There have been dozens of moves so far this winter, including trades, free-agent signings, waiver claims and so on, and we’ll be examining each of them right here.
For our purposes, we’re only looking at players who found new homes, so moves like Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce returning to Boston, J.A. Happ and Zach Britton staying in the Bronx, or Mike Moustakas remaining in Milwaukee won’t be reflected here. Some smaller moves, like Robinson Chirinos joining the Astros or David Phelps and Matt Shoemaker signing in Toronto or Tyson Ross and Jordy Mercer heading to Detroit, may also not be included.
We’ll add to this each time a notable move gets finalized, with the most recent updates at the top. We don’t hit every deal, but we tried to note every one that will have a major impact in 2019.
Feb. 19, 2019: 3B/SS Manny Machado signs with Padres
10 years, $300 million (club has not confirmed)
One of the two huge free-agent dominos finally has fallen. While Bryce Harper remains on the market with a chance to top him, Machado at least for now has set a record for total dollars on a free-agent deal, although he fell a bit short of Giancarlo Stanton‘s $325 million extension. Machado also reportedly will receive an opt-out clause after five seasons, giving the 26-year-old a chance to test the waters again after his age-30 season — at a point when many players are just reaching free agency for the first time.
But that’s an issue for later. For now, the Padres have landed a huge piece, almost exactly one year after signing Eric Hosmer to an eight-year deal. Both are intended to jumpstart a franchise that hasn’t finished above .500 or third place since 2010, hasn’t made the playoffs since ’06 and hasn’t advanced past the Division Series since making it to the World Series in 1998.
Machado is one of the best players in all of baseball, giving San Diego the sort of elite position player it has sorely lacked. While Machado has been worth at least 6 WAR in three of the past four years, per FanGraphs, only one Padres hitter (Chase Headley in 2012) has reached that mark in the past 22 seasons. And while Machado showed last year that he can play shortstop, the Padres easily can slide him back to third base to accommodate top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr.
And that last point gets to the heart of this deal. Even with Machado, the Padres might not contend in 2019. But this year they became the first organization in the history of MLB Pipeline to place 10 prospects on a preseason top 100 list, with Tatis (No. 2) one of seven in the top 50. As all of that young talent emerges and matures, Machado will be in place as a star, in his prime, leading the charge.
Feb. 7, 2019: C J.T. Realmuto traded from Marlins to Phillies
Realmuto traded for C Jorge Alfaro and Minor League P Sixto Sanchez and P Will Stewart, plus $250,000 in international bonus money
Finally! The winter’s longest-running trade drama came to an end when the Phillies managed to extract Realmuto out of Miami, and the appeal here for them is obvious. Realmuto is probably baseball’s best catcher, pairing above average offense (.277/.340/.484 (139 OPS+) with strong defense, and those numbers might even improve, considering Marlins Park hurt him more than any other batter was hurt by their home park. Leaving Miami for a better park isn’t exactly why Christian Yelich won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, but it sure didn’t hurt, and this is an upgrade for a Phils team that needs every win they can get in a tough division.
For a Marlins team that didn’t receive high reviews for its trades of Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton last year, this is a nice return, and validation on the long wait for someone to meet their price. Sanchez is a high-level talent, with this line from MLB Pipeline saying it all: “When healthy, Sanchez has perhaps the best combination of electric stuff and command of any pitcher in the Minor Leagues.”
It’s the “when healthy” part that’s been the trick, as the 20-year-old Sanchez threw only 46 2/3 innings in 2018 due to elbow inflammation. Alfaro, for what it’s worth, is more than just a throw-in here, combining loud tools — a great throwing arm and very strong exit velocity marks — with a problematic 37 percent strikeout rate. Just 25, he’ll get plenty of chance to try to put it all together with the Marlins.
Feb. 1, 2019: P Wade Miley signs with Astros
One year, $4.5 million
Houston added a soft-tossing lefty, but it’s not the one Astros fans might be used to. Miley had put up four straight seasons with an ERA above 4.00 — actually 5.37 in 2016 and 5.61 in ’17 — before stunning the baseball world with a 2.57 ERA in 80 2/3 innings in ’18, thanks in large part to a new cutter. The underlying metrics don’t really support that number, as his 14.8 percent strikeout rate was well below average and was his lowest since he was a rookie in ’11, but the Astros are famous for taking pitchers and making them better. That alone makes Miley more interesting than if he’d signed anywhere else.
Jan. 25, 2019: P Justin Wilson signs with Mets
Two years, $10 million
The Mets traded for Edwin Diaz and brought back Jeurys Familia, but they still had a need for a lefty in the bullpen, and Wilson was one of the better ones available. The good news is that he can miss bats, striking out 149 in 112 2/3 innings over the past two seasons. The bad news is that his walk rate, which was a solid seven percent in 2016, has doubled to 14 percent in each of the past two years. Still, he’s a useful arm to have, and as a lefty without much of a platoon split over his career, he should be deployed effectively by manager Mickey Callaway.
