This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: December, 2018
Roster Turnover, Lawsuits, New Ballpark Name: It’s All Happening in Seattle
Harold Baines, Hall of Famer—Wait, What? It’s Not to Be, Ybor City Rays


Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.346 129 180 47 5 32 80 73 8 8 30

Last season, the young and talented outfielder had an off-year by his standards, batting .264—but it was such a potent .264, with plenty of extra-base hits, walks, and 100 runs and RBIs each, one wondered how enriched that extra production would be if he batted, say, 80 points higher. This year, we found out. Betts was the ultimate sparkplug for a lively Red Sox offense, leading the majors with a .346 average, 129 runs and .640 slugging percentage. He put bat to ball often as well, striking out less than 100 times—and in this day and age, that’s something of a revelation. At age 26, Betts should only get better—and the Red Sox don’t have to worry about losing him to free agency until 2021.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.326 118 187 34 7 36 110 66 2 7 22

Giancarlo, Giancarlo, Giancarlo. That seemed to be all you heard out of Miami in regards the teardown of the Marlins by their new regime this past offseason, as Stanton—the reigning NL MVP—was handed over to the Yankees. Almost lost amid the chatter of Giancarlo, however, was the Marlins’ moving of Yelich to Milwaukee. Seems kind of weird to think of that now, given that he’s likely to be Stanton’s successor on the MVP podium. The 26-year-old outfielder was deemed a solid but not sensational offensive force pre-Milwaukee, but an incredible second half—.367 average, 25 homers and 67 RBIs in 65 games—had him turning a tight MVP race into a foregone conclusion. And just so we get the record straight on this, Yelich is not Pete Davidson’s bigger brother.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.168 40 79 12 0 16 49 39 2 7 2

There was a time, back in his early days at Texas, when Davis looked like a powerful Double-A slugger hopelessly failing the major league test. When he moved on to Baltimore and developed into an All-Star force, those days seemed well behind. But Davis’ 2018 performance wasn’t just a relapse back to those earlier, uglier times; this was worse. His batting average was the lowest ever recorded by anyone with enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title, and his OPS was also dead last—yes, lower than Alcides Escobar. There’s a lot of bad news in Orioleland these days, but here’s what may be the worst news of all: The Orioles owe Davis—who turns 33 next March—$92 million through 2022. Maybe this is why Baltimore GM Dan Duquette got the ax.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.199 31 76 10 5 11 42 15 2 4 2

This is the guy the Marlins got in exchange for Christian Yelich. Okay, so three other minor leaguers came along with him, but he was considered the prime catch, the Willie Mays card among the pack of common players. The rookie may have better days ahead of him—he’s only 23—and yes, Mike Schmidt hit .196 in his first full year. But whatever he showed in the minors that wowed the Marlins was absent in Miami. He couldn’t hit, apparently couldn’t run (he’s said to be fast, but stole only two bases), and though he has great range in the outfield, he led the majors with nine errors at that position. Finally, Brinson lacked patience; he walked just 17 times and struck out 120. For the Marlins’ sake, he’ll mature fast and avoid making this trade similar to the dud that was the six great prospects they thought they’d gained back in 2008 after trading Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
21-5 180.2 112 41 38 64 1 13 0 221 1.89

It’s almost ironic that the league’s best “mainstream” starting pitcher plies his trade for a team that’s all but disdained the starting rotation concept as the Rays leaned heavily on the “opener” in 2018. But Snell gave the team a good reason to temporarily keep Ryne Stanek and others in the bullpen during the first inning whenever he took the bump. The 25-year-old southpaw, after an 11-15 record over 2016-17, exploded into prominence with a stunning effort in 2018. His best stuff took place after a bum shoulder healed in early August, as he went 9-0 in his last 11 starts with a fabulous 1.17 ERA. It’s a shame the Rays put such a leash on Snell; five times he allowed only one hit, but never made it past the seventh inning in any of those starts. Still, he looks likely to be the Rays’ second Cy Young Award recipient, after David Price in 2012.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
10-9 217.0 152 48 41 46 5 2 0 269 1.70

