Christmas came early for MLB front offices, and in a big way.
The 2018 free-agent list is unlike any we’ve seen in recent memory. With superstars like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper on the open market, the balance in MLB power could drastically shift in any directions.
But it doesn’t end with Machado and Harper: Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and others headline this season’s greetings of stars on the market.
Sporting News will keep track of all the latest signings this offseason below.
MLB hot stove tracker, completed deals
Mets add depth with Jed Lowrie, per reports
Deal: Two years, $20 million.
Analysis (Gatto): Another FOB (Friend of Brodie) is headed to Flushing. Lowrie joins Robinson Cano as former clients of agent-turned-GM Brodie Van Wagenen who are moving to New York in 2019. Lowrie is more than a guy getting a new gig from a buddy, though; the 34-year-old infielder is coming off a career season with the A’s (23 home runs, 99 RBIs, .801 OPS, 4.8 bWAR). The switch-hitting Lowrie will add versatility to the Mets’ infield; he has played mostly second base the past four seasons but was an everyday shortstop before then. He also will push previous super sub Jeff McNeil farther down the depth chart.
Nationals, Brian Dozier reportedly agree to one-year deal
Deal: One year, $9 million.
Analysis (Janower): It’s not Bryce Harper, but the Nationals continued their busy offseason by filling a hole in the middle of their infield. They reportedly agreed to a contract with veteran second baseman Dozier (per Jeff Passan of ESPN), who could be a strong bounce-back candidate. Dozier has a good shot to be Washington’s starting second baseman, taking the role from Daniel Murphy, who was traded in August. After receiving MVP votes in three straight seasons, Dozier struggled in 2018 in 151 games between the Twins and Dodgers, posting an OPS of just .696. If he can resemble his form from 2015-17, this could turn into a steal for the Nationals.
Yasmani Grandal reportedly settles for one-year contract with Brewers
Deal: One year, $18.25 million.
Analysis (Gatto): Grandal was thought to be in line for a multiyear pact even after a dreadful postseason with the Dodgers. His switch-hit power (at least 22 home runs in each of the past three seasons) and overall defensive work made him one of the top options in a thin free-agent catcher market. There were unsubstantiated reports Grandal turned down a four-year, $64 million offer from the Mets. Now, with spring training about a month away, Grandal is about to sign a contract (per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports) that is worth a little more than the qualifying offer he turned down from LA and will send him back into the market next winter.
Deal: Two years, $18 million. Club option for 2021.
Analysis (Rivera): The White Sox bring Herrera back to the AL Central after spending a (very poor) half season on the East coast with the Nationals. Herrera’s familiarity with AL Central opponents could help him rebound, and he should pair nicely with Alex Colomé at the back end of the Chicago ‘pen.
Zach Britton returning to Yankees’ bullpen, reports say
Deal: Three years, $39 million, $14 million club option for 2022/player opt-out after 2020 season.
Analysis (Gatto): New York management digs into the vault to re-sign Britton, who didn’t pitch like the dominant reliever the Bombers expected him to be after they acquired him from the Orioles last July. Yanks brass is counting on Britton, 31, regaining command of his power sinker and serving as a big link in the late-inning bridge to closer Aroldis Chapman.
David Robertson to be Phillies’ relief ‘ace’
Deal: Two years, $23 million, $12 million team option for 2021.
Analysis (Gatto): Robertson, 33, has closing experience, but he won’t be limited to the ninth inning with his new club. Navigating high-leverage situations will be his primary focus. “If I’ve got to pitch in the sixth, seventh or eighth or even the ninth, it doesn’t matter. I just want to be in the back end of the bullpen when the big outs need to be made,” he told reporters (per MLB.com) at his introductory press conference.
Mariners land Yusei Kikuchi
Deal: Three years, $43 million, $13 million player option for 2022, four-year, $66 million club option (2022-25).
Analysis (Gatto): Seattle’s buy-and-sell offseason continues with a big international purchase. Kikuchi, 27, is coming from Japan to claim a spot in the middle of the M’s rotation. He won’t be a workhorse from the start, however; Seattle plans on limiting his innings, mostly through extra rest and short starts, as he makes the transition to the majors and as the retooling M’s plan for 2020 and beyond.
Nelson Cruz signs one-year deal with Twins
Deal: One year, $14 million. $12 million team option for 2020.