Jan. 24, 2019: CF A.J. Pollock signs with Dodgers
Four years, $60 million
Pollock was the only true center fielder available on the free-agent market, and he’s often shown flashes of greatness, like when he hit .315/.367/.498 with 20 homers and 39 steals in 2015. His obvious skill has been somewhat offset by his inability to stay on the field, because ’15 is also the only year in which he’s been able to take 500 plate appearances. Pollock is an upgrade in center over Joc Pederson or Chris Taylor, and his presence allows Cody Bellinger to take much of Yasiel Puig’s playing time in right, assuming Max Muncy is at first. No, he’s not Bryce Harper, but Pollock is a solid player, and he’s an upgrade.
Video: Dodgers introduce newly acquired outfielder Pollock
Jan. 21, 2019: RF Nick Markakis signs with Braves
One year, $6 million
Atlanta had a big outfield hole next to Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ender Inciarte, and the club filled it by bringing back Markakis, who made his first All-Star team in 2018. Of course, Markakis’ first half (.323/.389/.488) was somewhat out of character for a player who’s long been more “solid” than “stellar,” and his second half (.258/.332/.369) didn’t come close to living up to it. For the surprisingly low cost, this is a no-risk move for the Braves, but the 35-year-old Markakis isn’t the difference-maker they needed in a tough NL East.
Jan. 18, 2019: P Cody Allen signs with Angels
One year, $8.5 million
This would be a huge steal based on Allen’s first five full seasons. From 2013-17, the right-hander gave the Indians at least 67 appearances, a sub-3.00 ERA and a 29 percent strikeout rate every year as he developed into one of the game’s better closers. But then Allen’s numbers took a big step back in ’18. While he still took the ball 70 times, his strikeout rate tumbled, his walk rate jumped and he served up 11 homers, contributing to a 4.70 ERA and 4.56 FIP. With that in mind, this looks like a reasonable gamble for the Angels, who needed back-of-the-bullpen help and could end up with a major bargain if Allen rebounds.
Jan. 17, 2019: P Adam Ottavino signs with Yankees
Three years, $27 million
Yes, Ottavino made headlines recently when, speaking on the Statcast™ Podcast, he said he would “strike out Babe Ruth every time.” But while it’s a fun story that Ottavino is now headed to Ruth’s old stomping grounds, the most important thing is that the Yankees are adding yet another elite reliever to an already packed bullpen — one that could be historically great, again. A year ago, coming off a 5.06 ERA, Ottavino “attacked the offseason” by using state-of-the-art technology to revamp his reptertoire. The result was a 2.43 ERA, one of MLB’s top strikeout rates, and great success limiting opponents’ quality of contact. This is a great pickup for the Yanks, even if they didn’t “need” another ace reliever.
Jan. 14, 2019: C Yasmani Grandal signs with Brewers
One year, $18.25 million, with a mutual option for 2020
Grandal’s combination of elite framing and strong hitting (.241/.349/.466, 24 home runs in 2018) made him an incredibly appealing free agent in a world where it’s hard to find a catcher who can hit, even if his high-profile postseason struggles were an issue. That makes him a huge upgrade for Milwaukee over Erik Kratz and Manny Pina, who combined to hit .246/.296/.379 in 2018, especially in a very tight NL Central.
Jan. 14, 2019: 2B DJ LeMahieu signs with Yankees
Two years, $24 million
Your opinion on this one is going to very much depend on whether you see LeMahieu as being “not Manny Machado,” in which case this wasn’t exactly the Yankees infield signing most people wanted it to be. So there’s that, but that doesn’t change the fact that LeMahieu is something of an interesting gamble for New York, which could badly use his plus defensive glove in a weak defensive infield. While his away-from-Coors numbers have been subpar (.277 OBP in 2018), we investigated the fact that those numbers can’t simply be taken at face value, and the underlying metrics in terms of hard-hit rate and a declining ground-ball rate offer some hope that there’s yet more offense for LeMahieu to offer.
Video: MLB Now on Yanks inking LeMahieu, impact on Machado
Jan. 11, 2019: C Russell Martin traded from Blue Jays to Dodgers
Martin traded for Minor Leaguers P Andrew Sopko and IF Ronny Brito
Last year Matt Kemp, this year Martin, next year … James Loney? Chad Billingsley? The Dodgers are hoping this year’s “ghost of 2009 past” works as well as Kemp’s return did, except that the soon-to-be 36-year-old Martin hit just .194/.338/.325 last year. The good news is that the underlying stats suggest he might have more in the tank, and his defense remains solid. The better news is that the Jays are covering $16.4 million of his $20 million salary. The problem is that fellow backstop Austin Barnes hit only .205/.329/.290, and each are steps down from the departing Grandal.
Toronto didn’t save much money here, but it did open up room for the impressive young Danny Jansen. That alone seems worthwhile.