Our combined metric readings told us to give this honor to the Phillies’ Aaron Nola, but shove the Excel file—deGrom was simply the better pitcher. It’s not his fault that he won just 10 games for the Mets—for that, go blame his teammates for bad support. In one ridiculous stretch, he went 13 straight starts with just one win—despite posting a 1.89 ERA. Before and after, he was just as good; in fact, he finished the year with 29 straight starts allowing three or fewer earned runs, a major league record. (Actually, the Rays’ Ryne Stanek also hit 29 such straight starts to end the year, but he’s an ‘opener’ so it really shouldn’t count, but it must—oh never mind.) deGrom has basically been the one consistently good, (mostly) injury-free component of the Mets over the past two years; goodness only knows what would happen to this team if he broke down.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Matt Moore, Texas Rangers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
3-8 102.0 128 82 77 41 5 6 0 86 6.79

Most of the trades that the Giants have made of late haven’t worked out too well, but the one sending the veteran lefty to Texas led to plenty of major exhaling in the San Francisco front office—and much regret in Arlington, where the Rangers obviously got the worse end of the deal. Tis a shame for Moore, who looked so sharp as recently as two years back when he was tossing gems for the Giants. This year with Texas, he was tossing lemons. Moore had an 8.02 ERA as a starter before the Rangers couldn’t take it anymore and demoted him to the bullpen—where he was only a little better. The Rangers have the option to bring him back for $10 million in 2019; here’s guessing that they probably won’t bite on that.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
1-14 106.1 141 82 72 33 1 2 2 75 6.09

On the 10-year anniversary of naming the lefty from La Grange, Texas as our pick for the NL’s worst pitcher, we do it again. And it’s not just because we feel like picking on him; for all we know, he’s a nice guy and we’ve been to La Grange—it’s a pleasant town. But the numbers are too just painful to ignore. This number is the most painful: 1-19. That’s the Reds’ record when Bailey started. The last time a team suffered such a funk from one pitcher was when the 1899 Cleveland Spiders also went 1-19 with Frank Bates on the mound. When you reference the Spiders (who finished 20-134), you know this is bad. Whatever magic Bailey had to earn a six-year, $105 million contract back in 2014 has long since vanished; like the Orioles with Chris Davis, the Reds are counting the days until they can stop sending checks to this guy.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Boston Red Sox (108-54)

Boston chalked up its third straight AL East title with hammer-like force, riding the league’s best offense and an effective (if patched-together) rotation to a franchise record 108 wins—though the 1912, 1915 and 1946 editions, who played fewer games, have this squad beat on percentage points. Nevertheless, this was a star-studded affair, with not one but two legitimate MVP candidates (Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez), a Cy Young Award-level performance from ace Chris Sale and 42 more saves from Craig Kimbrel. That they made winning the division look easy even as the rival Yankees won 100 games made their achievement all the more impressive. The benefactor of all of this is first-year manager Alex Cora, who earned more victories by a rookie pilot than all but the Yankees’ Ralph Houk in 1961.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Milwaukee Brewers (96-67)

Not so long ago, we ribbed the Brewers for being fast, loose and sloppy. They still are; in 2018, they were at or near the top of the charts in steals, batter strikeouts and errors. But this year, they finally piled up enough positives to offset some of the negatives—or else they wouldn’t have finished the season with the NL’s best record. Part of it was the emergence of a monstrous bullpen that got better with each passing month and bailed out a fractured rotation (Jhoulys Chacin was the only pitcher with 10 or more wins). But clearly sweetening the Miller Park pot was likely NL MVP Christian Yelich, once-and-current Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain, and a breakout campaign for slugger Jesus Aguilar (35 homers). So they remain fast, they remain loose—in a good way—and they’d like to think that the only thing they’re sloppy at is clubhouse champagne celebrations.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Baltimore Orioles (47-115)

When the Red Sox’ Andrew Benintendi made a flying catch in front of the AL East standings posted on Fenway Park’s Green Monster during the World Series, TV viewers nationwide couldn’t help but focus at those standings and blurt out, “Were the Orioles really that bad?” Just about everything that could go wrong did for the O-No’s, from eleven losing streaks of five or more games to Chris Davis’ crash-and-burn to Dylan Bundy’s 41 homers allowed—and on and on and on. Almost nobody stepped up, except those (Manny Machado, Zach Britton) who got traded and avoided having to play out the whole nightmare. All of this added to a franchise-record 115 losses—yes, that history includes the god-awful St. Louis Browns—and front-office cries of “off with their heads!” aimed at manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette, who had stabilized the team until this nuclear implosion. Here’s the question for 2019: Is there a long enough ladder to help rescue this ballclub from the abyss?


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami Marlins (63-98)

After an offseason purge of basically anyone with established talent—those left behind were essentially banging on the door to join the exodus—the Marlins’ slogan for 2018 might as well have been, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.” Marlins fans got the message, which is why they didn’t show up; the sub-million gate was the first by a major league team since the lame-duck Montreal Expos of 2004. Besides attendance, the Marlins were also dead last in the NL in ERA, runs scored and slugging percentage. As tanking dictates, the Marlins should be able to only go up from here. The question is whether the fans, so scarred by Wayne Huizenga, Jeffrey Loria and now this, will even give a rat’s you-know-what when things get better.


Wild Pitches

Yes, They Can’t Believe This Really Happened
(December 2018 Edition)

But What About Tomorrow?
The Braves are naming their new Florida spring training facility CoolToday Park.

Banner Move
Yahoo Sports headline: “Mets hire Banner from Red Sox to lead player development.” Could that be the banner that was stolen (and later returned) from the Red Sox prior to the postseason?

The Forest Called—They’re Running Out of Trees
In lobbying for the best possible deal for client/superstar Bryce Harper, agent Scott Boras came to the MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas armed with a 118-page brochure explaining why Harper should be compared to basketball’s LeBron James.

Rats!
Someone used a soda machine in the press box at the aging Oakland Coliseum during a Raiders football game and found two dead mice.

Yes to the Yankees, No to the Titanic
Yankees president Randy Levine was surprised to hear his name on a list of candidates to be President Donald Trump’s new chief of staff, and said he was quite happy with the job he already has.

At Least he Wasn’t John Tutored
Alex Bregman survived a front-row collision with the Houston Rockets’ P.J. Tucker after the latter dove for a loose basketball, but the Astros’ star came out of it a little wet.

How Darth of You
Yankees GM Brian Cashman, coyly swatting down talk that the team was not interested in signing Bryce Harper, nevertheless reminded reporters that his front office was a “fully operational Death Star.”

Viva Las Vegas
The Blue Jays wrapped up the MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas by acquiring Elvis—18-year-old right-hander Elvis Luciano, that is.

Six Degrees of Infamous Separation
Laurence Leavy, a.k.a. Marlins Man, publicly claimed that his mother is the niece of the sister of Arnold Rothstein, the notorious gambler who helped perpetrate the Black Sox Scandal.

And Jose Feliciano Already Has a Song About Him
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweeted on Christmas Eve: “Rangers interested in Felix Navidad.”

A Present for Your Past
Brady Singer, who received a $4.25 million bonus from Kansas City after being picked 18th in the 2018 Amateur Draft, gave his parents a Christmas Day letter stating that he’d pay off all of their remaining debts.

How to Yawn at Click-Bait
MLB.com headline: “Don’t sleep on Juan Pierre’s HOF chances.” Our response: Thanks, we’ll sleep well.

That’s Impostor-ble!
Pittsburgh pitcher Trevor Williams was confused for Bryce Harper by a Bronx-born waiter at a restaurant—and, playing along, told him he was going to sign with the Yankees.



Saturday, December 1
A long-rumored trade finally becomes reality as Seattle deals veteran second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz—who saved a franchise-record 57 games for the Mariners in 2018—to the New York Mets for outfielder Jay Bruce, reliever Anthony Swarzak and three minor leaguers including high-end outfielding prospect Jarred Kelenic. The Mariners are also sending $20 million to the Mets.

This move is a head scratcher on both fronts. Though the minor league talent is enticing for the Mariners, Bruce and Swarzak are coming off of awful campaigns and are on the wrong side of 30. For the Mets, meanwhile, they get a 36-year-old second baseman (Cano) who’s coming off a PED-stained season and is still owed $96 million over the next four years (or $76 million, if you throw in Seattle’s $20 million discount). And where will New York place young incumbent second baseman Jeff McNeil, who surprised in 2018 with a .337 average, 22 home runs, 90 RBIs and 107 runs between the Mets and two minor league teams this past season?

Monday, December 3
Two days after sending away Cano and Diaz, the Mariners continue their aggressive offseason makeover. Second baseman Jean Segura, whose one and only season at Seattle was largely productive but unhappy (highlighted by a clubhouse fight with teammate Dee Gordon), is sent to Philadelphia in exchange for veteran first baseman Carlos Santana and young infielder J.P. Crawford, who’ll likely take over at second. This deal is not exactly about shedding payroll; Santana is to be paid $20 million over each of the next two seasons, while Segura is owed under $15 million per year through 2022.

Santana’s stay with the Mariners will be a short one, as you’ll read below on Thursday the 13th.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is given a four-year extension. This comes on the heels of rumors that he would be let go after a series of questionable calls during the postseason, the second straight in which the Dodgers made it to the World Series only to be defeated.

Tuesday, December 4
Despite what appears to be the eminent loss of Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals make a move to remind everyone that they’re not to be counted out of the 2019 NL East race. The Nationals strike a deal with (arguably) the top pitcher in the free agent market, snaring former Arizona hurler Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal.

This should be a good fit for Corbin; he’s coming off his best year (11-7, 3.15 earned run average), but has never been a sure thing as he’s had up-and-down success with the Diamondbacks. Yet as the #3 member of a rotation that includes Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Corbin won’t quite have the massive burden to perform that he might have with another team as its #1 or #2.

Wednesday, December 5
A day after the Diamondbacks lose arguably their best pitcher, they give up, not so arguably, their best player in franchise history. First baseman/slugger Paul Goldschmidt is traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Luke Weaver, back-up catcher Carson Kelly, rising infielder Andy Young and a future draft pick. There’s been precious few other major leaguers through the decade who rate as close to being a sure thing as Goldschmidt, who’s put together a career .297 average, 209 home runs and 710 RBIs for Arizona over the last eight years; he was just one full season away from likely becoming the team’s all-time leader in hits, home runs, runs and RBIs. But he also has one year left on his very team-friendly contract, and the Diamondbacks decided not to wait until next year’s trading deadline to deal him, knowing that they’d likely lose him to free agency.

This gives the Cardinals their first genuine star hitter, with all due respect to Matt Carpenter, since Albert Pujols left following the 2011 season. There’s also this: In 111 games at NL Central ballparks, Goldschmidt is hitting .324 with 27 homers and 88 RBIs.

After losing Corbin and Goldschmidt, Arizona makes up as best it can by signing Merrill Kelly to a two-year, $5.5 million deal. If you’ve never heard of Kelly, don’t worry—you’re not alone. The 30-year-old right-hander has never pitched in the majors, spending the last four years in Korea where he posted a 48-32 record and 3.86 ERA for the SK Wyverns. Before that, he spent five years in the Tampa Bay organization.

Thursday, December 6
Former major leaguers Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo are killed in their native Venezuela when a car they’re riding in with two Winter League teammates careens out of control after trying to avoid a rock on the road. It later is revealed that the rock was intentionally planted by nearby bandits who rob the four occupants of their valuables after they crash. (The assailants will be arrested the next day.) The two teammates, none with major league experience, survive but are badly beat up. Valbuena was released by the Los Angeles Angels this past August, collecting a career .226 average and 114 home runs over 11 seasons; Castillo last played in 2008, performing five seasons for three different teams (mostly with Pittsburgh).

Boston postseason pitching standout Nathan Eovaldi is rewarded for his October efforts by receiving a four-year, $68 million deal to remain with the Red Sox. Eovaldi was a combined 6-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 22 appearances split between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays following Tommy John surgery; in six playoff games (two as a starter), he went 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA, allowing just 15 hits and three walks over 22.1 innings.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who struggled in 2018 for two teams (Baltimore and Milwaukee) after producing a terrific .293-32-105 campaign in 2017, signs a one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins. Schoop hit just .202 in 46 games for the Brewers after a midseason trade from the Orioles, and was 0-for-8 in the postseason.

With rumors swirling that the Cleveland Indians will be breaking up their vaunted pitching rotation, it appears that Carlos Carrasco, for one, will be staying. The 31-year-old right-hander receives a four-year, $47 million extension from the Indians.

Saturday, December 8
Retirement party at Napoli’s! The colorful slugger who played for three pennant winners—the 2011 Texas Rangers, 2013 championship Red Sox and 2016 Cleveland Indians—calls it a career at age 37. Mike Napoli collected 267 homers with a .246 batting average over his 12-year major league career, but after being released by the Rangers in 2017, the best he could do in 2018 was to struggle at the triple-A level in the Cleveland organization—collecting just one hit (a home run) in 24 at-bats for Columbus. Will Napoli party after baseball? He should have the money to do so; he made $82 million over his career.

Kyler Murray, the top draft pick of the Oakland A’s this past season—and currently University of Oklahoma quarterback—is named the winner of the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player. If Murray seriously pursues baseball and makes it to the majors, he’ll be the third Heisman winner to do so, following in the footsteps of Vic Janowicz (1952) and Bo Jackson (1985). Tim Tebow, who recently was slotted into the Mets’ Triple-A roster, could make it four Heisman winners if he moves up one more step to the parent club.

In the wake of Murray’s victory, people with lots of time on their hands go-a-huntin’ deep into his Twitter past and discover a series of postings in which he referred to friends and others, on occasion, as “queers.” Murray will apologize, saying that he was quite young when he tweeted out the slurs. Like, 14 or 15 years old.

If Murray chooses to play in the National Football League, the A’s have the option to null and void the $4.6 million signing bonus they gave him.

Sunday, December 9
A 16-man committee in charge of electing players, managers and/or executives from the “Today’s Game” era (or roughly 1980 on) select two former stars for Cooperstown: Closer Lee Smith and slugger Harold Baines. Smith, who’s currently third on the all-time saves list (478), gets the nod from all 16 voters, while Baines gets the minimum 12 (75%) needed for enshrinement. Falling one vote shy is Lou Piniella, while none of the other candidates gain more than five.

With our bar of excellence set high for selecting Hall of Famers—if we had a vote—we would not have opted for either Smith or Baines. Some will disagree with us on Smith, who during the general election received as much as 50% of the vote. But almost everyone will agree with us on Baines, one of those “quantity over quality” players who hit .289, collected 2,866 hits and 384 home runs over a 22-year career, never led the league in anything, made the All-Star Game four times for the White Sox because there was almost no one else of any worth to pick from Chicago, and is forever known as the guy Rangers fans curse for being traded to Texas for a young Sammy Sosa in 1989.

Here’s the curious question about Baines: How does a guy who exited the general Cooperstown vote after just five ballots and garnered no more than 6.1% support of BBWAA voters get 12 of 16 ballots cast in his favor in the Vet vote? Someone perused the makeup of the voting bloc and discovered that it included White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, former White Sox manager Tony La Russa, former Baltimore GM Pat Gillick (Baines had several vintage years of output with the Orioles) and ex-teammate Roberto Alomar. La Russa, in a combative, sometimes profane MLB network interview several days later with Chris Russo, defends his election of Baines by saying that he did lead the majors consistently in one stat: Game-winning RBIs.

The election of Baines, who spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter, should leave lobbyists of Edgar Martinez convinced that there should be no more argument about the latter’s inclusion into the Hall.

The final word on Baines’ election, from Baines himself: “Wasn’t really expecting it, but very grateful that it happened.”

MLB announces that all Sunday night baseball games nationally telecast on ESPN in 2019 will start an hour earlier, with first pitch at 7:00 Eastern time. The earlier time is established to give teams less of a possibility that they’d have to fly to their next destination during the graveyard shift.

Monday, December 10
Outfielder Billy Hamilton, let go by the Cincinnati Reds last month, signs a one-year, $5.25 million deal with Kansas City. The 28-year-old speedster has 277 steals over six years, but has struggled to keep his batting average over .250—and his on-base percentage over .300.

Pitcher Tyson Ross, struggling to get his groove back after three years of oscillating, injury-riddled results, inks for one year and $5.75 million with the Detroit Tigers. Ross was 8-9 with a 4.15 ERA in a 2018 campaign split between San Diego and St. Louis.

Tuesday, December 11
The Philadelphia Phillies, rumored to be interested in just about everybody this offseason, makes their first free-agent signing by bringing on veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen for three years and $50 million. The 32-year old doesn’t have quite the MVP form of old, but he showed in split time this past year with the Giants and Yankees that he still has some vibe left, hitting .255 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and 14 steals in 2018.

The Chicago White Sox gain stability in their rotation by trading for the Pirates’ Ivan Nova; going to Pittsburgh is minor league pitcher Yordi Rosario and $500,000 in international pool slot money. In two-plus years with the Pirates, the 31-year-old Nova was an even 25-25 with a 3.99 ERA and five complete games.

By playing for an American League team, Nova won’t have to worry about his hitting skills, for which he has absolutely none; in 144 career at-bats, he has six hits (all singles), no walks and no RBIs.

Despite still being owed $38 million, veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is released by Toronto. Since being traded by Colorado in 2015, the one-time Gold Glover has struggled at the plate and been plagued by injuries; he only made it onto the field in 66 games in 2018, hitting .249 with seven homers.

It just wasn’t meant to be, Ybor City. The Tampa Bay Rays say they are abandoning their bid to build a ballpark in the historic community adjacent to downtown Tampa because plans haven’t progressed as anticipated. The Rays are still committed to leaving outdated Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg when their lease expires after the 2027 season, ideally sooner if possible. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg waxes frustration, telling reporters: “We tried (with a waterfront ballpark) back in 2008. We’ve done it now over the past three years. Using a baseball term, you could say we’ve had two strikes.”

Wednesday, December 12
Free agent pitcher Charlie Morton signs a two-year deal worth $30 million with Tampa Bay, perhaps ensuring that the Rays won’t be all about the “Opener” beyond Blake Snell in 2019. The 35-year-old Morton is coming off a two-year spell in Houston that’s among his best results, posting a 29-10 record and 3.36 ERA; he was also the winning pitcher of the Astros’ World Series clincher in 2017, pitching the final four innings in relief.

After an iffy 2018 showing in which he went 10-10 but with a 4.77 ERA split between the Yankees and Twins, Lance Lynn is able to secure a three-year, $30 million deal with Texas. The Rangers are hoping that Lynn can return to his pre-2018 form in which he won 72, lost 47 and produced a 3.38 ERA over six previous seasons with St. Louis.

In a trade involving two players named Tanner, the Washington Nationals send pitcher Tanner Roark to Cincinnati in exchange for young right-hander Tanner Rainey. Roark has been an up-and-down source of frustration for the Nationals, but is 2-0 in four career starts at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, home of the Reds; Rainey, a second-round draft pick from 2015, was shelled in his first taste of the majors this past season, allowing 19 runs on 13 hits (four of them home runs) and 12 walks in just seven innings of relief.

The Los Angeles Angels sign slugging first baseman Justin Bour to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Bour could be a sleeper for the Angels, but only if he wakes up after hitting a paltry .227 in 2018 with 20 homers split between Miami and Philadelphia in 2018. A year earlier, Bour had batted .289 with 25 homers—in just 377 at-bats.

Thursday, December 13
Carlos Santana’s stay in Seattle is over before it begins—and he’s going home again. The first baseman/DH, traded to the Mariners from the Phillies just 10 days earlier, is on the move again to Cleveland—where he played from 2010-17. It’s part of a three-way trade between Seattle, Cleveland and Tampa Bay in which the Mariners will receive slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who’s hit at least 30 home runs in each of his last seven years; the Indians will also get outfielder/first baseman Jake Bauers; and the Rays get infielder Yandy Diaz and pitcher Cole Susler.

Before the trade is finalized, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto is rushed to a hospital in Las Vegas (where the MLB Winter Meetings are concluding) with what is discovered to be several blood clots in his lungs. He will be treated and released later in the day—but not before completing the trade from his hospital bed.

Santana is not the only one returning to his original team. Reliever Jeurys Familia, who played with the New York Mets for six-plus years before being traded to Oakland late in 2018, signs to come back with the Mets for three years and $30 million. Familia’s 123 saves with the Mets currently rank third in franchise history.

The Yankees retain 36-year-old pitcher J.A. Happ, who they traded for from Toronto midway through the 2018 season, for two years and $34 million. Happ was a perfect 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Yankees after a 10-8 start with the Blue Jays; over his last four seasons, he’s a combined 54-23.

Fireballing reliever Joe Kelly, who appeared in 73 regular season games for the world champion Red Sox and allowed just one earned run in 11.1 postseason innings, inks for three years and $25 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Friday, December 14
The Baltimore Orioles hire Brandon Hyde, a coach for the past five years with the Cubs, as their new manager to pick up the pieces from a shattered 47-115 showing this past season. Before his time in Chicago, Hyde was also with the Marlins’ organization as a minor league manager (2005-09) and bench coach (2010-11) for the parent club.

The AL Central Division continues to witness a possible shift of power. The White Sox—showing modest signs of wanting to compete now, and currently considered one of the top favorites to land Bryce Harper—snare first baseman Yonder Alonso from the reigning division champion Indians, who are showing signs of breaking it down. Alonso continued to show good power in 2018 with 23 home runs for Cleveland, a year after belting a career-high 28; he had never hit more than nine in any of seven previous seasons before that. In return, the Indians receive minor league Alex Call.

Veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler, who jumped on board the Red Sox’ championship wagon after a midseason trade from the Angels, is headed back to Southern California as he signs a two-year, $8 million deal with San Diego. The best years for Kinsler, who turns 37 in 2019, is likely behind him—but he still showed some value in 2018, hitting .242 with 14 home runs, 48 RBIs and 16 steals.

