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. Thursday’s edition features plenty of interesting pitching items, from Josh Hader holding up spending on the relief market to the White Sox content to hold off on a Dylan Cease trade (for now, at least).
MLB Hot Stove rumors: Thursday, Jan. 18
Hader holding up relief market
While just about every other position has been considerably thinned out by this point in the offseason, there are still plenty of quality relievers to be had. Hector Neris, Robert Stephenson and Aroldis Chapman remain unsigned, and even lower-tier options like Ryan Brasier, David Robertson, Wandy Peralta, Collin McHugh, Michael Fulmer and Jakob Junis figure to be able to help a contending team in 2024.
The reason for the relative inaction? The clear top choice, star lefty Josh Hader, is holding everything up.
“I think the Hader domino needs to fall first,” a National League executive told MLB.com. “I can’t see any other reason the market is slow for them. Sometimes these guys at the top can hold up everything.”
If the other available relievers are stuck waiting on Hader, we could be awhile: Fresh off another excellent season with the Padres, the All-Star is reportedly seeking a deal that would eclipse Edwin Díaz’s five-year, $102 million contract from last offseason and make him the highest-paid reliever ever. At this point, we’re skeptical that he’ll reach that mark, but he seems intent on waiting for the starting pitching market to shake itself out before he signs.
Cease staying put?
Speaking of hold-ups: It seemed like a fait accompli that the rebuilding White Sox would kick off a winter fire sale by trading their most valuable asset, righty Dylan Cease. But we’re in mid-January now, and while there’s been the occasional rumor, Cease’s market appears ice-cold at the moment. And according to Buster Olney of ESPN, that’s not a coincidence: Two rival executives repotedly told Olney that the Sox will hold on to their ace for as long as it takes to get the deal they believe is fair, with the possibility that this drags all the way to this year’s trade deadline.
“There is no pressure on them to lower their asking price,” one said, via Olney. “They’ll get what they want at the (trade) deadline.”
On the one hand, you can understand the logic. Free agents like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery remain on the market, and while they only cost money rather than prospects, they’re still viable options for teams looking to add to their rotations — options that decrease Chicago’s leverage as it seeks a haul that will jump-start its rebuild. If Snell and Montgomery move and the market kicks up, this could change, but as it stands it’s easy to see Getz and Co. deciding to take their chances at the trade deadline. Cease is under contract through 2025, so he won’t be a rental, and plenty of would-be contenders will be under the gun looking for the piece that will push them over the top. Plus, it also lets Cease build his market back up after a year in which he went 7-9 with a disappoiting 4.58 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 214 strikeouts in 177 innings.
Then again, the path of patience also brings its own risk. Risk that Cease continues to struggle in the first half of this season, or gets hurt and tanks his market entirely — he is a pitcher after all. The Sox might feel like his market will be stronger in the heat of a pennant race, but that introduces a whole host of variables, while also shaving off another half-year of control. It’s hard to fault Getz for demanding impact talent in return for his biggest trade chip, but it’s still a roll of the dice.