San Francisco Giants pitcher Blake Snell (7) walks off the...

San Francisco Giants pitcher Blake Snell (7) walks off the mound past manager Bob Melvin, right, during a pitching change in the fifth inning of the team's baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in San Francisco, Friday, April 19, 2024. Credit: AP/Jeff Chiu

Agent Scott Boras was spotted Friday night at Dodger Stadium chatting up one of his favorite owners, the Mets’ Steve Cohen, in what has become a semiannual summit at Chavez Ravine between the two.

But the real Boras show was happening nearly 400 miles up the coast, at San Francisco’s Oracle Park, where the Giants’ Blake Snell was opposing the Diamondbacks’ Jordan Montgomery. Both lefty starters made up half of what was often referred to during this past offseason as the “Boras Four” — along with Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman — a group known as much for their uncomfortably stretched free agency as their coveted skill sets.

Bellinger was the first of the quartet to sign, returning to the Cubs in late February on a three-year, $80 million deal. Chapman followed in early March by inking a three-year, $54 million contract with the Giants. Though both figures were significantly below the industry projections, how the market unfolded for Snell and Montgomery, the two best available free-agent pitchers (non-Yamamoto division), was the most surprising development, particularly from the New York perspective.

Despite the Mets and Yankees both making $300-plus million bids for Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto — considered a generational ace before throwing a single pitch in the majors — Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner kept their checkbooks shut after midrange tuneups to their rotations. That continued through February and March, despite the Mets putting Kodai Senga on the shelf to a shoulder issue and the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole landing on the IL with elbow inflammation.

At the time, Boras’ reliance on playing the long game in negotiations, a strategy that has served him well in the past, seemed to once again work out in his favor with both New York teams losing their aces before Opening Day, and likely through the first two months of the regular season. But Cohen and Steinbrenner didn’t budge, wary of the luxury-tax sting on top of their $300 million payrolls, displaying a willingness to live with the blowback from starting the season with a significantly weakened rotation.

Through Friday’s games, both owners are probably fine with their decisions, more so with passing on Snell than Montgomery, as the former Yankees lefty cruised through six innings (four hits, one run, three Ks) in his D-backs debut, a 17-1 rout of the Giants. Rather than sweat what might have been with an upgraded rotation, the Mets have shaken off an 0-5 start to go on an 11-3 run, capped Friday by a 9-4 victory over the Dodgers that included a serviceable five-inning stint from budget-signing Sean Manaea.

Sweeter still was the fact that Manaea, who signed a two-year, $28 million deal, outpitched the $325 million prize Yamamoto, as the Mets peppered him for seven hits and four runs (three earned) over six innings. But you get the idea. Just as the Mets are more than merely treading water in Senga’s absence (the rotation’s 3.40 ERA ranks fourth in MLB) the Yankees stood atop the East (14-6) without the reigning AL Cy Young winner throwing a pitch yet (their starters rank fifth with a 3.38 ERA).

Would signing either Snell or Montgomery have improved either team’s current positions? In the short-term, the answer is a resounding no. And if Snell opened like this for the Mets or Yankees (0-3, 11.57 ERA in his first three starts), the torrent of boos raining down on him would make Carlos Rodon’s treatment a year ago feel like a lovefest by comparison. On Friday, Snell allowed nine hits in a start for the first time since June 2021.

Snell has more to lose than just games this season. He was at the peak of his earning potential this winter, coming off a second Cy Young award at age 31, and still wound up signing a two-year, $62 million contract only a week before Opening Day. In typical Boras fashion, the deal includes an opt-out after this season, giving him another immediate crack at free agency. But what good does that do if Snell already couldn’t cash in after being recognized as the NL’s best pitcher, and he’ll be a year older, further hurting his value in a sport where the injury rate among pitchers is a growing concern.

On the flip side, this could be a matter of Snell’s early struggles getting ironed out over time. He missed spring training entirely — a crucial step-by-step buildup for starting pitchers — and chose to work his way into shape with simulated games rather than a minor-league assignment. In hindsight, not tuning up at Triple-A first has proven to be disastrous.

“I mean, it was definitely an option,” Snell told reporters after Friday’s start. “But I didn’t think I needed it. I still don't think I need it. Just better sequencing. The stuff is there, so it’s all sequencing and pitching like I know I can. Once I start doing that, then the what-ifs and all that will fade.”

The Diamondbacks took a different approach with Montgomery and got much better results, if not delayed gratification, by sending him to Triple-A Reno for two starts before Friday’s debut with the defending NL champs. Montgomery struck out three and threw 78 pitches over six innings, the lone blemish coming on Jorge Soler’s solo homer.

"I'm glad I can make a good first impression," Montgomery said. "Being around these guys even for three days, they're incredible. They made me feel welcome.”

Montgomery was the last of the “Boras Four” to sign, taking until the final week of March to agree on a one-year deal worth $25 million that also includes a vesting player option for next season, the value topping out at another $25 million, depending on the number of starts he makes in ’24. Some had him projected to earn in excess of $150 million when free agency kicked off in November. Like Snell, Montgomery is 31, and he was coming off a solid second half for the world-champion Rangers, turning into a dependable front-line starter after being acquired from the Cardinals at the trade deadline.

To say Montgomery was disappointed by his first swing at free agency would be a massive understatement. And it apparently didn’t take him very long to point a finger, as Montgomery reportedly dumped Boras earlier this month for the Wasserman Group, the same reps who got Yamamoto’s record deal with the Dodgers.

Spinning rotations

The Mets and Yankees both passed on making last-minute bids for Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, despite a lack of rotation depth and each team losing its No. 1 starter during spring training. That felt like a risky strategy heading into the season. But given the luxury tax implications of payrolls well above $300 million, neither Mets owner Steve Cohen nor his Yankees counterpart Hal Steinbrenner was willing to pay more than double the salary for one of the best available free-agent pitchers (even at plummeting prices by the end of March).

So how are those decisions holding up? For now, the Mets and Yankees have fared surprisingly well overall, but it’s still going to be another six weeks — minimum — before they get their aces back.

A look at the numbers each rotation is putting up (through Friday’s games) and where they rank in the majors.

METS                                        YANKS

Category No. MLB rank            No.     MLB rank

W-L         4-5    --                         5-4        --

IP/start    5.0   NA                        5.2        NA

ERA        3.30   4                         3.38       5

WHIP      1.40 25                        1.36       20

K/9          8.40 19                        8.91      12

BB/9        4.63 30                       4.07      26

HR/9        0.57                            3 0.8     7 8

Opp. BA  .236                             9 .24     2 13


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