Jan. 10, 2019: 2B Jed Lowrie signs with Mets
Two years, $20 million
Did the Mets really need another infielder? You could probably argue that the answer is “not as much as they needed another outfielder or a reliever,” but an equally good answer is that having too many good players is not really a problem at all. Remember: The 2018 Mets gave 582 plate appearances to infielders Jose Reyes, Adrian Gonzalez, Luis Guillorme, Phillip Evans, Ty Kelly and Jack Reinheimer. They collectively hit .202/.274/.306 (62 wRC+). Lowrie may be 35 in April, but he also just put up back-to-back strong seasons, combined at a 120 wRC+.
Jan. 10, 2019: 2B Brian Dozier signs with Nationals
One year, $9 million
Dozier made it clear that he’d been hampered through 2018 by a knee injury, one that almost certainly contributed to a poor .215/.305/.391 line between the Twins and Dodgers. If he’s healthy, and the knee is what caused the down year, it’s not at all hard to see him get back to the player who smashed 42 homers in ’16 and 34 more in ’17.
Video: Collier on Dozier’s deal with Nationals
Jan. 7, 2019: P Kelvin Herrera signs with White Sox
Two years, $18 million, with a 2021 team option
Herrera joins Alex Colome, Nate Jones and Jace Fry in what’s quietly an intriguing White Sox bullpen, or at least it will be if Herrera looks more like the Royals version of himself and not the Washington version that struggled — though he clearly wasn’t healthy, given the shoulder and foot injuries that curtailed his season before the end of August. Health aside, however, Herrera’s velocity has been in decline for a few years, down from 2012’s 99.1 mph to last year’s 96.5 mph. There is some real risk here for Chicago.
Jan. 3, 2019: P David Robertson signs with Phillies
Two years, $23 million, with a 2021 team option
We tend to think of relievers as somewhat unreliable, prone to inconsistency from year to year. Whether that’s accurate or not, it simply hasn’t applied to Robertson, who has been an above-average bullpen arm for going on a full decade now, throwing between 60 and 70 good innings each year since 2010. In ’18, he put up a perfectly Robertson season, with a 32 percent strikeout rate and a 9 percent walk rate; his career marks are 32 percent and 10 percent. This was a really nice pickup for Philly.
Jan. 2, 2019: DH Nelson Cruz signs with Twins
One year, $14.3 million, with a 2020 team option
The way baseball works these days, it’s not often that a 38-year-old without a defensive position would be considered a smart signing, but this is the perfect marriage of team, player and need. When we looked at Cruz back in October, we noted two things. First, it seemed clear that there’s very little to indicate that he’s slowing down, as he just finished his fifth straight season of at least 37 homers. Second, the power-hungry Twins were always going to be one of only a few likely landing spots, making this a perfectly reasonable pairing.
Video: Nelson Cruz on signing a 1-year deal with the Twins
Dec. 28, 2018: C Jonathan Lucroy signs with Angels
One year, $3.35 million
The Angels desperately needed a catcher. Lucroy is definitely a catcher. That’s maybe an oversimplification, but the second-half Halos catchers (mostly after trading away Martin Maldonado, and relying upon Jose Briceno, Francisco Arcia and Joe Hudson) hit all of .195/.234/.356. That’s not nearly enough when you have a Mike Trout to build around, so the Angels imported Lucroy, who hit only .241/.291/.325 last year with below-average framing marks, though he did receive praise for how he handled a tattered Oakland pitching staff. It’s not the Grandal they needed, but it’s a slight upgrade.
Dec. 21, 2018: P Andrew Miller signs with Cardinals
Two years, $25 million, with a 2021 team option
Miller converted to the bullpen full-time in 2012, and he spent the next five years not only dominating as a reliever, but helping to redefine what a high-leverage reliever even meant. As recently as 2017, he was great — 1.44 ERA, 95 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings — but ’18 was an injury-plagued mess, as he was sidelined by problems with his hamstring, knee and shoulder. That cost him nearly two mph on his fastball from what it had been in ’16, and he turns 34 in May, so this isn’t without risk. If a healthy Miller is the guy we saw for the previous half-decade, this is a steal for a disappointing St. Louis bullpen that needed the boost.
Dec. 21, 2018: OF Yasiel Puig, OF Kemp and P Alex Wood traded to Reds
Puig, Kemp, Wood and C Kyle Farmer traded from Dodgers to Reds for RHP Homer Bailey and Minor Leaguers IF Jeter Downs and RHP Josiah Gray
The Reds insisted they wanted to improve this winter, and they have. It’s complicated, because they still might be the fifth-most-talented team in the stacked NL Central, but this trade was a step in the right direction. Wood is a badly needed starter for a rotation desperate for one, and Puig adds another above-average bat to what was already a strong lineup. The bonus here is that if it doesn’t work out, they can trade either of them in July. Cincinnati got better, and it managed to do it while shipping out Bailey and not giving up any of its top five prospects.