Analysis (Rivera): Signing Cruz to a one-year deal is a good move for the Twins, who get a veteran bopper in the middle of the lineup. Minnesota likely won’t compete for anything more than a second wild-card spot at their absolute best, so this makes sense as a buy-and-trade move for them, as well. Should Cruz perform, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 38-year-old is flipped at the trade deadline to a team that’s in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Joakim Soria joining A’s bullpen
Deal: Two years, $15 million
Analysis (Gatto): Oakland makes a move to keep its relief corps strong. Soria, 34, was the White Sox’s closer for a time last season before being traded to the Brewers, for whom he pitched in middle relief. He appeared in 66 games total in 2018, with a 3.12 ERA (2.43 FIP) and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Soria will join a setup group that includes Fernando Rodney, Lou Trivino, Ryan Buchter and Yusmeiro Petit.
Cardinals close to getting lefty relief help with Andrew Miller
Deal: Terms unknown.
Analysis (Gatto): As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, the Redbirds were interested in Miller before he signed with the Yankees in the 2014-15 offseason. They’re about to capitalize on their second chance. Miller was one of baseball’s best relievers before injuries marred his 2018 season with the Indians. He posted a 1.72 ERA and averaged 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings from 2014-17. He can set up or close, but St. Louis has an opening in the ninth inning with Bud Norris becoming a free agent. Regardless of his role, Miller will give the Cards much-needed bullpen help from the left side.
Anibal Sanchez reportedly staying in NL East with Nationals
Deal: Two years, $19 million, plus a third-year option.
Analysis (Gatto): Sanchez, somehow, earned himself another decent contract (figures reported by Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press) after his five-year, $80 million deal with the Tigers turned into an albatross. The right-hander was a rotation stalwart for the division-champion Braves last year after joining the team in mid-March. He posted a 2.83 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 25 games (24 starts). Now he’ll try to beat Atlanta as Washington’s new No. 4 starter, replacing the traded Tanner Roark.
Angels add Trevor Cahill to rotation
Deal: One year, $9 million, plus $1.5 million in incentives.
Analysis (Gatto): Cahill was one of the unexpected keys to the A’s success last season, and now comes his reward. He and fellow free agent Matt Harvey will fill out a rotation that looks, on paper anyway, to be unimposing. One potential red flag about the 30-year-old Cahill: His home-and-road splits were stark last season. He fashioned a 1.84 ERA and 0.91 WHIP at the Oakland Coliseum as opposed to a 6.41 ERA and 1.58 WHIP on the road.
Daniel Murphy reportedly joining Rockies
Deal: Two years, $24 million, plus a mutual third-year option.
Analysis (Gatto): The 33-year-old Murphy fills a need on the Rockies’ infield, but not the one you might assume. Rather than slide in for departed second baseman DJ LeMahieu, Murphy is expected to play first base, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. That would ensure a change of position/role for Ian Desmond. Murphy was never fully healthy last season; he played with soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. His offense returned to the levels he produced while with the Mets (.454 slugging percentage, 106 OPS+), but home games at Coors Field should help improve those numbers.
Matt Harvey heads west, signs with Angels, per report
Deal: One year, $11 million, plus $3 million in incentives.
Analysis (Rivera): Can the Dark Knight rise? That’s the question everyone is asking. This was supposed to be the winter of Harvey, after all, but given the way Harvey’s career has unfolded — injuries, ineffectiveness — it’s hard to see how he can reimagine himself once again. There’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal, after all.
Jeurys Familia returns to Mets on three-year deal
Deal: Three years, $30 million.
Analysis (Rivera): Familia was a pretty good Met, 2015 World Series aside, who wanted to be in Queens once again. This is a good move by new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, who continues to re-shape the roster in his image. Spending money to shore up the bridge to new closer Edwin Diaz is a big deal, as the Mets have made bargain-bin signings in the bullpen in recent years. Familia is a good option to set up Diaz, but there’s more work to be done.
Yankees bring back J.A. Happ
Deal: Two years, $34 million with a vesting option for a third year.
Analysis (Rivera): The Yankees needed to solidify the rotation, and it’s exactly what you’re getting with the 36-year-old lefty. Happ isn’t going to overwhelm a lot of hitters, but he’s a consistent back-end-of-the-rotation guy who the Yankees desperately needed. Re-signing Happ shouldn’t preclude them from continuing to fix their rotation, but it’s a good insurance move for their 2019 season.
Mets get backstop help, sign Wilson Ramos
Deal: Two years, $19.5 million.
Analysis (Rivera): This is a really good move for the Mets. Ramos is one of the more underrated catchers in baseball, especially offensively. In 111 games between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia last year, Ramos hit .306 with a 130 OPS+. Health is key, as per usual, but Ramos is a good signing for a fair price.
Rays add starting pitcher Charlie Morton
Deal: Two years, $30 million.
Analysis (Jacob Janower): Morton has rejuvenated his career over the last two seasons, posting a 3.36 (3.53 FIP), 1.176 WHIP, and a 10.4 K/9 in 55 starts with the Astros. At the age of 35, he will provide a veteran presence to a young Rays pitching staff that proved it can contend in 2018 and includes reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell.
The Rays frequently used an “opener” last season, but with Morton’s ability to eat innings (313 2/3 in 2017 and 2018) it’s reasonable to assume he will be used in a more traditional starting role.
Patrick Corbin signs mega-deal with Nationals
Deal: Six years, $140 million.
Analysis (Rivera): Wow. Patrick Corbin had a great year with the Diamondbacks. He pitched to a 3.15 ERA (2.47 FIP), 1.050 WHIP, 246 strikeouts in 200 innings. He even finished fifth in the Cy Young voting. That’s a great year, in fact, it was his best year, in his Age 29 season.
But before 2018, Corbin pitched over 200 innings just once (2013, 208 1/3 innings) and all of his numbers are good but not great: a 4.12 ERA (3.96 FIP), 1.348 WHIP, 104 ERA+.
So really, does anyone really know what Patrick Corbin is? Corbin is solid, even good, in a good year. But so far in his career, he’s traded good and bad years routinely.
Is he worth $23 million a year through his age 35 season? It’s tough to say. It’s a bold move for the Nats, who have banked on pitching in the past, and has worked at times. Hopefully their faith will be rewarded this time and Corbin continues to trend up and prove that 2018 wasn’t an aberration.
Brian McCann returns to Braves
Deal: One year, $2 million.
Analysis (Rivera): McCann had his best years with the Braves, and the local boy returns home on a short deal. After a lackluster stint with the Yankees, McCann didn’t refind much of his offense with the Astros, but his leadership was felt en route to raising the Commissioner’s Trophy following the 2017 World Series. The Braves are likely hoping for more of the same with a young team.
Braves sign third baseman Josh Donaldson
Deal: One year, $23 million.
Analysis (Rivera): There’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal, and even though the $23 million price tag seems hefty, getting a former MVP candidate in a year where the Braves are going to challenge for a World Series isn’t a bad thing.
While an injury riddled season sapped Donaldson of prime production with the Blue Jays, in 16 games with the Indians he reverted to his old self: three home runs, .280 average and a 146 OPS+ for the Tribe. It’s a good signing for the Braves, with potential to be great.
Nationals sign catcher Kurt Suzuki
Deal: Two years, $10 million.
Analysis (Rivera): Kurt Suzuki has aged like a fine wine, hitting to a 128 OPS+ in 2017 and a 108 OPS+ in 2018. Previously with Washington (2012-13), he hit .237 with eight home runs in 122 games. Suzuki has only gotten better with age and helps fortify defense behind the dish for the Nats.
Yankees bring back Brett Gardner
Deal: One year, $7.5 million.
Analysis (Rivera): Gardner was slated to make $11 million in 2019, but the Yankees bought out his deal ($2 million) and paid him a new, $7.5 million contract, essentially saving a few million bucks.
Gardner is an aging outfielder who had his worst season in pinstripes, but much like Sabathia, the Yankees value his veteran presence and leadership in the clubhouse. He’s also very good at working counts, which adds something to a lineup.
Dodgers re-sign David Freese
Deal: One year, $6 million.
Analysis (Rivera): Freese provided a proven, veteran bat throughout the playoffs for the Dodgers. Declining his deal and bringing him back was the smart thing to do, and they save about $4 1/2 million in doing so.
Yankees, CC Sabathia agree to one-year deal
Deal: One year, $8 million.
Analysis (Rivera): Admittedly, this signing was a bit confusing, but when you dig into the numbers a bit deeper, it makes some sense. Sabathia had good fifth-starter numbers in 2018, and his leadership means a lot to the club.
While the signing came as a surprise to some, the numbers are there, and Sabathia and the Yankees feel like they have unfinished business.
Trevor Rosenthal signs with Nationals
Deal: One year, $7 million. Option for 2020.
Analysis (Rivera): Rosenthal last pitched in 2017, throwing to a 3.40 ERA in 50 games (2.17 FIP). He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017, spending 2018 rehabbing the injury. It’s a low-risk move for the Nats, who give Sean Doolittle a little bit of help in the back end of the bullpen should Rosenthal rebound.
Red Sox re-sign Steve Pearce
Deal: One year, $6.25 million.
Analysis (Tom Gatto): The 2018 World Series MVP, who will turn 36 on April 13, could become the right-handed half of a first-base platoon with Mitch Moreland, but he’s versatile enough to also make spot starts at the corner outfield positions, second base and third base. One thing seems certain: Pearce will face a lot of left-handed pitching; he owns an .852 OPS in 908 lifetime plate appearances vs. southpaws.