Padres starting pitcher Blake Snell delivers against the Mets during the...

Padres starting pitcher Blake Snell delivers against the Mets during the fifth inning of an MLB game at Citi Field on July 23, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

ARMS RACE?

More than three months into free agency, two of the best pitchers on the market still are available, as reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery — last seen helping to pitch the Rangers to a World Series title — remain jobless. Both are represented by Scott Boras, who doesn’t mind playing the long game, but by free-agency standards, we’re heading into extra innings.

BEAT THE CLOCK

If you thought MLB would be satisfied by new rules that trimmed the average time of a nine-inning game to 2 hours, 39 minutes last season, you’d be wrong. Instead, Rob Manfred & Co. doubled down for 2024, notably cutting the time between pitches from 20 seconds to 18 with runners on base, reducing mound visits from five to four and requiring  pitchers to face at least one batter when sent to the mound to warm up between innings.

VEGAS LOVES L.A.

Not surprisingly, the Dodgers are the odds-on favorites to win the World Series after signing Shohei Ohtani (10 years, $700 million) and Yoshinobu Yamamoto (12 years, $325 million) to sweep the top shelf of the free-agent class this offseason. That means all eyes will be on Camelback Ranch in spring training to see how rapidly Ohtani gets up to speed from last September’s elbow surgery as well as to monitor Yamamoto’s adjustment to MLB, which features a heavier, slicker baseball and heavier rotation workload than Japan does.

HAVE BAT, WILL TRAVEL

Teams still hungry for some instant offense can fortify their lineups with a handful of remaining free agents, namely Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, J.D. Martinez and Jorge Soler. It’s unclear how much the prices could be dropping for this crew, but barring any early spring training injuries, time is on the side of the general managers the closer we get to Opening Day.

SPRING BREAKOUT

While spring training typically allows for top prospects to get at least a few innings in the MLB spotlight, they’ll get the entire stage to themselves for four days next month (March 14-17) as teams will assemble rosters of their top 25 minor-league players to play against other organizations in sort of a preseason “Futures Game” format. The hope is to raise the profile of these prospects — i.e. marketability — with some games likely to be shown on MLB Network.

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