For the Dodgers, this may yet be an “incomplete,” because they managed to pare down their overstuffed outfield while cutting approximately $17 million off their luxury tax payroll, presumably opening up room to make a big move. (Bailey was released immediately.) The thing is, no such move has happened so far, so for the moment, the short and long-term benefits are still uncertain.
Video: IT discusses Reds’ improvements after big trade
Dec. 21, 2018: IF Jurickson Profar traded from Rangers to A’s
Profar traded from Rangers to A’s in a three-way trade involving the Rays. The deal included five Minor Leaguers, international slot money, a competitive balance pick moving among the three teams, as well as P Emilio Pagan going from the A’s to the Rays
After years of prospect hype that never seemed to come to fruition thanks largely to repeated shoulder injuries and a deep Texas infield, Profar finally broke out in 2018, hitting 20 homers with a .254/.335/.458 line while making starts at all four infield spots. His reward was a trade to Oakland, where he’ll likely be the primary second baseman. While Profar is still only going to be 26 this year, he’s been around for so long that he’s only two years from free agency. That said, he helps Oakland now, and it only cost them a middle reliever in Pagan as well as the pick and the slot space.
The rebuilding Rangers turned two years of Profar — two years in which they’re not likely to contend in the American League West — into four new prospects and $750,000 in international slot money, which isn’t terribly exciting, but is also not a bad return considering that just a year ago, it seemed like Profar would never make it work.
Tampa Bay isn’t rebuilding, but it did need to condense its high-level prospects, and Pagan is an interesting righty who has struck out a man per inning in his brief career, and the Rays add Oakland’s competitive balance pick as well.
Dec. 20, 2018: P Joakim Soria signs with A’s
Two years, $15 million
Soria has bounced around quite a bit since he was the bright spot on some poor Kansas City teams between 2007-11, but all these years later, he’s still an effective reliever, even headed into his age-35 season. Soria still throws in the same 92 mph range he did at his best, and he still has some quality secondary pitches. It’s a solid signing for Oakland.
Dec. 20, 2018: 1B Daniel Murphy signs with Rockies
Two years, $24 million, with a mutual option for 2021
The Rockies desperately needed to add some offense to what was a surprisingly ineffective lineup, especially at first base, where a group led by Ian Desmond (.236/.307/.422) finished as the second-weakest collection in baseball. Murphy is 34 and will be playing first base regularly for the first time since 2009, and his ’18 numbers look low because of a very slow start while recovering from knee surgery. He did hit a more Murphy-like .315/.346/.498 in the second half, and he still makes an elite amount of contact. If he’s healthy, he might hit 50 doubles in the spacious Coors Field outfield.
Video: Murphy happy to join Rockies, make postseason push
Dec. 20, 2018: P Anibal Sanchez signs with Nationals
Two years, $19 million, with a 2021 team option
It looked for all the world like Sanchez was cooked when he was putting up ERA marks of 4.99, 5.87 and 6.41 for the Tigers from 2015-17, but healthy — and emphasizing his cutter — in ’18, he put up a strong rebound 2.83 season. (It helped that he had the lowest hard-hit rate of any healthy starter.) That earned him a two-year deal as Tanner Roark‘s replacement in Washington, which is probably a small upgrade, though it might have looked better to have both of them behind “the big three” at the top of the rotation.
Dec. 20, 2018: P Trevor Cahill signs with Angels
One year, $9 million
Cahill has been very good except for when he’s not, and that’s not really the logic puzzle it seems like it is. First-half Cahill has a 3.10 ERA over the past two seasons; second-half Cahill has a 4.37 ERA. That’s probably not unrelated to health concerns, as he ran into shoulder issues in 2017 and a back problem in ’18, and maybe the Angels think they can help him manage that better. If you could rely on him all year, he’d have been making more than $9 million anyway.
Dec. 18, 2018: P Matt Harvey signs with Angels
One year, $11 million
Harvey didn’t exactly find new life with the Reds in 2018, posting a 4.50 ERA, in no small part because his fastball velocity and especially spin just isn’t what it was in his heyday with the Mets. As a Red, his 21 percent strikeout rate was about average, his five percent walk rate was somewhat better than average; this is why he managed to get only a one-year deal, barely more than three years after taking a shutout into the ninth inning in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. Harvey might never be that guy again, but the Angels could definitely use a league-average starter.
Video: MLB Tonight on Harvey heading to Angels
Dec. 17, 2018: OF Michael Brantley signs with Astros
Two years, $32 million
File this one under “the most Astros signing possible,” because the lineup that just had baseball’s second-lowest strikeout rate added the hitter who had … baseball’s second-lowest strikeout rate. It’s all about health with Brantley, who had a very good rebound in 2018 (.309/.364/.468) after getting into just 101 games in 2016-17, so as long he’s available, he’ll hit.
Dec. 16, 2018: C Wilson Ramos signs with Mets
Two years, $19 million, with a team option for 2021
Mets catchers hit only .202/.289/.353 in 2018. Ramos (.306/.358/.487) was the best-hitting catcher in the game in ’18. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. It’s true that Ramos sometimes has trouble staying healthy — since ’12, he’s injured his knee twice, his hand once and his hamstrings three times. That’s why he was available for two years, not four or five. A good get for New York.
