When I initially did my ranking of MLB free agent starting pitchers, Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray were at the top of my list. Apparently, the Braves felt the same way, as several reports linked Atlanta to both Nola and Gray; however, neither came to fruition. Nola is back in Philadelphia on a seven-year contract, and Gray is finalizing a deal with St. Louis for three years.
It’s understandable for Braves Country to have a “here we go again” feeling about what’s transpired so far this offseason. Atlanta has made some significant moves, mostly bolstering the bullpen, but we are still waiting for that big splash that hasn’t come since Alex Anthopoulos took over as the general manager back in 2017.
I would be lying if I said it was certain to come this free agent cycle. Although, I do believe the Braves will land a frontline type starter before the start of next season. It could be via trade, but there remain several high quality arms that are free agents. Here’s my top five:
5. Seth Lugo
I’m high on Seth Lugo. He wouldn’t be the sexiest signing but would bring stability to the Braves rotation at a fraction of the price compared to the rest of the names on this list. Atlanta fans will remember Lugo well from his time with the Mets, where he spent the first seven years of his career, primarily as a high leverage reliever. However, Lugo signed a one-year pact with the Padres, who gave him the opportunity as a starter again, and he excelled. In 26 starts, Lugo posted a 3.57 ERA and 8.6 K/9. I would love to bring him back to the NL East, for the good guys this time.
Stroman struggled in the second half of last season and dealt with some injuries, but it’s difficult to ignore his entire body of work. He boasts a career 3.65 ERA, and outside of one poor year in Toronto (2018) in which he only made 19 starts, he’s been as consistent as they come. I would be hesitant to give Stroman a lengthy contract, but perhaps he would be interested in a 1-2 year deal to rebuild his value and get one last crack at free agency before retirement.
Montgomery has steadily improved each year and is coming off the best season of his career in a contract year. Some project he could fetch as much as $150 million in free agency, and the Rangers — who have very deep pockets — have to be interested in retaining him after he helped lead Texas to the World Series. Since 2021, Montgomery owns a 3.48 ERA over 94 starts, and his 2.63 postseason ERA makes him particularly intriguing.
2. Blake Snell
I’m far from a Blake Snell fan. He has two elite seasons where he won Cy Young awards, but outside of that, he’s been mostly meh. Snell walks too many batters and doesn’t go deep into games. Those aren’t typically traits of a pitcher that is likely to demand anywhere from $150-250 million in free agency. With that being said, it’s impossible to ignore the stuff. Snell has averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings since 2018, and that kind of ability helps him get out of a lot of jams. Like many guys on this list, he would give the Braves the best rotation in baseball.
Given the Braves history, Yamamoto may feel like a pipe dream, but if Alex Anthopoulos was willing to hand Aaron Nola six years and $162 million, perhaps he would go even further for someone five years younger. Yamamoto is the latest Japanese superstar that will head across the Pacific to play baseball in America. He’s only 25-years-old and has an unprecedented resume in Japan, boasting a 1.82 ERA across seven seasons to go along with a 9.3 K/9 and 0.935 WHIP. Experts believe he will garner a contract worth north of $200 million, which may be too rich for the Braves’ blood, but at least one MLB insider has suggested Atlanta is interested.
Photographer: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire