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MLB Transaction Watch: Who are some of the early signings?

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Josh Donaldson is among them.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals
Josh Donaldson steps to the plate with the Cleveland Indians
Peter G. Aiken

Last year’s lukewarm stove left a lot of players out in the cold, but this offseason is already heating up with a few of the more interesting names on the market already signing deals. Transaction watch will be your one stop shop for major free agent signings and trades. I’ll also try to identify key themes in the market.

One note, obviously the term “major” is a bit subjective. My goal is to cover movement for players who have hit free agency, or those who were part of a big trade. I’m probably not going to cover the back and forth of Ian Clarkin’s moves between the Cubs and the White Sox as closely, but you never know.

Retirements: Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer

Two probable Hall of Famers have played their last seasons in Major League Baseball and I wanted to take a second to appreciate their greatness.

I talked a bit about Joe Mauer in my catcher free agency piece, but I didn’t spend a lot of time on his Hall of Fame case, which the Ringer did an awesome write-up on:

A lack of back-breaking homers, iconic October bat flips, equally iconic fielding flips, or incredible catches that capture a career with one GIF shouldn’t diminish what Mauer accomplished with constant contact, a steady diet of walks and singles, and a good glove at the most important position. In the wake of his farewell, the topic turned to Cooperstown, as it often does when a player who appears to be on the Hall of Fame bubble calls it a career. He has the pedigree: Mauer went from no. 1 draft pick to no. 1 prospect (in back-to-back years) to no. 1 player. In his five-year peak from 2006 to 2010, no AL hitter had a higher FanGraphs WAR (or Baseball Prospectus WARP). He has hardware, including a 2009 AL MVP award, three batting titles (a first for a catcher), and three Gold Gloves; five Silver Slugger awards; and six All-Star appearances. And he has a spotless off-the-field record, with no character-clause concerns to derail his induction. This is a man who costarred with his mom in a milk commercial.

Adrian Beltre has been making baseball fans gasp and laugh in equal parts for twenty one seasons. I’m eternally grateful to him for providing one of the most absurd #UmpShow moments of all time:

But moving the circle isn’t why Beltre is going to the Hall of Fame.

Beltre accumulated 84.0 fWAR in his career. He finished with 3,166 career hits. He won five gold gloves and played in four All Star games. Somehow, he finished his career stronger than it started, as Grant Brisbee wrote in 2017:

Before the 2011 season, this was a viable take on the internet:

“The Texas Rangers are supposedly about to offer Adrian Beltre a six-year, $96 million contract.

Huge mistake.”

I disagreed with that at the time. Everyone disagrees with it now. The point isn’t to shame someone for a years-old hot take — and I would remind you that it’s very impolite to search through my old writing. The point is that six years ago, Beltre was most certainly not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. People had opinions on him, and some of them were sour.

And now he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Maybe second. Probably first, though. If you need convincing, read this Deadspin article Friday about the players who managed to slap two different Hall of Fame careers together into a single career.

Thanks for the awesome memories Mauer and Beltre, we’ll see you in Cooperstown.

The trade: James Paxton to the Yankees

There has already been one significant trade this offseason and it’s the deal that sent the Mariners’ James Paxton to the Yankees for Justus Sheffield, a LHP who spent most of his season in Triple-A in 2018 before being called up to the Yankees in September, Erik Swanson, a RHP who spent 2018 at various levels of the minors and Dan Thompson Williams, an outfield prospect who ended his season at Double-A Trenton.

Paxton should be a big boost to the Yankees rotation and gives them some flexibility in trading Sonny Gray, who Pinstripe Alley reports is getting a lot of interest on the trade market.

One smaller deal of note, the Blue Jays traded former Cardinal Aledmys Diaz to Houston for pitching prospect Trent Thornton. Diaz really hasn’t come close to repeating his 2016 All-Star campaign, but he’s still young at 28 and provides some infield versatility for the Astros.

A slew of one-year deals

The 2019 offseason is generating some deals, but they are almost exclusively one-year contracts. While that makes sense for journeymen like Steve Pearce, I have to imagine that Josh Donaldson thought he’d be able to guarantee more than a year. Take a look below:

Early offseason contracts

Player Position Age (for 2019) 2018 Salary 2018 fWar 2015-18 fWar 2018 Team(s) Signed? 2019 Team Contract Years AAV
Player Position Age (for 2019) 2018 Salary 2018 fWar 2015-18 fWar 2018 Team(s) Signed? 2019 Team Contract Years AAV
Brian McCann C 35 17,000,000 0.5 6.4 Hou Y Atl 1 2,000,000
Josh Donaldson 3B 33 18,133,336 1.3 22.7 Tor, Cle Y Atl 1 23,000,000
Jung-ho Kang 3B 32 3,000,000 0.0 5.8 Pit Y Pit 1 3,000,000
Clayton Kershaw P 31 33,000,000 3.5 23.1 LAD Y LAD 3 31,000,000
CC Sabathia P 38 10,000,000 2.5 8.3 NYY Y NYY 1 8,000,000
Steve Pearce 1B 36 6,200,000 1.6 3.8 TBR, Bos Y Bos 1 6,250,000
Lonnie Chisenhall RF 30 5,587,500 0.8 4.9 Cle Y Pit 1 2,750,000
Matt Moore P 30 9,000,000 0.0 3.5 Tex Y Det 1 2-3,000,000
Jesse Chavez RRP 35 1,000,000 1.2 3.7 Tex, CHC Y Tex 2 4,000,000
2018 and 2019 salary comparisons plus fWAR Fangraphs and Sportrac compiled by Sara Sanchez

With the exception of Clayton Kershaw (and really, I hesitated to include that here since it was him renegotiating an extension in his opt-out year) and the 2 year $8 million contract signed by former Cub Jesse Chavez yesterday, all of the deals are one year deals. Most players either kept their AAV from 2018 or lost a bit of money. In some instances, they lost a lot of money. Donaldson is the exception on AAV as he’ll make almost $5 million more in 2019 than 2018. A few players like Brian McCann, Lonnie Chisenhall and Matt Moore saw their value dip precipitously for 2019.

In fairness, I didn’t expect McCann, CC Sabathia or Jung-Ho Kang to sign long term deals anymore than I expected Pearce to, but it will be interesting to see if this is a trend rather than an early offseason anomaly.

Also noteworthy

The only player who accepted a qualifying offer was Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The Reds successfully negotiated a three-year deal with relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias that didn’t really extend their control over his years, but locked in the price for those years.

The Yankees created a bit of a stir in the Bronx by designating fan favorite Ronald Torreyes for assignment.