Dec. 15, 2018: 1B Yonder Alonso traded from Indians to White Sox
Alonso traded for Minor League OF Alex Call
It’s extremely tempting to buy into the narrative that the White Sox are just signing Machado’s friends and family — Alonso’s sister, of course, is married to Machado, and new outfielder Jon Jay is a longtime Machado pal — but it’s also hard to imagine anything other than the largest contract swaying the superstar infielder. On the other hand, the White Sox already have Jose Abreu at first base, and Alonso’s league-average .250/.317/.421 line in 2018 isn’t exactly going to vault the Sox into contention. If Machado ends up on the South Side, this looks like an inspired transaction, but a pretty ordinary move if not.
Video: Addition of Alonso could help White Sox land Machado
Dec. 13, 2018: P Joe Kelly signs with Dodgers
Three years, $25 million, with a team option for 2022
If you believe in the 11 1/3 postseason innings Kelly threw, where he struck out 13 without allowing a single walk, then this deal is an absolute steal. If you look at the longer track record of control issues — his 11.2 percent walk rate was worse than 90 percent of the other pitchers who threw at least 60 innings this year — then you can understand why this one left many Dodger fans unimpressed.
You’d never take Kelly’s 11 1/3 innings as being more important than the 600 or so inconsistent ones that came before it, but those postseason innings did come after some very noticeable late-season changes, and the Dodgers are clearly gambling that they can take his high-velocity fastball/high-spin curveball combination and make the most of them.
Dec. 13, 2018: The Carlos Santana / Edwin Encarnacion / Yandy Diaz trade
1B Santana traded from Mariners to Indians in three-way trade involving the Rays, with 1B Jake Bauers going from Rays to Indians, DH Encarnacion going from Indians to Mariners, and IF Diaz and Minor League P Cole Sulser going from Indians to Rays, with cash and competitive balance picks also changing hands.
This might forever be known as “the trade Jerry Dipoto made from a hospital bed,” but beyond that, this one had a ton of moving parts. When the Mariners acquired Santana in the Jean Segura trade, it was always clear he was a Seattle short-timer. It was just somewhat surprising that he ended up moving for his former Cleveland teammate in Encarnacion, who may not last long in the Pacific Northwest either. What they did accomplish here was to clear some 2020 money, since Santana was due about $40 million over two years, while Encarnacion is going to get $20 million in ’19. (They also get the No. 77 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, from Cleveland.)
From Tampa Bay’s perspective, this is a clear bet on Diaz’s ability to mash the ball. It’s a risk to move the 23-year-old Bauers, who had a decent partial-season debut in 2018, for the 27-year-old Diaz, who somehow has only nine professional homers in the past two seasons despite looking like this. This is the entire point: Diaz has 97th-percentile hard-hit skills, but he’s also in the 97th percentile of hitting grounders. The Rays think they can get him to elevate and tap into his power. Cleveland never could. We’ll see if the Rays can do better. It cost them Bauers and $5 million in cash to find out.
Cleveland gives up on Diaz’s potential, and it swaps Encarnacion for Santana, which gains the Indians youth (Santana is three years younger) and better first-base defense, but they also add Bauers, who still has six years of control remaining and a strong Minor League pedigree. His 2018 debut was more decent than stellar — he hit a slightly below-average .201/.316/.384 — but if the Tribe thought it could never get Diaz to elevate, then the club will probably happy with the more reliable, if lower ceiling, Bauers.
Dec. 13, 2018: P Jeurys Familia signs with Mets
Three years, $30 million
Once-and-future Met Familia returns to New York after a two-month stint in Oakland, but he’s unlikely to take the same closer role he used to have now that Edwin Diaz is in town. Familia still throws as hard as he ever did — last year, his sinker averaged 96.1 mph — but something interesting happened after he was traded to the A’s. After consistently posting strikeout rates in the 22-to-28 percent range with the Mets, he posted a 31 percent rate in the DH league. It seems like at least part of that may be due to more sliders and four-seamers at the expense of Familia’s sinker — he did drop his grounder rate from 50 percent to 40, unsurprisingly — so it will be interesting to see if he maintains that going forward.
Video: Familia excited to return to Mets, set up Diaz
Dec. 12, 2018: P Roark traded from Nationals to Reds for P Tanner Rainey
Just as they did in the Puig-Kemp-Wood trade, the Reds added badly needed depth without having to slice off the top part of their farm system. Roark is hardly a star, but there’s value in a reliably decent league-average starter, which is what he’s been the past two years (361 2/3 innings, 97 ERA+). It may not sound like much, but Reds starters had a 5.02 ERA last year, the second-highest in the NL, so he helps.