Saturday, December 15
The Red Sox’ 2018 World Series triumph came with some additional expense, as it’s reported that they will have to pay out $11.95 million in luxury taxes for going $40 million over the threshold as decreed by MLB. The Washington Nationals are the only team that will have to pay up with a $2.38 million tax.

Sunday, December 16
Wilson Ramos, one of the majors’ better hitting catchers, receives a two-year deal from the Mets worth $19 million with a team option for a third season. The 31-year-old Ramos was an All-Star after a solid start for Tampa Bay—and after a midseason trade to the Phillies hit .337 in 89 at-bats. Durability has been Ramos’ biggest issue; only four times in nine seasons as he played in over 100 games.

Monday, December 17
Outfielder Michael Brantley, who in 2018 finally put together a full season—and a pretty good one at that, hitting .309 with 17 home runs—is rewarded with a two-year, $32 million contract from the Houston Astros. A career .295 hitter, injuries kept the 31-year-old Brantley sidelined for most of 2016 and a good chunk of 2017.

Here’s something the players’ union is sure to bring up in the negotiations for the next Basic Agreement: It’s reported that MLB payrolls dropped by $115 million to a total of $4.548 billion in 2018. Much of this is attributed to a lack of activity by two known big spenders, the Yankees and Dodgers—but one must also take into account the reluctance of many other teams to pay out big bucks to free agent veterans during the 2017-18 offseason. It's the first such drop since 2004.

Tuesday, December 18
The Dark Knight has become an Angel. Matt Harvey signs a one-year, $11 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels as he continues to resuscitate a once promising career sidetracked over the last three years by injury, off-field controversy and ineffectiveness on the mound, producing a 16-26 record and 4.65 ERA since the end of 2015.

The edgy online news site Splinter reveals past emails from the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, exposing how billionaire sports owners view tax support for major league venues as more right than privilege. In one 2013 message sent to family members regarding Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts wrote: “I think we should contemplate moving, or at least recognize that we are maybe not the right organization to own the Cubs.” He later adds: “I just hate the thought of (brother) Tom having to grovel to (Emmanuel) to put money into a building (Wrigley Field) we already own.”

We’re sure the majority of Chicagoans can relate, all sarcasm intended.

Wednesday, December 19
MLB makes an agreement with Cuba that will allow players from the island nation’s to leave for America without having to defect. Under the new pact, players can make themselves available to the highest bidder via a posting system similar to that used in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. This will mean more money for Cuban baseball authorities who will reap a percentage of the posting fee, and no more harrowing stories of escape from the island, as we’ve heard in relation to current Cuban-born stars Yaisel Puig and Jose Abreu.

The Trump administration, who is staunchly anti-Cuban, has issues with the agreement. A spokesman says: “Parties seeking to benefit from business opportunities in Cuba are on notice that the Administration will continue to take actions to support human rights and restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to profit from U.S. business.”

It’s time to paint the Seattle Mariners’ ballpark pink. Safeco Field will be renamed T-Mobile Park after the telecommunications giant agrees to a 25-year deal worth $87.5 million to splash its name on the ballpark that opened in 1999.

Boeing Field would have made more sense given the aerospace company’s Seattle roots—T-Mobile is based out of Germany—but there already is an actual airport in town that goes by that name.

Thursday, December 20
The Colorado Rockies, filling in a hole at second base after the depature of free agent DJ LeMahieu, sign veteran Daniel Murphy to a two-year, $24 million contract. Murphy had a terrific three-year tenure with Washington, highlighted by a .347 average and a second-place vote in the NL MVP race in 2016, but injuries stalled his progress in 2018—perhaps leading to his depreciation in dollar value. He also owns a .330 average, 10 doubles, three homers and 19 RBIs in 26 career games at Coors Field.

The Nationals make up for Murphy’s loss by signing 34-year-old pitcher Anibal Sanchez for two years and $19 million. Sanchez performed an impressive about-face on a fading career in 2018, posting a 7-6 record and 2.83 ERA in 25 appearances (24 starts) for Atlanta.

A couple of days after inking Matt Harvey, the Angels further bulk up their rotation by signing Trevor Cahill to a one-year deal worth $9 million. Cahill’s up-and-down career of 10 years was on the up side for Oakland in 2018, going 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 21 appearances (20 starts).

