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05 Jun

Can’t wait for Opening Day? Good news — you can take the field early when R.B.I. Baseball 19 is released on March 5.R.B.I. 19 can be pre-ordered for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch online now. Fans can also catch a glimpse of what the game will look like

Can’t wait for Opening Day? Good news — you can take the field early when R.B.I. Baseball 19 is released on March 5.
R.B.I. 19 can be pre-ordered for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch online now. Fans can also catch a glimpse of what the game will look like in an intro video accompanying Tuesday’s release date announcement.
Pre-order R.B.I. Baseball 19 now
This year’s R.B.I. cover athlete is the Astros’ Alex Bregman. The 24-year-old is coming off a breakout season in which he hit .286 with 31 home runs and 103 RBIs for the American League West champions. Bregman was revealed to be on the R.B.I. 19 cover in January at Astros FanFest, but he’d known since the middle of last season.
“I was pumped up,” Bregman said. “My agent called me and said, ‘You’re going to be on the cover of R.B.I. Baseball.’ I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ It’s unbelievable. Dream come true. I was yelling into the phone. I was super excited.”

For the Canadian edition of R.B.I. 19, the Blue Jays’ Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will be on the cover.
“It was extremely exciting. I’m a fan of video games, so when I found out, I was really happy,” Gurriel said through a club translator when he was announced as the Canadian cover athlete at Blue Jays Winter Fest. “It’s one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me.”

David Adler is a reporter and researcher for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.


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05 Jun

For a long time, the 2018-19 free agency period was hyped as a potentially historic one. Now it’s exactly that.

With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado both hitting the market at once, it seemed like it was just a matter of who would sign a record-setting contract first. After a long winter of waiting, the baseball world got its answer: Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres.

That marked the largest free-agent deal in Major League history — surpassing Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees that he signed in December 2007 — but Machado’s record didn’t last long, as Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies in March, putting the slugger in the City of Brotherly Love for what could be the rest of his career.

Harper tops an impressive list. Here are the 10 biggest contracts MLB free agents have ever received. (Note: These don’t include contract extensions where the player didn’t actually become a free agent, like the 12-year, $426.5 million extension Mike Trout signed with the Angels on March 20, 2019.)

1. Bryce Harper, Phillies: 13 years, $330 million (2019-31)

Harper’s impending free agency defined his final season with the Nationals and dominated headlines all the way into the second week of Spring Training games, and a number of factors collaborated along the way to get Bryce to the top of this list. First was Stanton’s record extension with the Marlins in 2014, which gave Harper and his agent Scott Boras an early goal for the most guaranteed money of any kind for an MLB player. Then, Machado inked his $300 million deal with the Padres in mid-February, giving Harper a floor for the contract he could demand from his final suitors that reportedly included the Phillies, Giants and Dodgers. Multiple reports stated that San Francisco lengthened its offer from a short-term structure to a much longer commitment in the final days leading up to Harper’s signing, so Philadelphia’s 13-year commitment might have put the NL East club over the top.

Harper’s deal — the biggest free-agent contract in the history of the four major North American professional sports — includes a full no-trade clause, per multiple reports, but notably does not include any opt-outs, making it a straightforward, old-school mega-contract. Harper and the Phillies are committed to each other for more than a decade to come.

2. Manny Machado, Padres: 10 years, $300 million (2019-28)

Though he ultimately won’t bring a record deal into 2019, Machado does hold the distinction as being the first $300 million free agent in MLB history with the deal he inked with San Diego. An elite two-way player, Machado will anchor what the Padres hope will be a bright future with top infield prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urías establishing themselves as early as ’19, and many more elite up-and-comers on the way from MLB’s top farm system.

3. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: 10 years, $275 million (2008-17)

In the middle of Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, announced that A-Rod would be opting out of the final three years of his contract with the Yankees. (This was the contract he had originally signed with the Rangers prior to the ’01 season, which carried over to New York when he was traded in ’04.) The timing created a torrent of controversy, and it seemed like Rodriguez’s tenure with the Yankees was over. Rodriguez would later call the opt-out a “huge debacle” and a “mistake that was handled extremely poorly.”

Seeking to repair the relationship and re-open negotiations, A-Rod approached the Yankees through a Goldman Sachs managing director, and the two sides were able to work out a new deal in mid-December. That deal was the richest free-agent contract in MLB history. Rodriguez would go on to lead the Bronx Bombers to their 27th World Series championship in 2009. “All along,” A-Rod said after reaching his new deal, “I knew I wanted to be a Yankee.”

4. Alex Rodriguez, Rangers: 10 years, $252 million (2001-10)

Rodriguez’s first free-agent megadeal — the one he signed with the Rangers before the 2001 season — ranks right behind his one with the Yankees. It pried him away from the Mariners at age 25, and at the time completely shattered the record for the largest free-agent contract, more than doubling Mike Hampton’s $121 million deal with the Rockies that had been completed just days before Rodriguez’s agreement was reached. In fact, it also doubled the largest professional sports contract to that point, Kevin Garnett’s $126 million contract with the NBA’s Timberwolves signed in 1997.

A-Rod played only the first three seasons of that contract in Texas before he was traded to the Yankees, but for his part, he lived up to the deal. Rodriguez averaged 52 home runs and 132 RBIs with the Rangers — leading the American League in homers all three years — with a 1.011 OPS from 2001-03. He won the AL MVP Award in ’03. Rodriguez kept up the pace after he was traded to New York, winning two more MVP Awards in ’05 and ’07 (although his postseason struggles at times caused a lot of consternation among Yankees fans).

5 (tie). Albert Pujols, Angels: 10 years, $240 million (2012-21)

Pujols was coming off a historically great 11-year run with the Cardinals when he hit free agency following the 2011 season. He was a three-time National League MVP Award winner (’05 and ’08-09), a two-time World Series champ (’06 and ’11), the ’01 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, a nine-time All-Star (’01, 2003-10), a back-to-back home run champion (’09-10) and a batting champion (’03). His accomplishments earned him a mega-deal with the Angels entering his age-32 season.

Injuries have sapped Pujols of his elite production since he arrived in Anaheim, and the amount of money the Angels have to pay him through his decline have caused many to criticize the contract. But Pujols also has over 1,000 hits with the Angels — making him one of just nine players in MLB history with 1,000 hits in both leagues — and close to 200 homers, including a 40-homer season and a pair of 30-homer seasons. He’s reached several career milestones in Anaheim: 500 and 600 home runs, as well as 3,000 hits. Pujols’ best years came with the Cardinals, but he’s further cemented his Hall of Fame legacy with the Angels.

5 (tie). Robinson Canó, Mariners: 10 years, $240 million (2014-23)

Cano signed his contract with Seattle at age 31 after spending the first nine years of his career with the Yankees. In New York, he was a five-time AL All-Star, a five-time AL Silver Slugger Award winner and two-time Gold Glove Award winner at second base, as well as winning the World Series in 2009. He continued to excel with the Mariners, earning All-Star nods in three of his first four seasons in Seattle. Cano, now a member of the Mets, is sitting on 2,470 career hits entering his age-36 season in 2019, which gives him a shot at 3,000. He’s on a potential Hall of Fame track, although his suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2018 might cast a shadow over his case.

“I want to earn every penny that I get here,” Cano said at the beginning of 2018. “I don’t want to be like those guys that, two or three years into their contract, they do really good and then they don’t care. I do care. … That’s how I want to be remembered, as a guy that was productive in this game, not a guy that just feels comfortable because he gets the money.”

7. David Price, Red Sox: 7 years, $217 million (2016-22)

The largest free-agent contract ever awarded to a pitcher belongs to Price, who joined a small group of $200 million pitchers — Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are the others — when he went to Boston in the offseason of 2015. The left-hander was 29 when he signed the deal after spending his first eight Major League seasons with the Rays (with whom he won the AL Cy Young Award in ’12), Tigers and Blue Jays.

For a while, Price wasn’t always the most popular player with Red Sox fans — especially due to postseason struggles and a verbal altercation with NESN broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley in 2017 — but he reversed all those narratives in the 2018 World Series. Price was brilliant in winning both Game 2 and the clinching Game 5 over the Dodgers, leading the Red Sox to their fourth championship in 15 seasons.

8. Prince Fielder, Tigers: 9 years, $214 million (2012-20)

Fielder was one of the game’s premier power hitters when he signed his blockbuster deal with Detroit entering his age-28 season, the largest contract the Tigers had ever given out. Fielder was coming off five straight seasons of at least 30 home runs with the Brewers, including 46 in ’09 and 50 in ’07. His first year in Detroit, Fielder teamed up with Miguel Cabrera to slug the Tigers to the AL pennant, although they were swept by the Giants in the World Series. Detroit reached the ALCS again in ’13.

Fielder was an All-Star in both of his two seasons in Detroit — although some Tigers fans weren’t happy with the size of his contract, as his home run totals were “only” 30 in 2012 and 25 in ’13 — before Detroit traded him to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler in an offseason blockbuster. Fielder had one excellent season in Texas in 2015, helping lead the Rangers to the playoffs, but his health ultimately failed him. Neck injuries forced Fielder into early retirement in 2016.

9. Max Scherzer, Nationals: 7 years, $210 million (2015-21)

Scherzer has been everything the Nationals could have wanted and more through four seasons. He won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2016-17, led the Nats to a pair of postseason appearances, made four All-Star teams and eclipsed 30 starts, 200 innings and 250 strikeouts with a sub-3.00 ERA in all four seasons in D.C.

When Scherzer signed with Washington entering his age-30 season in 2015, he had just emerged as one of the game’s top aces. He’d led the AL in wins with the Tigers two years running, and he’d won the AL Cy Young Award in 2013. But there were a lot of questions whether he was worth the money. His track record as a star pitcher wasn’t very long, and $200-plus million was a ton of money to be offering a pitcher who was about to be in his 30s. It’s amazing how Scherzer has more than lived up to the contract.

10. Zack Greinke, D-backs: 6 years, $206.5 million (2016-21)

Greinke’s sensational 2015 with the Dodgers — he went 19-3 with a Major League-leading 1.66 ERA in one of the best pitching seasons since MLB lowered the mound in 1969 — helped make him a $200 million man in free agency. Even with Greinke being a 12-year veteran entering his age-32 season, Arizona shelled out the big bucks to have him front its starting rotation.

Greinke had some ups and downs in his first season in Arizona in 2016, but since then, he’s returned to form as one of the better pitchers in the NL. In 2017, he led the D-backs to their first postseason berth since 2011, going 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA and 215 strikeouts en route to a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

Total value isn’t the only way to look at player contracts, as the length of the deal also matters. Here’s a list of the biggest MLB free-agent contracts by the amount they were worth per year.

Top 10 free-agent contracts by average annual value

1. Zack Greinke, D-backs: $34,416,666 (2016-21)

2. David Price, Red Sox: $31 million (2016-22)

3 (tie). Manny Machado, Padres: $30 million (2019-28)

3 (tie). Max Scherzer, Nationals: $30 million (2015-21)

5. Roger Clemens, Yankees: $28,000,002 (2007)

6 (tie). Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: $27.5 million (2008-17)

6 (tie). Yoenis Céspedes, Mets: $27.5 million (2017-20)

8. Jon Lester, Cubs: $25,833,333 (2015-20)

9. Bryce Harper, Phillies: $25,384,615 (2019-31)

10. Alex Rodriguez, Rangers: $25.2 million (2001-10)

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.


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05 Jun

Adrian Beltre announced his retirement after last season, closing the door on a career that could lead him to Cooperstown.

Beltre built his excellent resume over 21 seasons in the Majors, but arguably, his two best years (2004 and ’10) had something in common. Both were “walk years,” meaning they came right before Beltre reached free agency.

The idea that players always step up their games in such situations, with a big contract acting as motivation, is far from the truth. Plenty flop, or simply perform near their career norms.

But there is a long history of exceptional walk years as well, and Beltre is a big part of it. Here is a look at 20 of the best.

1. Alex Rodriguez, 2000 Mariners
Stats: .316/.420/.606 (163 OPS+), 41 home runs
Contract: 10 years, $252 million with Rangers
A-Rod only turned 25 in the middle of the 2000 season, when he racked up more than 10 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), per Baseball-Reference. The resulting deal with Texas smashed records and remains one of the biggest in baseball history.

2. Barry Bonds, 1992 Pirates
Stats: .311/.456/.624 (204 OPS+), 39 stolen bases
Contract: Six years, $43.75 million with Giants
Bonds entered the market coming off his second 30-30 season and National League Most Valuable Player Award in three years, as well as his third straight Gold Glove Award. He was even better in his first season in the Bay Area, taking MVP honors yet again.

3. Adrian Beltre, 2004 Dodgers
Stats: .334/.388/.629 (163 OPS+), 48 home runs
Contract: Five years, $64 million with Mariners
Only Bonds prevented Beltre from being NL MVP, as the 25-year-old authored a breakout campaign at the perfect time. Beltre’s 9.6 WAR remains the most by a third baseman since Mike Schmidt in 1974.

4. Alex Rodriguez, 2007 Yankees
Stats: .314/.422/.645 (176 OPS+), 54 home runs
Contract: 10 years, $275 million with Yankees
A-Rod broke his own record for total dollars after opting out of the original deal. He was coming off his third American League MVP Award in five years and had led the AL in runs, homers, RBIs, slugging and OPS.

5. Zack Greinke, 2015 Dodgers
Stats: 19-3, 1.66 ERA (222 ERA+)
Contract: Six years, $206.5 million with D-backs
The right-hander’s ERA was the lowest by a qualified pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1995, and he put together a 45 2/3-inning scoreless streak in June and July that was the longest in the Majors since Orel Hershiser set the record of 59 in 1988.

6. Greg Maddux, 1992 Cubs
Stats: 20-11, 2.18 ERA (166 ERA+)
Contract: Five years, $28 million with Braves
Maddux won his first NL Cy Young Award in 1992, when he allowed only seven homers in 268 innings. But he became a pitching legend in Atlanta, where he extended his Cy Young streak to four.

7. Jason Giambi, 2001 A’s
Stats:.342/.477/.660 (199 OPS+), 38 home runs
Contract: Seven years, $120 million with Yankees
Only the arrival of Ichiro deprived Giambi of a second straight AL MVP Award, though he was even better than in 2000. The lefty slugger is the only AL first baseman since Rod Carew in 1977 to reach the 9-WAR mark in a season.

8. Jim Thome, 2002 Indians
Stats: .304/.445/.677 (197 OPS+), 52 home runs
Contract: Six years, $85 million with Phillies
The 2002 season was arguably the best of a 22-year career that landed Thome in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2018. It was his lone 50-homer campaign, on his way to 612 total.

9. Catfish Hunter, 1974 A’s
Stats: 25-12, 2.49 ERA (134 ERA+)
Contract: Five years, $3.75 million with Yankees
This was not the typical “walk year” we think of today. Hunter signed a two-year contract going into 1974, when he took AL Cy Young honors, and Oakland won its third straight World Series championship. But A’s owner Charlie Finley was found to not be honoring the terms of Hunter’s deal, and the star pitcher was declared a free agent — setting off the first of many offseason baseball bidding wars. (Two years later, the reserve clause was history, and the true free-agent era began).

10. Carlos Beltran, 2004 Royals/Astros
Stats: .267/.367/.548 (133 OPS+), 42 stolen bases
Contract: Seven years, $119 million with Mets
It wasn’t so much what Beltran did in the regular season that vaults him this high, though he did come within two homers of a 40-40 campaign. Rather, it’s his memorable postseason run with Houston, when he hit .435/.536/1.022, with a record-tying eight homers over 12 games.

11. Rickey Henderson, 1989 Yankees/A’s
Stats: .274/.411/.399 (132 OPS+), 77 stolen bases
Contract: Four years, $12 million with A’s
Oakland traded its superstar leadoff man to the Yankees after the 1984 season, then reacquired him in June 1989. He went 52-for-58 in steal attempts over 85 regular-season games, then hit .441/.568/.941 with 11 steals in the postseason, as the A’s won the World Series.

12. Kevin Brown, 1998 Padres
Stats: 18-7, 2.38 ERA (164 ERA+)
Contract: Seven years, $105 million with Dodgers
After winning a ring with the 1997 Marlins, the right-hander was traded to San Diego and allowed only eight homers over 257 innings. He parlayed that into becoming MLB’s first $100 million man.

13. J.D. Drew, 2004 Braves
Stats: .305/.436/.569 (157 OPS+), 31 home runs
Contract: Five years, $55 million with Dodgers
This was the first time the 28-year-old Drew was healthy enough to accrue at least 500 plate appearances, and he showed the talent that made him a top-five pick in both the 1997 and ’98 Drafts.

14. Mark Teixeira, 2008 Braves/Angels
Stats: .308/.410/.552 (152 OPS+), 33 home runs
Contract: 8 years, $180M with Yankees
Tex was good for the Braves, and then even better after a non-waiver Trade Deadline deal, posting a 1.081 OPS in 54 games for the AL West-winning Halos.

15. Robinson Cano, 2013 Yankees
Stats: .314/.383/.516 (147 OPS+), 27 home runs
Contract: 10 years, $240 million with Mariners
This was the capper to a four-year stretch in New York in which Cano won four Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves at second base, while leading MLB position players in WAR (30.1).

16. Adrian Beltre, 2010 Red Sox
Stats: .321/.365/.553 (141 OPS+), 28 home runs
Contract: Six years, $96 million with Rangers
A season at Fenway Park was exactly what Beltre needed to remind the baseball world that he was a star, following five years in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly environment.

17. CC Sabathia, 2008 Indians/Brewers
Stats: 17-10, 2.70 ERA (156 ERA+)
Contract: Seven years, $161 million with Yankees
The 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner endured a rough April in ’08, but was on a roll when the Brewers acquired him in early July. What followed was an all-time great stretch run in Milwaukee — 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and seven complete games in 17 starts.

18. Manny Ramirez, 2000 Indians
Stats: .351/.457/.697 (186 OPS+), 38 home runs
Contract: Eight years, $160 million with Red Sox
Manny’s adventurous defense in the outfield held down his overall value (4.8 WAR) considerably, but you can’t ignore what a terror he was with a bat in his hands.

19. Albert Belle, 1998 White Sox
Stats: .328/.399/.655 (172 OPS+), 49 home runs
Contract: Five years, $65 million with Orioles
A fearsome hitter, Belle slammed at least 48 homers for the third time in four years, drove in 152 runs and led the AL in OPS. But a degenerative hip condition ended his career after two years in Baltimore.

20. Alfonso Soriano, 2006 Nationals
Stats: .277/.351/.560 (135 OPS+), 46 home runs
Contract: Eight years, $136 million with Cubs
Traded from Texas to Washington at the end of 2005, Soriano put together the fourth — and most recent — 40-40 season in baseball history.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.


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04 Jun

It’s always nice to see a homecoming for a franchise icon, and through MLB history, plenty of players have returned to the teams where they became stars.

MLB.com is taking a look back at these reunions, highlighting some of the most prominent players who were, in fact, able to go home again.

It’s always nice to see a homecoming for a franchise icon, and through MLB history, plenty of players have returned to the teams where they became stars.

MLB.com is taking a look back at these reunions, highlighting some of the most prominent players who were, in fact, able to go home again.

Only players who returned to an old team for the final stage of their careers are included here. There are others who, after their homecomings, went on to play for other teams. Those players — Rickey Henderson with the A’s, Greg Maddux with the Cubs, Tim Raines with the Expos, Tom Seaver with the Mets, Jim Thome with the Indians and Phillies and many more — aren’t included.

Here are 10 of MLB’s most memorable player-team reunions.

Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
First stint: 2001-12 | Returned: 2018
Ichiro’s career might not be quite over — he’ll be on the Mariners’ roster when they open the 2019 season against the A’s in Japan — but this is likely the final stop for the future Hall of Famer, and it’s back where it all began. Ichiro was a Mariners fan favorite from the start. He burst onto the Major League scene in 2001 by winning both MVP and Rookie of the Year honors, and became a franchise icon over the next decade, making 10 straight All-Star teams, winning 10 straight Gold Gloves and two batting titles, and leading the Majors in hits seven times — including setting the MLB single-season record with 262 in 2004. He was traded to the Yankees in 2012, but after six years away from Seattle, he returned in 2018.

Video: CLE@SEA: Ichiro received warmly in Mariners return

Barry Zito, Athletics
First stint: 2000-06 | Returned: 2015
Zito was the 2002 AL Cy Young winner and a three-time All-Star in Oakland from 2000-06, and he helped lead the A’s to five playoff appearances in those first seven big league seasons. The left-hander crossed the Bay to the Giants in a blockbuster free-agent signing in December 2006, but never quite recaptured his A’s dominance in San Francisco. After seven years with the Giants, and a year out of baseball in 2014, Zito returned to Oakland in 2015 and made his final three big league appearances in September. That included a start against the Giants and former teammate Tim Hudson, in honor of the A’s Big Three of the early 2000s — Zito, Hudson and Mark Mulder, who was in attendance for the game.

Video: SF@OAK: Former teammates Hudson and Zito square off

Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners
First stint: 1989-99 | Returned: 2009
The Kid is both a Mariners and MLB legend, and his career came full circle with Seattle. With his iconic left-handed swing, Griffey slugged his way to four AL home run crowns and the 1997 MVP Award over his first 11 big league seasons with the M’s. After leaving for the Reds at the turn of the millennium, Griffey returned to the Mariners at the tail end of his career in 2009. In his first game back with Seattle in nearly a decade, Griffey homered. Just over a week later, on April 15, he hit his 400th home run in a Mariners uniform. Griffey retired the next year, ending a 630-home-run Hall of Fame career.

Video: LAA@SEA: Griffey cranks his 400th homer as a Mariner

Tom Glavine, Braves
First stint: 1987-2002 | Returned: 2008
Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz formed the nucleus of maybe the best starting rotation of all time, with the Hall of Fame trio leading the Braves teams that dominated the NL East from the 1990s through the early 2000s, when Atlanta won 14 straight division titles. Glavine spent his first 16 seasons in Atlanta, winning two Cy Young Awards (1991 and ’98) and finishing in the Top 3 four other times. He left to sign with the Mets entering the 2003 season, but came back to the Braves for one last go-round at age 42 in 2008. The left-hander’s 305th and final win came in an Atlanta uniform on May 20 of that season.

Video: CHC@ATL: Glavine records final career strikeout

Roger Clemens, Yankees
First stint: 1999-2003 | Returned: 2007
The Rocket’s final big league season came with plenty of fanfare: Clemens announced his return via a news bulletin and public announcement during a May 2007 game at Yankee Stadium. His prorated one-year, $28 million contract made plenty more headlines in the following days, and Clemens’ return was fully embraced by New York fans, with the Yankees trailing the rival Red Sox in the AL East. The 44-year-old made his much-anticipated debut in early June, holding the Pirates to three runs over six innings while striking out seven. But the rest of Clemens’ season lacked the luster Yankees fans had come to expect (he finished 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA), as Boston won the World Series for the second time in four years.

Video: MIN@NYY: Roger Clemens gets his 350th win

Dennis Eckersley, Red Sox
First stint: 1978-84 | Returned: 1998
Eckersley cemented his Hall of Fame status in Oakland, but he came into his own as a Red Sox starter, most notably in 1978 when he led Boston with 20 wins and a 2.99 ERA during the club’s famous pennant race with the Yankees. Eck appeared as a starter in all 191 appearances during his first Boston tenure, but was a full-time reliever by the time he signed with the Red Sox as a 43-year old in the winter of 1997. The right-hander chipped in 50 relief appearances as the Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card with a 92-70 record, and he even got one last save on May 15.

Video: KC@BOS: Eckersley records final save of his career

Gary Carter, Expos
First stint: 1974-84 | Returned: 1992
Few players, if any, were more beloved in Montreal than Carter, and his trade to the Mets in December 1984 arguably turned the tide of both franchises for the rest of the decade. Carter finished his first Expos tenure with seven All-Star Game nods, three Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers before helping the Mets capture the ’86 World Series, but after brief stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the catcher returned to Montreal in 1992 for a final victory lap at age 38. Carter’s new teammates still jokingly referred to him as “The Kid,” and perhaps his presence galvanized the Expos as they improved by 16 wins from the previous year.

Don Sutton, Dodgers
First stint: 1966-80 | Returned: 1988
Sutton was a workhorse frontline starter for 15 years in Los Angeles, bridging the gap from Sandy Koufax’s last season in 1966 to the doorstep of “Fernandomania” in ’81. He moved on to form a stacked rotation with Nolan Ryan and Joe Niekro with Houston and then pitched for the Brewers, A’s and Angels before winding his way back to Chavez Ravine for one final season in 1988. Then 43, Sutton started 16 games and compiled a 3.92 ERA before the Dodgers released him in early August — though he still joined the team’s World Series celebration at the White House that winter.

Reggie Jackson, Athletics
First stint: 1968-75 | Returned: 1987
The A’s drafted Jackson with the second overall pick in just the second MLB Draft in 1966, and he moved with the franchise from Kansas City to Oakland as the A’s ascended from cellar-dweller to perennial powerhouse. The slugger powered Oakland’s dynastic World Series three-peat clubs from 1972-74, claiming the Series MVP honor in ’73, and finished his first A’s tenure with 254 home runs before building his “Mr. October” persona in the Bronx. At age 41, Jackson returned to the Bay Area in ’87 and hit 15 homers for Oakland to finish with 563 — good for sixth on the all-time career list when he hung up his spikes. He singled in his final Major League at-bat on Oct. 4.

Video: OAK@CWS: Reggie Jackson single in final at-bat

Minnie Minoso, White Sox
First stint: 1951-57 | Returned: 1960, ’64, ’76, ’80
Minoso made history as one of the first Cuban players in the Major Leagues and one of the first Latin Americans to play in an All-Star Game. A versatile outfielder and third baseman, Minoso led the AL multiple times in triples and stolen bases while routinely hitting over .300 in his first tenure with the White Sox from 1951-57, then returned to the South Side multiple times during the latter half of his career. But Minoso’s most memorable reunions with the White Sox came in 1976 and ’80, when he came out of retirement at ages 50 and 54, respectively, to become one of the oldest Major Leaguers to ever take the field. Because his career began in 1949, Minoso, incredibly, played in five different decades.

Video: CAL@CWS: Minoso singles for final hit of MLB career

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.


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04 Jun

Since the first free-agent signing of the modern era back in 1974, there have been several free-agent deals that shook the baseball world and realigned power across the Majors. Here’s a look at several moves that changed the landscape of baseball, and in some cases were downright shocking:

2018-19: Bryce Harper signs with Phillies

The Phillies long had been rumored as a possible destination for Harper, since before the slugger even officially became a free agent. Philadelphia was coming out of a rebuilding cycle with money to spend and a fanbase hungry to see its club return to glory.

At times during Harper’s long free agency, there were doubts about whether all of those rumors would come to fruition. When they finally did — Harper agreed to a deal with Philly on Thursday afternoon — the union between the two sides wasn’t so surprising by itself. The fact that Harper not only set a record for the largest financial commitment in MLB history ($330 million), but also signed on for 13 years without any opt-out clauses, certainly raised some eyebrows, though. While opt-outs have become a common feature of contracts for premium free agents, Harper and Philly now are tied together into the 2030s.

2018-19: Manny Machado signs with Padres

Even before the 2018-19 offseason started, we knew it would be defined by the Machado and Harper free-agent sweepstakes. After a long winter of waiting, the first winner finally emerged: the Padres, who landed Machado on a record-setting 10-year, $300 million deal.

That made Machado not just baseball’s first $300 million free agent, but the first in the history of the four major North American professional sports — beating Harper to that feat by about a week. The deal could keep the 26-year-old shortstop in San Diego through the 2028 season, putting Machado in position to anchor the team’s talented young core for years to come.

2017-18: Shohei Ohtani signs with Angels

The pursuit of Ohtani, the two-way superstar from Japan who captivated the Majors even before he made his big league debut, was the hottest topic of the offseason. All 30 clubs submitted proposals to Ohtani as to why they would be the ideal fit for the 23-year-old, but the finalists along with the Angels were the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres and Rangers. The fact that Ohtani chose the Angels, particularly over the neighboring Dodgers, who were coming off a World Series appearance, was shocking to many.

In the end, however, a “family-like atmosphere” and a “comfort level” with the organization is what led Ohtani to choose the Halos, according to general manager Billy Eppler. Ohtani lived up to the hype, winning the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year Award. Despite missing time due to injury that required Tommy John surgery, he hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs in just 367 plate appearances, while also posting a 3.31 ERA and 30 percent strikeout rate on the mound.

2013-14: Robinson Canó signs with Mariners

Cano had been a Yankee for all nine seasons of his career when he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners in December 2013. Not only was it a blockbuster move because of the sheer amount and length of the deal, but because Cano left the big stage of New York to join a Seattle franchise that hadn’t been — and still hasn’t been — to the postseason since 2001.

For some time, Cano appeared destined to follow in the foosteps of former teammates Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada in spending his entire career with the Yankees. But Seattle’s offer reportedly far exceeded New York’s in both monetary value and length, prompting Cano to head to the opposite coast. The second baseman slashed .296/.353/.472 with 107 home runs in five seasons with Seattle, and served an 80-game suspension in 2018 after testing positive for a banned substance. He was traded to the Mets following the 2018 season.

2011-12: Albert Pujols signs with Angels

A Cardinal for his entire 11-year Major League career to that point, Pujols inked a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Angels in December 2011, a move that stunned the baseball world after it appeared the Cardinals, among a handful of other teams, were favorites to sign the future Hall-of-Fame slugger. The deal was the second-largest in baseball history in terms of average annual value behind Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees in 2007.

Pujols, the 2001 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner and three-time NL Most Valuable Player Award winner while with St. Louis, has been hampered by injuries since joining the Angels, including foot ailments that have required multiple surgeries. Overall, he’s hit .260/.315/.453 with 188 homers in his first seven seasons with Los Angeles after slashing .328/.420/.617 with 445 homers in 11 seasons with St. Louis.

2004-05: Vladimir Guerrero signs with Angels

Guerrero possessed every tool one could want from a Major League player — most especially his light-tower power and a cannon throwing arm from right field — but he perhaps wasn’t as big a star as he should have been while playing for cash-strapped Montreal. The five-year, $70 million deal Guerrero signed with Anaheim changed all that, as the Angels capped an offseason that also saw them add Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar and Jose Guillen by inking the biggest free agent on the market.

While the Angels were ultimately unable to add to their 2002 World Series title with Guerrero in tow, their star acquisition did just about everything else. The slugger hit .337, belted 39 homers and drove in 126 runs to capture the American League MVP in his L.A. debut and finished his six-year West Coast tenure with four All-Star selections and 137 dingers. In 2018, Guerrero became the first Hall of Fame player to don an Angels cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.

