I think everybody just wants to see how this season starts. You know, obviously, we want to get off on the right track, and then we can address things like that,” Mozeliak said, according to Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat.
If Goldschmidt does reach free agency, he could be one of three notable first basemen on the open market, joining Pete Alonso (assuming extension talks with the Mets don’t pick up soon) and Christian Walker.
Orioles interested in Paxton
It doesn’t seem like Baltimore will make the splash many anticipated this winter, but GM Mike Elias is kicking the tires on some other potential rotation additions. The Orioles are the teams with interest in veteran left-hander James Paxton, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post.
By now we know the deal with the lefty: dynamite stuff that comes with serious durability questions. Paxton missed all of April due to injury last season, then had a 3.34 ERA with over a strikeout per inning in his first 16 starts for Boston. Knee trouble popped up from there, however, and he threw up three straight clunkers (14.90 ERA in 9.2 innings) before being shut down for good at the beginning of September. Still, Camden Yards is a great place to pitch, and if Baltimore doesn’t want to make a run at Snell or Jordan Montgomery — or trade from its stash of young position-player talent for Dylan Cease — Paxton has more upside than anyone else available.