Rainey has an electric arm, averaging 97.7 mph in a brief big league look, so the appeal for Washington in turning one year of Roark into six of Rainey is obvious. The only problem there is that Rainey has never thrown strikes — 72 walks in 59 combined Major and Minor League innings last year — so if Washington can’t help improve his command, it’s fair to wonder if it would rather have just had the rotation depth Roark would have offered.
Dec. 12, 2018: P Charlie Morton signs with Rays
Two years, $30 million, with a vesting option for 2021
For all the success Tampa Bay found with “the Opener” in 2018, the Rays were also always going to need a good starter to pair with Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. In Morton, they found one of the best starters available, because after a decade of inconsistent work (mainly with the Pirates), his past two years in Houston were outstanding, thanks mostly to increased velocity (a career-high 96.1 mph in 2018) and diminished usage of his sinker in favor of more four-seamers and more curveballs. It didn’t get a ton of hype, but this move could have a big impact on the Wild Card race.
Dec. 12, 2018: P Lance Lynn signs with Rangers
Three years, $30 million
An early contender for the “most surprising contract of the offseason.” Lynn had to settle for just a one-year deal last spring, then had what looked like a poor season, posting a 4.77 ERA in 156 2/3 innings between the Twins and the Yankees. He somehow managed to turn that into a three-year deal for the rebuilding Rangers, stunning most of baseball. It’s true that the Rangers badly needed starters, and that Lynn was far more interesting with the Yankees — believe it or not, he had a 38/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against righties with New York.
Dec. 11, 2018: OF Andrew McCutchen signs with Phillies
Three years, $50 million, with a team option for 2022
The size of this deal seemed to shock many at the time, though it’s important to note that part of what the Phillies are buying here is the ability to stay on the field; McCutchen has taken at least 650 plate appearances in nine straight years. He’s clearly not the MVP-caliber star he once was, though he remains comfortably above average, posting a 123 wRC+ in 2017 for the Pirates and a 120 wRC+ in a ’18 split between the Giants and Yankees, along with eight straight seasons of 20-plus home runs.
The Phillies clearly weren’t going to trot out an outfield full of Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams again; McCutchen isn’t Bryce Harper, but he’s still a step up in a place where they needed one.
Video: McCutchen excited to join promising Phillies
Dec. 5, 2018: 1B Paul Goldschmidt traded from D-Backs to Cardinals
Goldschmidt and Minor League IF Andy Young traded for C Carson Kelly, P Luke Weaver and 2019 competitive balance pick
In 2017, the Cardinals went into the offseason claiming they needed to add an “impact bat.” They came away with Miami’s Marcell Ozuna, and it didn’t really work out, though there’s plenty of reason to expect they’ll get more from him in 2019. Now they’re in arguably the most competitive division in baseball, where the Cubs and Brewers are each going for it and even the Reds are taking steps to be more competitive.
This time around, the Cards made an aggressive move to add Goldschmidt, who has now put up seven straight star-level seasons. (No, seriously. Since 2012, Goldschmidt ranks fourth in baseball in the FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement.)
The Cardinals can also dream on something better, because — presumably due to the new humidor in Chase Field — Goldschmidt had some serious home-road splits in 2018, putting up a .782 OPS at home and a 1.053 mark on the road. St. Louis needed a big bat, and they got one of the best.
For Arizona, this may not have been the return fans wanted for the best hitter in team history. Then again, the D-backs were selling just a single year of Goldschmidt in a market where first basemen haven’t been valued highly, and they got a ready-now catcher in the 24-year-old Kelly, who had perpetually been stuck behind Yadier Molina, and an interesting young pitcher in the 25-year-old Weaver, who had an encouraging 2017 debut (3.88 ERA in 60 1/3 innings) before taking an apparent step back in ’18.
Dec. 4, 2018: P Patrick Corbin signs with Nationals
Six years, $140 million
Corbin’s career path towards signing a nine-figure deal with Washington may not be exactly what you would have expected, but he was also clearly the best pitcher available, striking out a career-high 246 hitters in 200 innings, thanks in no small part to throwing his deadly slider more than 40 percent of the time and pairing it with a new curveball, which is really just the same slider thrown more slowly.
Despite that, there’s no question that Corbin pitched at an ace level in 2018, and now he’ll join Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg atop what could be a very good Nationals rotation. By simply going out and getting the best pitcher they could, while realizing that the NL East looks like it’s going to be a meat grinder where every game matters, it’s a win for the Nats.
There’s risk here, obviously. Corbin turns 30 this summer, and he’s had two good seasons and one great season, though obviously the great season was his most recent. It’s not fair to call him a “one-pitch pitcher,” but the fastball isn’t a carrying tool if the slider doesn’t work. This isn’t exactly like when the Nationals signed Scherzer heading into 2015 after several very good years in Detroit.
Dec. 3, 2018: P Diaz and 2B Robinson Cano traded to Mets
Diaz, Cano and cash traded from Mariners to Mets for OF Jay Bruce, P Anthony Swarzak, P Gerson Bautista and Minor Leaguers OF Jarred Kelenic and P Justin Dunn
New Mets GM Brodie van Wagenen wanted to make a big splash, and it’s fair to say he did exactly that with this one, trading two of New York’s most highly regarded prospects — Kellenic had been the No. 6 overall pick just last June — for one of the game’s most elite relievers in Diaz and the still-productive 35-year-old Cano.
Let’s start with what we know: Diaz is truly dominant, putting up a 124/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio (and a 1.96 ERA) in his age-24 season, and he’s under control for four more years, so he’s a clear boost to the Mets’ bullpen. It’s not unreasonable to say he’s better than Craig Kimbrel at this point.
As for Cano, you probably don’t want to be signed up for $120 million over his age-36 through 40 seasons, as the Mets are, but it’s worth noting that Mets were able to shed some salary in this deal (not to mention $20 million from the Mariners), and he still crushed in 2018, hitting .303/.374/.471, and was actually better after his PED suspension (.860 OPS) than he was before it (.825). We can’t know if this is a good idea for, say, 2022, but for ’19 the Mets will be better — though it’s still not clear that they’re more than the second- or third-best team in the NL East.
It’s similarly uncertain for the Mariners. It would have seemed like a minor miracle to find someone to take on the remainder of Cano’s contract after the suspension, and they gained two very good prospects in the process. But would they have done better if they hadn’t shackled Cano to Diaz? If they’re only taking a brief step back, should they have just kept Diaz for a potential 2020 contending season?
Video: Van Wagenen on acquiring impact players Cano, Diaz
Dec. 3, 2018: SS Segura traded from Mariners to Phillies
Segura, P Juan Nicasio and P James Pazos traded from Mariners to Phillies for SS J.P. Crawford and 1B Santana
The Phillies made it clear that they wanted to improve their shoddy defense, and installing Segura at shortstop rather than Scott Kingery is a nice step forward in that regard. This move actually helped their defense in two places, because shipping Santana west allows them to get Hoskins out of left field and back to first base. Segura’s more than just a good glove, having hit .308/.353/.449 with 41 home runs over the past three years, and Nicasio is a lot better than his 6.00 ERA would indicate.
The benefits are less clear for Seattle, because Segura was under contract for four more years, and that should have made him valuable. But Santana was simply salary the Mariners had to eat (and eventually flip to Cleveland), and a lot of the shine is off Crawford’s once-bright prospect future. While much of his 2018 struggle can be blamed on a pair of injuries (a forearm strain and a broken left hand), he also didn’t exactly dominate as he progressed through the Minors, posting just a .244/.343/.370 line in over 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances. Crawford only turned 24 in January, so there’s obviously a lot of time and talent left here. It’s just less certain than ever that he turns it into production.
Nov. 30, 2018: P Colome traded from Mariners to White Sox for C Omar Narvaez
Colome was once a quietly strong reliever for the Rays. Now he’s on his third team in the past seven months — he went through Seattle first, as is law — and since he can still miss bats and throw hard, he gives the White Sox two years of what should be decently productive work, likely in the ninth inning. It cost them four years of catcher Narvaez, who had a breakout hitting season (.275/.366/.429), but is one of baseball’s weakest defensive catchers (-16 runs below average, per Baseball Prospectus’ metrics). It’s unclear if this is an upgrade on Mike Zunino for the Mariners. It likely is one for the White Sox, who expect Welington Castillo back and added James McCann as depth.
Nov. 30, 2018: P Jesse Chavez signs with Rangers
Two years, $8 million
The 35-year-old Chavez has been on six teams in the past four years, so this one is hardly going to move any needles, but it’s also worth noting how good Chavez was after Texas traded him to the Cubs last summer. In 32 games, he had a 1.15 ERA and a 42/5 strikeout-to-walk rate, becoming one of the more important members of Chicago’s bullpen. Chavez is not that good long-term, obviously, but it coincided with increased usage of his cutter (from 30 percent with the Rangers to 46 percent with the Cubs). Chavez needs merely to be decent to earn this contract. He might be far better.
Video: Chavez to return to Rangers on 2-year deal
Nov. 30, 2018: C Yan Gomes traded from Indians to Nationals
Nov. 20, 2018: C Kurt Suzuki signs with Nationals
Gomes traded for P Jefry Rodriguez and Minor Leaguers OF Daniel Johnson and IF Andruw Monasterio. Suzuki signs for two years, $20 million
There’s no reason not to lump these together, so let’s lump them together. After two seasons of below-average backstop play from Matt Wieters, the Nationals made it clear they were seeking an upgrade behind the plate, and adding Gomes and Suzuki does exactly that. Suzuki has had a nice late-career turnaround, hitting .276/.341/.485 with 31 homers over the past two seasons. Gomes bounced back from three injury-plagued and unproductive years to hit a league-average .266/.313/.449, which, when combined with strong defense, made him a productive catcher.
