2023/2024 MLB Free Agent Stock Watch

Global superstar Shohei Ohtani was one of many Major League Baseball (MLB) players who moved teams during this past offseason’s free-agency period. With all 30 teams nearing their 20th game of the 2024 season, it seems like a good time to review how recent free agents are faring.

Like in past years, the league’s 2023-2024 free agency did not end until the brink of the season’s start. Numerous notable names, especially those affiliated with super-agent Scott Boras, delayed the process in hopes of landing big-money contracts but ended up settling for short-team deals and less money than expected. For instance, Blake Snell did not sign with the San Francisco Giants until close to the end of Spring Training, and fellow left-hander Jordan Montgomery waited until the final days of the offseason to accept a one-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Montgomery is currently preparing in Triple-A, having sat out all of preseason. 

Free Agents Who Stayed Put 

This past Winter, some teams doled out the cash to re-sign key players in free agency, rather than risk losing these individuals to another team. 

For instance, the Philadelphia Phillies rewarded veteran ace pitcher Aaron Nola with a new long-term contract to remain atop their starting rotation alongside Zack Wheeler. Nola, who the Phillies need to stay healthy and productive this year, has begun his tenth season 2-1 with a 3.47 ERA. 

The Chicago Cubs, another National League (NL) contender, also re-signed one of their star players, keeping talented outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger in Chicago, where he re-discovered his purpose and talent in the wake of a dismal end to his tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In his second year as a Cub, Bellinger is off to a slow start at the plate, hitting .172 with two home runs and ten RBIs. Yet it is still early, so plenty of games remain for Bellinger to heat up into the middle-of-the-lineup force he was for his team last year. The Cubs additionally brought back veteran starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, whose horrific first three outings do not paint a promising picture for a player who has been a fixture of this club’s pitching staff since 2014. 

Sticking to veteran pitchers, the Atlanta Braves picked up 40-year-old Charlie Morton’s $20 million option last November. The club will need Morton’s stability and veteran experience more than ever following the loss of ace pitcher Spencer Strider to season-ending elbow surgery. Morton (1-0, 5.29 ERA) has struggled through his first three starts, which is not a good sign for a club that may have to rely on Morton and fellow veteran Chris Sale more than they had envisioned coming into the season.

These are just some examples of players who stayed in the same place, the minority decision amongst the latest crop of MLB-free agents. For those who decided to take up a new challenge, some have gotten off to a better start than others.

Free Agents Flying High In New Places

1) Shohei Ohtani 

After six years with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani moved across town this offseason, signing a historic 10-year, $700 million free-agent contract with the Dodgers to team up with fellow superstars Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman on a team built to go all the way to the finish line. Ohtani’s play on the field has not wavered despite the off-the-field distractions from the gambling scandal revolving around his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stealing millions of dollars from him to use for illegal gambling. Batting between Betts and Freeman, the two-time American League (AL) Most Valuable Player is off to a red-hot start, hitting .338 with four home runs and ten RBIs.

2) Shota Imanaga

The Cubs’ left-handed pitcher Shota Imanaga came to the US alongside fellow international free-agent Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto this offseason. Both pitchers wanted to test themselves against MLB hitters after achieving success in Japan’s acclaimed professional baseball league, Nippon Professional Baseball. While Yamamoto came more highly touted, his countrymate Imanaga has had a brighter start. The newest Cubs’ starter has given the club above and beyond what they were looking for as he has not allowed an earned run through his first fifteen Major League innings, obtaining a 2-0 record with 16 strikeouts. 

3) Jordan Hicks 

The Giants’ announcement that they were going to convert free-agent signee Jordan Hicks, formerly a reliever, into a starting pitcher caught many by surprise and led to a fair amount of skepticism. Through three starts, the risky move seems to be working. Hicks is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA, and he has showcased the ability to maintain his nasty stuff into the sixth inning and beyond. The Giants hope he can stay healthy and continue pitching well so this move pays off for himself and his team.

Free-agents Flailing in New Surroundings

1) Blake Snell

As mentioned above, Snell, one of Boras’ many clients, had a delayed season ramp-up with no preseason appearances due to his extended free-agency wait. Settling for a two-year, $62 million deal with the Giants, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner has endured a bumpy start to his time in San Francisco. He gave up three runs in three innings in his team debut vs the Washington Nationals on April 8. His next outing was even worse as Snell’s original team, the Tampa Bay Rays, scored seven runs off the hard-throwing left-hander in four innings.

2) Lucas Giolito 

It feels a little unfair to put Lucas Giolito here, but his experience serves as a warning to teams who put all their eggs in one basket. The Boston Red Sox gave Giolito a two-year, $38 million contract this offseason, only to see him blow his elbow out in preseason and undergo a procedure to stabilize the joint. Boston’s starting pitching has done well so far this season, yet it is not a good look when a team’s biggest free-agent signee gets injured before the season begins.

3) Mitch Garver

Looking to return to the playoffs this year, the Seattle Mariners failed to sufficiently strengthen the club’s offense, which lagged behind their stellar pitching last year. Franchise face Julio Rodriguez and outstanding shortstop J.P. Crawford will need help if the club wants to achieve their 2024 goals. The club traded for second baseman Jorge Polanco and right fielder Luke Raley, both of whom sport a batting average close to .200. Their only notable addition in free agency was designated hitter Mitch Garver, who, like his teammates, is batting “below the Mendoza Line”. These complementary offensive pieces will need to pick it up in the coming weeks if the Mariners want to maximize their chances of competing against the reigning champion Texas Rangers in the AL West Division.

As always, free agency leads to a whole range of outcomes. Reaching free agency is a milestone in every MLB player’s career, but the decision once they hit the open market can redefine the rest of their careers. Stay tuned to see how last year’s free agents fare throughout the rest of the long baseball season, and which, if any, hit the market again this Fall.

Main Image: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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