2004-05: Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez sign with Mets

Martinez had accomplished just about everything he could in Boston, putting together two of the greatest pitching seasons in history in 1999 and 2000 before helping the Red Sox capture their first World Series title in 86 years in ’04. Omar Minaya had begun his tenure as the Mets’ general manager just weeks before he took advantage of rocky negotations between Martinez and the Red Sox, swooping in to sign the future Hall of Famer to a four-year, $51.5 million deal that sent shockwaves through the sport.

“We were willing to go the extra year and until then the Red Sox weren’t,” Minaya later recounted. “When they did, it was too late.”

Martinez showed he had plenty left in the tank, going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in his first season in Queens before injuries began to set in. The righty made just 48 starts over the final three years of his contract with New York before moving on to his final season with the Phillies.

Beltran, meanwhile, was coming off one of the greatest postseason performances of all time for the Astros when he signed a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets in January 2005. The Royals traded Beltran to the Astros in June 2004 as part of a three-team deal, and he went on to hit .435 with three doubles and eight homers between the NL Division Series and NL Championship Series as Houston fell a game short of reaching the World Series. The New York Times reported that it was the Martinez deal that helped convince Beltran to join the Mets.

In his seven seasons with New York, Beltran hit .280/.369/.500 with 149 home runs. In 2011, he was traded to the Giants in the deal that sent Zack Wheeler to New York. Beltran then played two seasons with the Cardinals, two-plus seasons with the Yankees and a season with the Rangers before returning to Houston to help the Astros win the World Series in 2017.

2003-04: Ivan Rodriguez signs with Tigers

Coming off a season in which he helped the upstart Marlins defeat the Yankees in the World Series, Rodriguez was a free agent catcher entering his age-32 season with back issues. That caused him to remain on the market through the holidays that offseason, but the Tigers made a surprising four-year, $40 million offer to the 10-time All-Star. The signing turned out to be the beginning of a rejuvenation for the club, serving as a catalyst for other moves that would follow to take the franchise from a 119-loss season in 2003, to the World Series by 2006.

Rodriguez never went on the disabled list during his five-year run with Detroit, hitting .298/.328/.449 and being named an AL All-Star four straight seasons from 2004-07.

2000-01: Alex Rodriguez signs with Rangers

Rodriguez landed the largest contract in sports history — doubling the size of NBA star Kevin Garnett’s deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves — when he signed a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers in January 2001. At age 25, Rodriguez was the brightest young star in the game, having hit .309/.374/.561 with 189 home runs and 133 steals in five full seasons with the Mariners.

Rodriguez put up big numbers, as expected, with Texas, slashing .305/.395/.615 with 156 homers in three seasons before the Rangers traded him to the Yankees. Following the 2007 season, Rodriguez opted out of the final three years on his contract, and later re-signed with the Yankees on a new record 10-year, $275 million contract. In a 22-year career, Rodriguez finished with 696 home runs and a .930 OPS. He was a three-time AL MVP Award winner and a 14-time All-Star.

2000-01: Manny Ramirez signs with Red Sox

In a truly franchise-altering move, Boston signed Ramirez to an eight-year, $160 million contract in December 2000. It came as a surprise in many quarters that Ramirez would leave his comfort zone in Cleveland, where he established himself as a slugging star over the first eight seasons of his career. While the Indians’ offer to re-sign him was a strong one, Boston won out, and within four years, Ramirez would join with David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, among other later signings to bring the city its first World Series title since 1918.

Ramirez was the MVP of the 2004 World Series, in which the Red Sox swept the Cardinals. Overall, in eight years with Boston, he hit .312/.411/.588 with 274 home runs. He also helped the 2007 club win the World Series with a sweep of the Rockies.

1998-99: Randy Johnson signs with D-backs

The D-backs were fresh off their inaugural season, in which they lost 97 games, when they signed a 35-year-old Johnson to a four-year, $52 million contract. The move was considered curious by many, given that Arizona was an expansion franchise and Johnson would be under contract through the age of 38. But the skepticism proved to be wrong when Johnson went on to win four consecutive NL Cy Young Awards and helped lead Arizona to the 2001 World Series title in seven games over the Yankees.

Johnson was named co-MVP along with Curt Schilling for the World Series, coming on in relief during Game 7 after having started Game 6, and tossing 1 1/3 scoreless frames before the D-backs won on a Luis Gonzalez walk-off single off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning. In all, the Big Unit spent six seasons with Arizona in his first stint with the club (he would return for two more seasons from 2007-08), posting a 2.65 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

1998-99: Kevin Brown signs with Dodgers

Brown made history in December 1998 when he signed a seven-year deal that made him the first $100 million player in baseball history. The right-hander was entering his age-34 season, but he was also coming off a stellar season with the Padres in which he went 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA and helped San Diego capture its second pennant in franchise history.

The deal was not popular among rival executives who were less eager to begin handing out nine-figure deals — especially to a pitcher — but the Dodgers defended the move by pointing to the huge contracts handed out to players like Mike Piazza and Mo Vaughn that set the escalating precedent.

“We’re getting criticized because we were the most recent ones,” argued then-Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone. “The fact of the matter is that we’re just falling in line with what our competitors have done.”

Brown had some high points during his Dodgers tenure, including 18 wins in his debut season and an ERA title in 2000, but injuries prevented him from fulfilling the full value of his record deal. Los Angeles traded Brown to the Yankees in December 2003, but he continued to struggle to stay on the field on a full-time basis before ultimately retiring in ’06.

1996-97: Albert Belle signs with White Sox

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf flexed his financial muscles by inking Belle to a record five-year, $55 million contract in a move that pulled the slugger away from the Indians, Chicago’s AL Central rival. Belle’s prior two seasons in Cleveland were something to behold: A 52-double, 50-homer combo in 1995 followed by 148 RBIs in ’96 that established the left fielder as one of the game’s premier sluggers.

Belle continued to slug in the South Side, nearly replicating his 50-50 feat again in ’98 when he hit 48 doubles and 49 homers, before he invoked an unusual clause in his contract that allowed him to demand that he remained one of the three highest-paid players in baseball. The White Sox declined Belle’s demand, instead letting him leave via free agency, through which he signed another megadeal with the Orioles.

1994-95: Larry Walker signs with Rockies

The 1994 players’ strike forced the Expos to cut payroll, meaning Montreal had to say goodbye to its talented right fielder. The Rockies swooped in and signed Walker to a four-year, $22.5 million deal shortly after the work stoppage concluded, and their new acquisition took full advantage of the halcyon hitters’ environment of pre-humidor Coors Field. Walker’s OPS would sit above .900 in all but one of his nine full seasons in Denver as he made four All-Star teams and captured the ’97 NL MVP.

1992-93: Greg Maddux signs with Braves

Maddux was the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in the winter of 1992, a free agent after spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Cubs. It was expected that the Yankees would land the right-hander, but in a surprise twist, it was Atlanta that inked Maddux to a five-year, $28 million contract on Dec. 9 during the Winter Meetings. While the contract was for less than what New York was offering, Maddux wanted to join what would become one of the greatest starting rotations in baseball history with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery.

Maddux would go on to become the best starting pitcher of the 1990s, and indeed one of the best in baseball history. The Hall of Famer won three consecutive NL Cy Young Awards from 1993-95 for Atlanta, making it four straight overall. He helped the Braves win the 1995 World Series over the powerhouse Indians for the franchise’s first championship in Atlanta. Maddux also won 10 consecutive NL Gold Glove Awards with the Braves, and in 11 seasons had a 2.63 ERA.

1992-93: Barry Bonds signs with Giants

In a move that was more monumental than surprising, Bonds left the Pirates and joined the team his father, Bobby, had starred with from 1968-74. Bonds’ godfather is Giants legend Willie Mays, and Bonds grew up in the Bay Area while his father played for San Francisco. The Giants were nearly sold and moved to Florida following the 1992 season, but a new ownership group purchased the team and kept it in San Francisco, giving it a jump-start by landing Bonds — a two-time NL MVP Award winner — with a six-year, $43.75 million contract.