Cleveland downgraded behind the plate, essentially swapping out Gomes for Kevin Plawecki — whom the Indians later acquired from the Mets to pair with Roberto Perez — and their 2019 roster is somewhat worse for it. That said, Johnson showed off some stunning tools in the Arizona Fall League, and there’s certainly opportunity in a weak Tribe outfield. Rodriguez may be a reliever long-term; right now, he’s a 25-year-old who just threw 52 innings in the bigs and can hit 99 mph. That’s not nothing.
Nov. 28, 2018: P Garrett Richards signs with Padres
Two years, $15.5 million
If you liked the Eovaldi deal that the Rays signed prior to 2017 — paying an injured pitcher to rehab in the hopes that the second year would pay off — then you’ll love the Richards deal, because the Padres are trying to replicate it. He’ll miss ’19 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and like Eovaldi there’s little guarantee he’ll ever be healthy. But when Richards has been able to pitch, he’s been far more productive than Eovaldi ever was before joining the Red Sox (3.15 ERA in 514 2/3 innings from 2014-18) and that likely gives San Diego either a productive ’20 rotation member, midseason trade bait, or both.
Nov. 26, 2018: 3B Josh Donaldson signs with Braves
One year, $23 million
Donaldson has been on the disabled list four times in the past two seasons, and he managed to get into just 52 games in 2018. He’s now 33, and the risk here is obvious, in that he’ll have to stay healthy and on the field for a team that can’t offer him the option of playing designated hitter. Then again, late-season Donaldson looked a lot more like himself than early-season Donaldson did, and even $23 million for one year is a bargain if he’s got another of those MVP-caliber seasons in him. If not, at least it’s just for one year, making it a risk worth taking.
Video: Donaldson on signing a 1-year deal with the Braves
Nov. 26, 2018: 1B/DH C.J. Cron claimed off waivers by Twins
Cron hit 30 homers with a .253/.323/.493 line for Tampa Bay, then was designated for assignment. Such is the life of a defensively limited righty/righty first baseman without a strong track record, we suppose, because the Rays have a few of those, though the Twins are surely happy to have added some power (along with Cruz) to a lineup that was sorely missing it in 2018.
Nov. 20, 2018: P James Paxton traded from Mariners to Yankees
Paxton traded for P Justus Sheffield and Minor Leaguers P Erik Swanson and OF Dom Thompson-Williams
Paxton is almost certainly never going to be the traditional 200-inning horse. If you can get past that, then the Yankees clearly improved themselves by adding one of the game’s better lefty starters to a rotation that at the time consisted primarily of Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino. (They’d later bring back Happ and CC Sabathia.) Over the past two years, 197 starters have thrown 100 innings, and only four — Chris Sale, Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Robbie Ray — have a higher strikeout rate than Paxton. He’s extremely good.
Whether or not you think the deal was too risky for the Yankees — or worth it for Seattle — depends largely on how you feel about the quality of the prospects going west. Sheffield is a ready-now 22-year-old with a good arm, but also a twice-traded one who was more “good” than “dominating” in the Minors thanks to some command issues. Swanson could be a back-end starter or a good reliever; Thompson-Williams is skilled, but hasn’t yet gone beyond Class A.
Seattle’s farm system had been one of the weakest in the game, so no matter what, this represents a badly needed infusion of talent. It’s just not yet clear what level that talent will reach.
Video: Paxton on finding out he was traded to the Yankees
Nov. 8, 2018: C Zunino traded from Mariners to Rays
Zunino, OF Guillermo Heredia and Minor League P Michael Plassmeyer traded to the Rays for OF Mallex Smith and Minor League OF Jake Fraley
The post-Ramos Rays were never going to go into the season with just Nick Ciuffo and Michael Perez behind the dish, so they moved to fix that problem with Zunino, a product of the University of Florida who is under team control for two more years. Zunino comes with some big strengths — huge raw power, above-average framing ability — along with a massive strikeout problem (the highest of any hitter with 300 plate appearances) that prevents him from realizing his full value. He’s probably an average catcher, all things considered.
The other part of this trade, Minor Leaguers aside, is swapping Heredia for Smith. You can see what the Mariners were going for here: They sent out two years of a good-fielding fourth outfielder in Heredia for four years of Smith, who is coming off a strong .296/.367/.406 season. That’s probably the best he can offer and might even be more than he can contribute again, but Seattle has four seasons to figure it out — or at least until Dipoto trades Smith again.
This is one of the deals that feels extremely fair for both sides, which is probably why it’s not all that exciting.
Nov. 1, 2018: RP Trevor Rosenthal signs with Nationals
One year, $7 million, with a $15 million conditional 2020 player option
There was a time where Rosenthal was one of the most feared relievers in baseball, back when he was throwing triple digits and striking out 410 hitters in 302 1/3 innings between 2013-17. Rosenthal injured his elbow back in August 2017, meaning he’ll be a full year-and-a-half post-surgery when the season begins, and Washington badly needed depth in front of Sean Doolittle. There’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal, especially when the second-year option activates if things have gone well.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.