The Yoshinobu Yamamoto bidding war is set to begin as the Japanese ace was officially posted by the Orix Buffaloes on Tuesday.
Yamamoto, widely considered the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market, has until Jan. 4 to sign with an MLB club. Many teams, including the starting pitching-needy Boston Red Sox, are expected to be involved in the sweepstakes.
The Red Sox should be aggressive in their Yamamoto pursuit. With such a glaring need at the top of their rotation, there's an argument to be made that the two-time Pacific League MVP should be their No. 1 priority in free agency. But what if he signs elsewhere? What should be Boston's Plan B to upgrade the pitching staff?
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Boston sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, and Sonny Gray are the next-best starters in this year's free-agent class with Aaron Nola returning to Philadelphia. We asked the fans which of those names should be the Red Sox' top priority if Yamamoto is off the table, and it was a two-man race between Snell (40.5 percent) and Montgomery (45.6 percent) splitting most of the 511 votes. Gray earned just 5.7 percent of the vote while 8.2 percent of the respondents chose "Other."
With those results, fans will be pleased to hear the Red Sox have already been linked to Montgomery this offseason. But should he really be Boston's No. 1 target if Yamamoto signs elsewhere?
Below, we'll make the argument for each of the three aforementioned starters and share our own vote:
The case for Blake Snell
After Yamamoto, Snell is the one clear "ace" on the list. The veteran southpaw won his second career Cy Young Award in 2023 with the San Diego Padres. He did so after going 14-9 with an MLB-best 2.25 ERA and 234 strikeouts in 32 starts (180 innings).
The one number that might scare Sox fans away is his walk total. Snell walked a league-high 99 batters last season, averaging five walks per nine innings. He's averaged 4.1 BB/9 for his eight-year career.
Still, Snell checks plenty of boxes for Boston. The soon-to-be 31-year-old has had success in the American League East having spent his first five seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. He has a 3.33 ERA in 12 career postseason starts, including a 2.70 ERA with 18 strikeouts through two World Series starts with Tampa.
MORE MLB FREE AGENCY
Even if Snell regresses in 2024, he'd likely be a more reliable option than anyone who started for the Red Sox last season. He'd fill Boston's need for a true No. 1 starter, making him a solid backup plan if Yamamoto is off the board.
The case for Jordan Montgomery
Montgomery won our poll after helping the Texas Rangers to their first-ever World Series title. The left-hander, who turns 31 next month, enjoyed an outstanding 2023 season split between Texas and St. Louis.
Through 32 regular-season starts (21 with STL, 11 with TEX), Montgomery amassed a 3.20 ERA with 1.19 WHIP in 188.2 innings. He went on to post a 2.90 ERA through six postseason appearances (five starts), including a seven-inning scoreless outing in the AL wild-card series vs. the Rays.
While he isn't your prototypical ace, Montgomery has been a quality mid-rotation arm over the last few seasons with the Rangers, Cardinals, and New York Yankees. He'd provide much-needed stability in a Boston rotation that ranked ninth in ERA in 2023.
ESPN's Kiley McDaniel projects that Montgomery will sign a five-year, $106 million contract. That's a nice payday for the seven-year veteran, but he should come much cheaper than Snell. That presumably would allow Boston to sign Montgomery and another one of the top starting pitching free agents to bolster the rotation in 2024 and beyond.
The case for Sonny Gray
The fans aren't high on Gray despite his second-place finish in the 2023 AL Cy Young vote. The 34-year-old hits free agency after his third All-Star campaign, during which he posted a 2.79 ERA and an MLB-best 2.83 FIP through 32 starts (184 innings).
Some of the pessimism surrounding Gray could be related to his struggles playing in the AL East. His 2018 campaign with the Yankees was one of his worst. He failed to live up to expectations in the Bronx, compiling a 4.90 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 30 outings (23 starts).
That shouldn't dissuade the Red Sox from signing Gray if Yamamoto is off the table. Gray is a proven front-end starter who wouldn't break the bank. And although he wouldn't be the sexiest pickup, Boston is in no position to be picky. His overall track record should overshadow the narrative that he can't handle the high pressure that comes with playing in a major market.
The next best free-agent starting pitchers not included in our poll include Eduardo Rodriguez, Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolito, and Shota Imanaga. Each would be considered an upgrade for the Red Sox rotation, but none would classify as the big-time addition fans are hoping for this offseason.
Nonetheless, 8.2 percent of voters believe the best course of action is to sign someone other than Snell, Montgomery, or Gray.
Perhaps bringing E-Rod back and signing someone like Imanaga -- another coveted arm from Japan -- would make sense. The Red Sox could use more than just one addition to the rotation, after all. However, they would still be lacking a clear No. 1 starter, so it's tough to make the case that they should go that route.
The voters got this one right. Montgomery, despite not being a bonafide ace, is the most steady option on the list and would cost far less than Snell. While Snell deserves his 40.5 percent of the vote, his high walk rate and the likelihood that he regresses in 2024 are worrisome.
We'd rank Gray above the "Other" option on the poll, but the results otherwise reflect how the Red Sox should prioritize the free-agent starters if Yamamoto signs elsewhere: Montgomery, Snell, then Gray.
It's worth mentioning one answer to the poll, submitted by Thomas McCreedy III below: "Sign Montgomery and Imanaga or trade for Cease or another younger ace." Montgomery and Imanaga are projected to sign for roughly $200 million combined. Snell is expected to command $200 million by himself.
As for Cease, the White Sox are rumored to be actively shopping the hard-throwing righty this offseason. He's coming off a down season, but he placed second in Cy Young voting in 2022. The Red Sox have the trade chips to acquire him if they are so inclined.
Of the free-agent starters though, Montgomery is the most cost-effective and consistent option. He's a rock-solid backup plan if Yamamoto doesn't end up in Boston.