The Bonds signing was a catalyst in vaulting the Giants to a 103-win season in 1993, and eventually four postseason appearances over the next decade. Bonds would win five more NL MVP Awards and hit 586 of his all-time record 762 home runs in 15 seasons with San Francisco. He was named to 12 All-Star teams over that span, and won six of his eight career NL Gold Glove Awards. During his tenure with the Giants, the franchise built a new waterfront ballpark and came within one victory of winning the World Series in 2002.

1991-92: Bobby Bonilla signs with Mets

Mets general manager Al Harazin characterized his club’s back-to-back acquisitions of Eddie Murray and Bonilla as a “staggering parlay” when Bonilla inked his five-year, $29 million deal. Bonilla’s $5.8 million average annual salary made him the highest-paid athlete in North American professional team sports, edging him ahead of Knicks center Patrick Ewing.

Bonilla made two All-Star teams with the Mets, but ultimately couldn’t reach his 1991 zenith, when he finished third in NL MVP voting after pacing the league with 44 doubles and helping the Pirates reach Game 7 of the NLCS. New York traded him to Baltimore just before the Trade Deadline in 1995, but got him back in a deal with the Dodgers in November 1998. In 2000, the Mets released Bonilla and worked out a deal with his agent to defer the final $5.9 million on his deal. Beginning in 2011, Bonilla began receiving a paycheck worth nearly $1.2 million every July 1 that lasts through the year 2035.

1980-81: Dave Winfield signs with Yankees

In what was at the time the richest contract in sports history, Winfield signed with the Yankees for 10 years and $23 million in December 1980. The big slugger had spent his entire eight-year career to that point with the Padres, having hit 154 homers while stealing 133 bases for San Diego. Winfield hit 205 home runs with an identical 134 OPS+ in nine seasons with New York before the Yankees traded him to the Angels in 1990. Despite his productivity, along with other stars such as Don Mattingly during the decade, the Yankees never made the postseason during Winfield’s time with the club after an appearance in the 1981 World Series.

1979-80: Nolan Ryan signs with Astros

Ryan began his career with the Mets and made a name for himself with the Angels, but he returned to his home state by signing a four-year, $4.5 million contract with the Astros, just 25 miles north of his hometown of Alvin, Texas, in November 1979. With the contract, he became the first player in MLB history to earn more than $1 million in a single season. In nine seasons with Houston, Ryan compiled 1,866 strikeouts with a 3.13 ERA, setting an MLB record by tossing his fifth career no-hitter on Sept. 26, 1981 vs. the Dodgers. Ryan also anchored the starting rotations of the franchise’s first two postseason clubs in 1980 and ’86.

Ryan would go on to play five more seasons with the Rangers after his tenure in Houston, and finished his career with seven no-hitters and a record 5,714 strikeouts. Though he played for four different teams in his 27-year career, Ryan’s contract with the Astros paved the way for lucrative deals for future free agents after he broke the $1 million per year barrier in 1979.

1978-79: Pete Rose signs with Phillies

Philadelphia couldn’t get past the NL Championship Series in three consecutive years from 1976-78, so the club entered into a competitive field for Rose with hopes of adding a fiery leader. The all-time hit leader received plenty of tempting offers — including incentives such as a stake in Royals owner Ewing Kauffman’s oil investments and the Braves’ offer of a $100,000-per-year pension for life — but Rose ultimately chose the Phillies thanks to their already-competitive roster.

“They were the closest team to get where I wanted to be at that stage of my life,” Rose later recounted, “and that was the World Series.”
Rose’s four-year, $3.24 million contract made him the highest-paid player in the game, and he helped lead the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980, followed by another NL pennant in ’83.

1976-77: Reggie Jackson signs with Yankees

The Yankees won 97 games in 1976, but they were also swept by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in that year’s World Series. So, shortly after Thanksgiving, they added one more superstar in Jackson — the ’73 AL MVP who had already contributed to three World Series championship clubs in Oakland before clubbing 27 homers for the Orioles in ’76 — to help them get over the hump. Jackson’s five-year, $3 million deal with New York ushered in one of the wildest periods in Yankees history, but ultimately a successful one, too. Jackson memorably homered in three straight at-bats in Game 6 of the following year’s World Series to become a Bronx legend, and the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in back-to-back Fall Classics.

1974-75: Catfish Hunter signs with Yankees

Following a dispute with Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley in 1974, an arbitrator ruled Hunter to be a free agent, the first such designation of a Major League Baseball player in more than a century. Hunter ultimately signed a landmark five-year, $3.75 million deal (with a $1 million signing bonus) with the Yankees on New Year’s Eve, opening the door for what would become MLB free agency over the decades that would follow.

Hunter helped the Yankees restore their fortunes as baseball’s best club, reaching the World Series each year from 1976-78, and winning back-to-back titles in ’77 and ’78. The Hall of Famer finished out his 15-year career with the Yankees, posting a 3.58 ERA over five seasons for New York.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.


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04 Jun

Every baseball decade has its own flavor, a way to establish it as a clearly delineated period of time, an era with its own distinct personality. We had the rough-and-tumble 1970s, with its off-the-field drama, its Bronx-Is-Burning real-life parallels of chaos, its seemingly endless amount of body hair. The ’80s

Every baseball decade has its own flavor, a way to establish it as a clearly delineated period of time, an era with its own distinct personality. We had the rough-and-tumble 1970s, with its off-the-field drama, its Bronx-Is-Burning real-life parallels of chaos, its seemingly endless amount of body hair. The ’80s were the speed decade: Astroturf, Whiteyball, Rickey being Rickey. The ’90s were heavy with import from start to finish, with labor strife knocking out a World Series but transitioning into the glories of Cal Ripken Jr. and the home run chase of 1998. The 2000s were the homer-happy decade, with records falling seemingly every year for reasons that are still being hotly debated today.
But what is this decade? 2019 marks the end of a decade in baseball — it sure went by fast — and as we enter its final year, the question must be asked: How will this decade be known?
I’d argue the personality of the 2010s can be summed up in one term: This was the Data Decade. This was the decade in which all the numbers and research and analytics and biometrics — whose study had previously been pioneered by outsiders and obsessives and dreamers — were corralled together and weaponized in a way that revolutionized the game and changed it forever.
All those outsiders became insiders, and all those insiders started making all the decisions. The data stopped becoming about the study of the game and began actively reshaping it. Those who got on board with the statistical revolution were able to ride it to new heights. Those who resisted it were left behind. The game looks entirely different than it did in 2010, in nearly every conceivable way. The data is the reason why.
Imagine what Lou Piniella, a manager of 23 years whose final season was in 2010, would think of what his job would entail today. It’s not just the roster that the front office gives you; it’s now the lineup. Your starters may now be relievers who begin games three times a week. Your best batter now hits second. Your bullpen is in constant flux and turmoil by design. Instant replay has essentially eliminated arguing with umpires. RBIs are considered meaningless by many, as are pitcher wins. Your defensive players are constantly shifting, sometimes from pitch to pitch. Oh, and you probably make less money than your GM now. Heck, no wonder the guy stayed retired.
How much has baseball changed? In 2010, the D-backs set an all-time record with 1,529 strikeouts for hitters, breaking the mark previously held by the ’01 Brewers (1,399). In ’18, eleven teams would strike out more than 1,400 times. In 2010, 45 pitchers threw 200 innings or more; in ’18, that number was 13. In 2010, Roy Halladay had four shutouts; in ’18, no pitcher had more than one. A lot can happen in a decade.
Think of all the terms that are a daily part of your baseball vocabulary that you’d never heard of in 2010. Launch angle. Exit velocity. Qualifying offer. Pop time. Opt-out clauses. Statcast™. BarrelsCatch probability. Wild Card Game. Spin rate.
You could have watched baseball your entire life, but if you have a curious mind, you’ve been able to learn more about the game in the last 10 years than you had in your whole existence up to that point.
That’s data. That’s why it’s the Data Decade. The last decade has changed the sport in ways we’re still coming to terms with, but it has also expanded our understanding of it, the better ways to win, the most efficient ways to organize your roster, the most training regimens to preserve your strength and maximize the consistency of your swing, or your throwing motion. Baseball has always been a sport that, because it is in large part played in solo, one-on-one fashion, easily lent itself to statistical study. But now we have better statistics. We have better data. And we’re using it in ways that, all told, we should have been using all along.
Baseball styles ebb and flow: Some years pitchers dominate, some years hitters do, sometimes power runs the game, sometimes it’s defense and speed. But what we’ve learned in the last decade has led to a better understanding of just how incredible what these players are doing on a daily basis truly is. You can have your legends of old men whispering about how long The Mick hit that ball; I’ll take actually knowing precisely how hard and far Mike Trout hit this pitch.

We now watch baseball differently than we ever have because we know so much more than we ever have. And knowledge is never, ever a bad thing. The Data Decade made the players better, it made the teams better, it made the sport better, but perhaps more than anything, it made the fans better. If you love baseball, you’ve never had more access to it, to understanding it, to absorbing yourself in it, to appreciating it, than ever before. Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that why we watch? That’s where the Data Decade has taken us. Who knows how much farther it, and we, can go.

Thus, today, we launch a bi-weekly series called The Data Decade, in which we will look back at a different aspect of this decade. We’ll put together our greatest all-time teams at each position — the top 10 catchers, the top 30 outfielders, the 10 best managers, that sort of thing — and we’ll also look back at great teams, great performances, great games, great moments, whatever stands out from one of the most pivotal decades in baseball history. We encourage you to get involved by emailing me at will.leitch@mlb.com with any thoughts about the last decade of baseball, about what might be waiting for us in the years to come, any great moments that don’t get enough publicity or love. It has been an incredible decade. Let’s spend its final year saying goodbye to it.

We finish up today’s series intro with some fun trivia. One of the fun factoids about, say, the ’90s, is that the player who had the most hits that decade was not Tony Gwynn, or Ripken, or Frank Thomas: It was Mark Grace. Thus, here are the top three of the 2010s so far in some major statistical categories. You may be surprised at some of the names you see … but the fun, of course, is that we still have one more year to go.

Hits

Robinson Canó (1,595)
Nick Markakis (1,533)
Adam Jones (1,521)

Runs

Ian Kinsler, 851

Andrew McCutchen, 823

Justin Upton, 802

Plate Appearances

Nick Markakis, 6,051

Andrew McCutchen, 6,018

Adam Jones, 5,808

Home Runs

Nelson Cruz, 305

Giancarlo Stanton, 305

Edwin Encarnacion, 301

RBIs

Miguel Cabrera, 882

Edwin Encarnacion, 870

Albert Pujols, 870

SBs

Rajai Davis, 322

Dee Gordon, 308

Billy Hamilton, 277

Wins

Max Scherzer, 150

Clayton Kershaw, 140

Justin Verlander, 139

Innings Pitched

Justin Verlander, 1,919

Max Scherzer, 1,891 1/3

James Shields, 1,841 2/3

Strikeouts

Max Scherzer, 2,209

Clayton Kershaw, 1,990

Justin Verlander, 1,960

Saves

Craig Kimbrel, 333

Kenley Jansen, 268

Fernando Rodney, 255

And, finally, the top 10 players in bWAR:

Mike Trout, 64.3

Clayton Kershaw, 55.9

Robinson Cano, 53.8

Adrian Beltre, 51.1

Joey Votto, 50.6

Max Scherzer, 50.3

Justin Verlander, 48.6

Miguel Cabrera, 43.4

Chris Sale, 43.1

Cole Hamels, 42.9

Next up, on March 6: The Best 10 Catchers of the Decade. Email will.leitch@mlb.com with your cases for each one.

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04 Jun

The game is changing, perhaps more quickly than ever. Forget comparing the sport to what it looked like in the 1960s or the ’80s; the game has changed massively in just the last half-decade. Remember, just five years ago, we were all talking about the lack of power ,and no one was talking about launch angle or spin rate. Things are slightly different now.

That being the case, it’s useful to look ahead and project the trends you’ll see taking place on the field in 2019, so that you, the knowledable fan, will be one step ahead of the game.

One trend we won’t be calling out: strikeouts. The number of whiffs have increased every year since 2008, and they’ll probably go up again in ’19. Pitchers are just entirely too good.

That aside, here are seven trends to keep an eye out for in the coming season:

You’ll see more “openers”
On May 19, the Rays introduced “the opener” to modern baseball, and it proved to be a successful enough experiment for them — though certainly having American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell around was a big part of their success as well. This is how Ryne Stanek made 29 “starts” while throwing only 66 1/3 innings, and how Ryan Yarbrough made only six starts, yet piled up 147 1/3 innings.
It’s a little difficult to know how exactly many times the opener was used, because there are small-but-important differences between “the opener,” “a bullpen game,” and “a starter who gets knocked out early.” But it’s clear the idea spread fast, as the Athletics, Dodgers, Twins, Brewers and Rangers (at least) tried the idea out. Our best estimate is that it was truly used approximately 60 times, overwhelmingly from the Rays, along with eight September Liam Hendriks “starts” for Oakland.

In 2019, the Rays and A’s have made it clear they’re going to continue the practice. The Orioles, Marlins and Pirates are considering it. The Padres are “going to look at inventive ways” to overcome their lack of depth. The Giants may consider the opener as well, though clearly not in front of Madison Bumgarner or Jeff Samardzija.

San Francisco president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi explained why the strategy is appealing earlier this month at Giants FanFest.

“I do think there are times where [using an opener] presents a real strategic advantage when you’re looking at teams that have left-handed-hitting heavy tops of the order and you’re planning to start a right-hander,” Zaidi said. “Do you throw a lefty out there to go through that top of the order one time and make things easier for your starter? I can just say that when the opposition is thinking about using an opener, it makes your life harder. Our goal as a team should be to make life as difficult as possible for our opposition.”

That’s exactly right. It’s too soon to know yet how many teams will use the opener, or how often they’ll do it, but we’ll put our money on “more than the approximately 60 times we saw in 2018,” potentially a lot more.

You’ll see more sliders, and fewer sinkers
Last year, 17 percent of all pitches were sinkers, or two-seam fastballs. Also last year, 17.1 percent of all pitches were sliders. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big difference, but since we saw nearly three-quarters of a million pitches thrown last year, it is. A tenth of a percent is approximately 720 pitches.

That’s notable because it was the first time in pitch-tracking history, dating back to 2008, that pitchers in the Majors threw more sliders than they did sinkers. It’s not hard to see why, not when you look at the outcomes of the different pitch types and where fastballs routinely get hit harder than breaking pitches. It used to be that pitchers had to “establish their fastball,” but now, it’s perfectly acceptable for, say, Patrick Corbin to throw his slider over 40 percent of the time or Romo to do so over 50 percent of the time.

“Take your best pitch and throw it a lot” shouldn’t be revolutionary, but in some ways, it is. For most pitchers, the sinker isn’t that pitch, especially if you’re trying to miss bats.

Expect more wild pitches, and passed balls too
Baseball quietly set a record that you probably didn’t even notice in 2018: We saw more wild pitches (1,847) than any season on record, going back to 1956. That broke the record set in 2017, which broke the record set in ’16, which broke the record set in ’15, and … you get the idea. Throw in 370 passed balls, because there’s functionally very little difference between the two other than “scorer’s decision,” and you get 2,217 pitches that weren’t properly handled by catchers. That’s 224 more than we saw when the 30-team era began in 1998.

Let’s be clear that this is not an indictment of the skills of catchers, who have probably the toughest job in team sports. This is about how much the responsibilities of the role have changed, in terms of velocity, emphasis on framing, increasing numbers of pitchers handled and so on. It’s so hard to be a catcher. It’s never been harder. This might be what the speed-focused Royals are counting on in 2019.