The Astros will lose reliable veteran reliever Joe Smith through at least next June after he tears his Achilles tendon in a workout. Smith, who turns 35 next March, has a career 49-29 record and 3.02 ERA in 754 appearances.

Friday, December 21
In what comes off as a one-sided blockbuster trade, the Dodgers deal outfielders Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, pitcher Alex Wood and utility man Kyle Farmer along with $7 million to Cincinnati for hobbled veteran pitcher Homer Bailey and two top prospects, including shortstop Jeter Downs, the Reds’ #1 from 2017. For the Reds, this gives them muscle in the lineup and a chance to compete in a division where everyone but themselves finished above .500 in 2018. For the Dodgers, it seems the move is all about clearing payroll for now and the near future, with Puig, Kemp and Wood are all free agents after 2019. Some assume that the trade will also strengthen the Dodgers’ chances of luring Bryce Harper to Los Angeles.

The Dodgers will immediately release Bailey, even though they will pay him the $17.5 million owed to him in 2019.

Kemp’s current contract of eight years and $160 million was considered to make him “untradeable.” Instead, he’s been dealt four times since signing the deal—twice by the Dodgers.

Jurickson Profar, once considered baseball’s top prospect who six years after making his debut finally put together an injury-free, full campaign in 2018, is traded by Texas to Oakland as part of a three-team deal (also involving Tampa Bay) that includes seven players (all of them minor leaguers beyond Profar) a low-end draft pick and international money. Profar hit .254 with 20 home runs and 77 RBIs for the Rangers this past season.

Lorena Martin, a Latino female doctor who served as the Mariners’ “director of high performance” before being fired, files a wrongful termination suit against the team. Among her claims: That she was bullied by general manager Jerry Dipoto, said that Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and director of player development Andy McKay called Latinos “lazy, dumb and stupid, especially the Dominicans”—and that they “took affirmative measures to undermine and harm” popular Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez by “messing with” his mental state. The Mariners do not immediately respond to the lawsuit, but have previously claimed that her allegations are false.

Saturday, December 22
Pitcher Mike Fiers, released last month by Oakland, returns to the A’s on a two-year deal in excess of $14 million. After a rough 2017 campaign, Fiers returned to form in 2018 with a combined 12-8 record and 3.56 ERA between the A’s and Detroit.

Thursday, December 27
Minnesota has a new boomer in Nelson Cruz, who signs a one-year deal with the Twins for $14 million. Cruz, who turns 39 in 2019, has hummed through the last five years with an average of 40 home runs a season. The Twins are certainly hoping to see Cruz continue to do what he’s done in the past at their home park of Target Field—where he’s hit .325 with 10 homers in 30 career games.

In an interview aired on MLB Network Radio, Tampa Bay outfielder Tommy Pham has this to say about the Rays: “It sucks going from playing in front of a great fan base (in St. Louis) to a team with really no fan base at all.” He adds: “Do I think something has to happen, whether it be a new ballpark, maybe a new city? I think so.”

Pham is partially right. The Rays have a fan base. But most of those fans find it tough getting to Tropicana Dome in St. Petersburg, which is a long, traffic-riddled drive for many. A new ballpark is definitely needed—and that’s become the tougher chore for the team.

Friday, December 28
Jonathan Lucroy’s tour of the major league landscape continues. The two-time All-Star catcher inks a one-year deal worth $3.35 million with the Angels, making them his fifth team of employment in just the past three seasons. Lucroy was a .241 hitter with four home runs in 126 games for Oakland in 2018.

While the Angels gain a player, they also lose one as pitcher Matt Shoemaker signs with Toronto for one year and $3.5 million. The right-hander was one of the bright young lights for the Angels in 2014—posting a 16-4 record and 3.04 ERA—but like many of the other Angels starters since, he has struggled to regain that form amid injury and ineffectiveness. He was 2-2 in just seven starts with a 4.94 ERA in 2018.

Sunday, December 30
San Diego sends 35-year-old lefty Clayton Richard to Toronto in exchange for mid-level minor leaguer Connor Panas. Richard was 7-11 with a 5.33 ERA for the Padres in 2018, but is nevertheless enticing for the high amount of ground balls he induces. It also, for the moment, leaves the Padres without any veteran presence in their rotation.


The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.


share this page with a friendShare this page with a friend.

Have a comment, question or request? Contact us at This Great Game.

© 2019 This Great Game.