It’s no secret that free agency has been unusually slow this winter. As we head into the final week of January, 19 of MLBTR’s Top 50 MLB free agents remain unsigned, and that’s after a three-week period that saw nine players on the list (mostly from the middle tier of the rotation market and the upper level of the relief market) agree to deals.
While much of the mid-level market has begun to thin out at this point, the upper echelons of free agency remain surprisingly deep with the beginning of Spring Training less than a month away. That’s particularly true of the starting pitching side of things, where two of the offseason’s top four rotation arms remain unsigned. That includes left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who is coming off a dominant season split between the Cardinals and Rangers during which he helped Texas bring home the first World Series championship in franchise history.
After struggling with injuries early in his career, Montgomery has settled in as a reliable #2 starter in recent years, with a 3.48 ERA and 3.62 FIP in 94 starts over the past three seasons. While the left-hander’s peripheral numbers have stayed largely consistent over that time as his strikeout rate hovered around 22% against a walk rate that stayed in the realm of 6%, Montgomery’s results have improved in each of the past three seasons: his ERA dipped from 3.83, to 3.48, to 3.20 while his FIP dropped from 3.69, to 3.61, to this past season’s 3.56 figure. The southpaw further established himself as a playoff-caliber arm by helping to carry the Rangers’ rotation down the stretch while ace Max Scherzer battled injuries, posting a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts with the club over the season’s final two months before posting a strong 2.90 ERA during the playoffs.
As a clearly capable arm who can be slotted toward the front of a playoff caliber club’s rotation. Montgomery figured to be among the more coveted pitchers on the market this winter. That’s mostly proven to be true. While the southpaw has yet to sign, he’s garnered plenty of interest from teams throughout the winter with more than half a dozen clubs having been connected to his market over the past two months. Some of those clubs, such as the Mets, Cubs, and Cardinals, went in other directions as the winter progressed and no longer appear to be a fit for Montgomery’s services. Several others remain as plausible landing spots for the 31-year-old hurler, however.
Perhaps chief among those options is a reunion with the Rangers. The latest buzz on the rumor mill regarding Montgomery is that he prefers to return to Texas this winter, with MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand recently describing a reunion as the “most likely” conclusion to the southpaw’s free agency once all is said and done. Other potential suitors include the Giants and Angels, both of whom have been reported as interested in both Montgomery and Blake Snell in recent weeks. The Red Sox have also been connected to Montgomery in recent weeks, though the club’s payroll limitations likely mean they’d need to move salary to make room for an arm of Montgomery’s caliber.
While the Yankees also remain at least a nominal fit for Montgomery’s services, the club’s recent signing of Marcus Stroman could lessen their need for an impact rotation piece and they appeared more focused on Snell of the two remaining top starters even before signing Stroman. The Phillies have also been loosely connected to Montgomery this winter, though the club appears more likely to work around the edges of its roster at this point in the offseason rather than make a splash at the top of free agency.
Just as interesting as the question of where Montgomery will land is the question of what sort of contract he’ll command. MLBTR predicted Montgomery for a six-year, $150MM contract at the beginning of the offseason, identical to our prediction for right-hander Aaron Nola. Since then, however, Nola has gone on to return to the Phillies on a seven-year, $172MM deal. Reports have indicated that Montgomery is targeting a deal that would surpass Nola’s deal in terms of guaranteed money. It’s unclear, however, if teams value Montgomery more highly than Nola; while the lefty has been more consistent in recent years, he’s also six months older than Nola and can’t compare to the righty in terms of durability. Since Montgomery began his career in 2017, he’s made 141 trips to the mound, or two full seasons less than Nola’s 202 during that same timeframe.
So, how do MLBTR readers expect Montgomery’s market to play out? Where will the lefty land? Will he top Nola’s guarantee? Have your say in the polls below: