Friday January 2nd, 2015

Things were quiet in baseball over the holidays, but they weren't dormant. With the holiday season now behind us, here are the notable transactions from the past week.

Mariners acquire OF Seth Smith from Padres for RHP Brandon Maurer

Despite the fact that he had been signed to a short extension last July and was the Padres' best hitter in 2014, Smith had become expendable in San Diego after the team's recent splurge on outfielders. Hence the move to Seattle, which is a natural landing spot for a player who proved he could thrive in an extreme pitcher's park.

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Smith's 135 OPS+ at the age of 31 will likely stand as a career year, but for $12.75 million over the next two years (plus a $7 million option for 2017 with a $250,000 buyout), the lefthander should continue his career-long assault on righthanded pitching (.277/.358/.481). He'll form the long-side of a corner-outfield platoon with Justin Ruggiano (.266/.329/.508 career vs. lefties), who was acquired from the Cubs for minor league reliever Matt Brazis. That combination should represent a nice upgrade over Seattle's 2014 crop of rightfielders, led by the since-traded Michael Saunders, who combined to hit .255/.308/.413.

In Maurer, the Padres add a 6-foot-5, 24-year-old righty with nearly 160 big league innings under his belt and five team-controlled years remaining who can either start or hit triple-digits on the radar gun in short relief. It remains to be seen which role he will fill in San Diego and how often people will confuse him for fellow former Mariners prospect and recent Padres acquisition Brandon Morrow.

Reds acquire OF Marlon Byrd and cash from Phillies for RHP Ben Lively

This is a comparable deal to the Smith/Maurer trade, with a veteran outfielder coming off a strong season being traded for a pitching prospect. The key difference is that the Padres cleared more salary by trading Smith than the Phillies did by trading Byrd and thus acquired a pitcher with a lower ceiling than Philadelphia did. The Phillies will pay half of Byrd's $8 million salary for 2015, after which the Reds will hold an $8 million option for Byrd's age-38 season in 2016.

Even at the age of 37, Byrd should represent a significant upgrade in leftfield in Cincinnati, where Ryan Ludwick and associates combined to hit .233/.288/.339 last year. Byrd, by comparison, followed up his combination comeback/career year in 2013 by hitting .264/.312/.445 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI for the Phillies last year. If Joey Votto and Jay Bruce can rebound from their lost 2014 seasons, the collective upgrade in the outfield corners and at first base for the Reds should be a massive one.

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The cost to add the discounted Byrd to that picture is 2013 fourth-round pick Ben Lively, a 6-4 righthander who will turn 23 in March and held his own in Double A in the second half of 2014, his first full professional season. Rated the Reds' seventh-best prospect by Baseball Prospectus in November, Lively throws in the low-to-mid 90s with a slider, changeup and curve, using an unorthodox delivery that creates significant deception for the hitter. He could be in the majors by the end of 2015 and could be a mid-rotation stalwart in the Phillies' starting five for the next six years. The Phillies did well here.

Yankees trade RHP Shawn Kelley to Padres for RHP Johnny Barbato and LHP Manny Bañuelos to Braves for RHP David D. Carpenter and LHP Chasen Shreve

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For the Yankees, Carpenter — who has three team-controlled years remaining and is coming off two strong seasons of relief for Atlanta — is an upgrade over Kelley, who is entering his walk year. The lefthanded Shreve, meanwhile, boasts a live arm and excelled in 15 major league appearances last year and has all six team-controlled years remaining. To get that pair, the Yankees are giving up on Bañuelos, a fallen prospect who had Tommy John surgery in October 2012 and spent 2014 trying to re-establish himself in the minors, but the Braves, who are rebuilding, are willing to roll the dice on the diminutive lefty. As for Barbato, he is just 22 and pitched well in relief in Double A last year, but saw his season ended by injury in early June and may need Tommy John surgery.

Taken together, these moves are a nice re-jiggering by the Yankees. Kelley, meanwhile, will get to spike his free agent value in the majors' most pitcher-friendly park, and Bañuelos will get to start over in an organization that typically has far more patience and success with prospects.

Rays sign IF Asdrubal Cabrera for one year, approximately $8 million

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On the surface, this is a strange move: The Rays already had Ben Zobrist at second base and Yunel Escobar at shortstop, and Cabrera is inferior to Zobrist and not an obvious upgrade over Escobar. However, Zobrist will be 34 in May and is entering his walk year. The popular thought here is that this signing is a precursor to a trade, most likely of Zobrist, which would rob Tampa Bay of yet another of the central figures of its recent success.

Until that other shoe drops, it's difficult to evaluate this move other than to say it's underwhelming for all involved. It doesn't make the Rays better, and for Cabrera, a two-time All-Star who hit free agency at 29, it's a reminder that he's been a below-average player for the last two years.

Rockies sign C Nick Hundley for two years, approximately $6 million

Wilin Rosario is a terrible defensive catcher who was among the worst in baseball in pitch framing and throwing out runners in 2014, and also led the majors in passed balls for the second time in three years. Michael McKenry is only marginally better behind the plate. Thus the need for Hundley, who struggled against the running game in 2014 but is generally an excellent backstop and thus should serve as a fine defensive caddy in Colorado.

Cubs sign OF Chris Denorfia for one year, approximately $2.5 million

Denorfia will replace Ruggiano as an aging, slick-fielding, righthanded platoon outfielder. The Cubs hope letting him play his home games in a hitter-friendly ballpark for the first time since he was with the Reds nearly a decade ago will help him rebound from his brutal performance at the plate in 2014.

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