Plodding—that was the pace of the just-concluded offseason, with general managers working at a tempo reminiscent of Steve Trachsel’s. Waiting yielded to more waiting, which yielded to more waiting still, and eventually to two big contracts that set records but failed to knock the baseball world off its axis. But there was still movement! What follows is a non-exhaustive list of this winter’s biggest transactions to get fans up to speed before Opening Day. Don’t worry if you slept through the offseason; the Indians did too! Now, though, it’s time to wake up.
Padres Sign Manny Machado
The Marlins’ 2018 ought to be remembered as the most disgraceful season in the disgraceful history of that disgraceful franchise. But did you know: With a week left in the season, the even more disgraceful Padres actually trailed Miami in the NL standings. (San Diego would win four of its last six to finish 66–96.) For all the pre-free-agency talk about Machado becoming the final piece for a contending team, he chose instead to become the foundation of a from-scratch rebuild in a city that hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2006. Funny how that worked out! He will be surrounded by ballyhooed phenoms (shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., catcher Francisco Mejía) but also by a shorthanded rotation, making a winning season unlikely. Whatever happens in 2019 matters less than the tone it sets for the future: San Diego signed Machado for $300 million over 10 years but his opt-out clause allows him to skip town after five.
Phillies Sign Brcye Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson; trade for Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto
After half a decade of supposedly productive losing, Phillies fans are ready for the team to win again. Last year’s squad did win 80 games for the first time since 2012, but a lifeless finish (capped by an 8–20 September) spoiled any good feelings. Ownership teased the prospect of spending “stupid” money on the ’19 club, and the $330 million lavished on the streaky floppy-haired future DH may yet qualify. (Yes, the NL will indeed have a DH before Harper’s 13‑year contract is finished.) But that deal followed shrewd upgrades at shortstop (Segura), closer (Robertson) and catcher (Realmuto). The rotation is young (Jake Arrieta aside) and improving; righty Aaron Nola is a star. Expectations are justifiably high, but a team so overhauled could take time to gel. Good thing Philly fans are known for their patience.
Mets trade for Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz,; sign Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia
It’s not fair to talk about an NL East team being stupid with its money without touching on the Mets. With a Manny Machado–shaped hole in their infield, they traded for 36-year-old Robinson Canó and signed 34-year-old Jed Lowrie; needing a closer, with Adam Ottavino, Craig Kimbrel and Zack Britton among the available free agents, they traded two recent first-round picks for the Mariners’ Edwin Díaz. At catcher, they signed the never-fully-healthy Wilson Ramos instead of the more dependable Yasmani Grandal. And yet Jason Vargas, who was practically throwing batting practice last year, kept a rotation spot. The club New York fields in 2019 is indisputably better than last year’s; unfortunately, despite a historic season from ace Jacob deGrom, that team won only 77 games in a much less competitive division.
Reds trade for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark
What do you do when your team has gone an MLB-worst 343–467 over the last five years but all that losing has yet to yield—with apologies to the promising Luis Castillo—a starting rotation of the future? When it would be pointless to recruit a top free agent, since the next winning core is at least two years away? When the city doesn’t even have Marvin Lewis to kick around anymore? One solution is just to lose. It’s en vogue, and the Reds are good at it. But another, apparently, is to trade for a sack of impending free agents and hope they have stellar walk years. It’s not the worst idea. Puig had a 5.1 WAR in 2014; Gray, whom the Reds extended, had a 5.3 WAR in ’15; Roark had a 5.6 WAR in ’16; Wood had a 3.4 WAR in ’17; even Kemp showed signs of life in 2018. If they all perform well, Cincy threatens for a wild card. If some struggle, the Reds will too, but they can flip the high performers for prospects. And if they all flop, well, in five years no one will remember they played there at all.
Cardinals trade for Paul Goldschmidt
Speaking of forgetting: Paul Goldschmidt is a Cardinal! Huh! The hitter with the best OPS (minimum 3,000 PAs) over the past six seasons not named Mike Trout was traded to a historic franchise and perennial contender, and it’s an offseason footnote. Some of this surely has to do with Goldschmidt’s low, low, low profile—he doesn’t even have a Twitter account—but it’s also because he’s not exactly a fit for the Redbirds. Matt Carpenter had the 2018 team’s best season while primarily manning first; José Martínez, who was the team’s second-best hitter by adjusted OPS+, also played a lot of first. In ’19, Carpenter will be at third and Martínez on the bench (with occasional duty in right), which strips the trade of some of its value. Then again, when all the Cubs did was sign ex-Cards utilityman Daniel Descalso, it’s hard to nitpick.
Angels sign Cody Allen, Jonathan Lucroy, Matt Harvey
Rob Manfred says this column is dragging and we’ve lost millennials. Skip it!
Yankees sign Adam Ottavino, re-sign Zack Britton
Some surprising news sprang from Zach Britton in February: He is now Zack Britton, with a K. He would have always been Zack, he said—his legal name is Zackary—but the Orioles, his original club, had listed his name as Zach, and he hadn’t wanted to complain. As seismic as that was, though, it mattered less than the January announcements that Britton would be sticking in the Bronx and that Ottavino, formerly a Rockie, would join him. New York has assembled the most fearsome late-game corps in history, with five closer-caliber arms. In 2018, opponents hit .218 against Yankees relievers from the seventh inning on—and that number is likely to go down. It’s easy to focus on adding bullpen help when the offense has exceeded 850 runs two years in a row.
Red Sox sign Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi
The easiest offseason, though, is the one that follows a championship. Boston rewarded Pearce and Eovaldi for their valiant postseason service, and then took the rest of the winter off.