Fewer pitches in the strike zone
As we’ve explored here a few times in the past, just about the best thing you can do as a hitter is to swing at strikes and lay off pitches outside the zone. In 2018, for example, batters had a .284 average with a .485 slugging, or basically the line A.J. Pollock just put up. A full 92 percent of homers came on pitches in the zone.

Outside the zone, the results were slightly different, as you’d expect — just a .155 average and a .213 slugging. We can’t give you a player comp for that, because no hitter would last long with numbers like that. The point is, pitchers know this. They’d love for hitters to go after a breaking pitch outside the zone, and as we just showed, there are more sliders happening. Back in 2008, just over 50 percent of pitches were in the zone. In ’18, that was down to 43 percent — a drop of thousands of pitches.

A possible end to the increasing velocity trend
There’s a number of different reasons why we keep seeing more strikeouts, as Adam Ottavino told us recently: “I think the pitchers are just super nasty now. And that’s my diagnosis of why guys are striking out a lot.”

He’s absolutely correct, and a big part of that is the ongoing increase in velocity, which has been relatively consistently increasing for years. But, as Jeff Sullivan detailed at FanGraphs recently, it’s possible we’ve finally reached “peak velocity.” In 2008, just over 12 percent of fastballs were thrown at 95 mph or higher. By ’15, that number was nearly 22 percent, a tremendous increase. The thing is, it hasn’t gone higher. In ’18, it was still just barely over 22 percent. The average fastball was 93.6 mph in ’17… and 93.6 mph in ’18.

It doesn’t mean velocity won’t go up again. It means that for the first time, we’re seeing signs the trend may have slowed, or even stopped.

The game is still getting younger
We’re tempted to say that this is entirely because Victor Martinez (age 40 last December) retired and Bartolo Colon (46 this May) hasn’t yet found a job, but this is really more the continuation of a trend we’ve seen for some time. Here’s what we said just over a year ago, looking into how different the aging in the game has become.

In 2000, players aged 30 and older took 86,019 plate appearances, and they threw 17,373 1/3 innings. They contributed 43.4 percent of all Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version).

In 2017, players aged 30 and older took 69,110 plate appearances, and they threw 15,241 innings. They contributed 32 percent of all Wins Above Replacement.

Now that we have 2018 in the rearview mirror, we can update those numbers, and it’s more of the same.

In 2018, players aged 30 and older took 60,300 plate appearances, and they threw 15,129 2/3 innings. They contributed 29.8 percent of all Wins Above Replacement.

That’s a drop of nearly 9,000 plate appearances to age 30-plus players in the span of a year, a truly enormous difference. That might mean that we couldn’t possibly see such a large drop again in 2019, but the youthful trend has long been clear.

The continued devaluation of the “closer”
Remember this image from last year, when we talked about how the identity of a team’s Opening Day closer doesn’t really matter so much?

Well, what actually happened in 2018 was … we tied the 30-team era record low of 11 closers with 30 saves for the second year in a row. Could we see ’19 go even lower? Looking at the projected closer for each club, you can easily eyeball Boston, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago (White Sox), Seattle, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and maybe Cincinnati as places without clear closer candidates. (Plus, on the North Side of Chicago, Cubs closer Brandon Morrow will miss at least the first month.)

Obviously, Craig Kimbrel will land somewhere this spring, and you can expect him to get his 30 saves for the ninth straight season. On the other hand, this is probably part of what is playing into his slow free-agent market this winter; teams are less interested in strict three-out ninth-inning relievers than they used to be, favoring the flexibility of those like Ottavino or David Robertson.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.


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04 Jun

When it comes to pulling off a trade, three is sometimes not a crowd, but a necessity.

While almost all deals involve two teams working out an exchange, sometimes the addition of a third brings some previously absent element into the mix that allows everyone to get what they want. It also makes things a bit more complicated, and perhaps more exciting, for fans, as they try to figure out who got the upper hand.

With that in mind, here is a look back at 10 of the most significant three-way trades from recent history — plus a bonus four-teamer:

Dec. 13, 2018: Switching sluggers
INDIANS GOT: Carlos Santana (from SEA), Jake Bauers (TB)
MARINERS GOT: Edwin Encarnacion (from CLE), competitive balance pick, cash
RAYS GOT: Yandy Diaz (CLE), Cole Sulser (CLE)

As part of their offseason restructuring, the Mariners took Santana as part of a deal with the Phillies, then flipped him (and the two guaranteed seasons left on his contract) for Encarnacion (and his one season). Meanwhile, the Indians reunited with Santana, who had been a big part of the team’s success in recent years before signing with Philly after 2017. This deal also featured an intriguing exchange of talented but relatively unproven young hitters, with Bauers going to Cleveland and Diaz to Tampa Bay.

July 30, 2015: A baker’s dozen
BRAVES GOT: Hector Olivera (from LAD), Paco Rodriguez (LAD), Zachary Bird (LAD), competitive balance pick (MIA)
DODGERS GOT: Alex Wood (ATL), Jose Peraza (ATL), Bronson Arroyo (ATL), Luis Avilan (ATL), Jim Johnson (ATL), Mat Latos (MIA), Mike Morse (MIA)
MARLINS GOT: Victor Araujo (LAD), Kevin Guzman (LAD), Jeff Brigham (MIA)

This ludicrously complicated deal stands out more for its sheer size and strangeness than any impact it had on the field. Of the 13 players involved, Wood has provided far and away the most production for his acquiring team, becoming a key rotation piece in L.A. Notably, Peraza became part of another three-team deal less than six months later, going to Cincinnati as part of a transaction that also involved the White Sox acquiring Todd Frazier.

Video: LAD@LAA: Wood K’s Trout swinging to end the 1st

Dec. 9, 2014: Trea to D.C. — eventually
NATIONALS GOT: Trea Turner (PTBNL from SD), Joe Ross (SD)
PADRES GOT: Wil Myers (TB), Ryan Hanigan (TB), Jose Castillo (TB), Gerardo Reyes (TB)
RAYS GOT: Steven Souza Jr. (WSH), Jake Bauers (SD), Rene Rivera (SD), Burch Smith (SD), Travis Ott (WSH)

While it could be viewed as two distinct trades, this deal was effectively a three-way concoction — and one that might leave a bad taste for fans of the Padres and Rays. That’s because of the emergence of Turner, who was selected 13th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft and could not be officially included in the trade until a year after that, under the rules in effect at the time. Turner since has become a star shortstop and one of MLB’s top basestealers in Washington. Both Bauers and Souza since have been involved in other three-team trades, with Souza going to Arizona in February 2018, and Bauers to Cleveland as noted above.

Dec. 5, 2014: Didi to NYC
D-BACKS GOT: Robbie Ray (from DET), Domingo Leyba (DET)
TIGERS GOT: Shane Greene (NYY)
YANKEES GOT: Didi Gregorius (ARI)

This was Gregorius’ second big three-teamer in two years (see below), and it thrust him into quite a spotlight. Derek Jeter had just wrapped up his career in the Bronx, and the Yankees needed a shortstop. Gregorius stepped in admirably and since then has gradually shaken off his label as a defensive specialist. Greene and Ray also have tasted some success, with Ray an All-Star in 2017 for Arizona.

July 31, 2014: Tigers meet Rays’ Price
MARINERS GOT: Austin Jackson (from DET)
RAYS GOT: Willy Adames (DET), Drew Smyly (DET), Nick Franklin (SEA)
TIGERS GOT: David Price (TB)

The prize of the Trade Deadline, Price ultimately spent exactly one year in Detroit before he was dealt to Toronto in 2015, but he gave the Tigers a 2.90 ERA over 32 starts. It still remains to be seen how much they gave up for that performance, with Adames showing promise as a Rays rookie in ’18 after years as a top prospect.

Video: DET@NYY: Price fans 10, goes 8 2/3 in Tigers debut

Dec. 11, 2012: Didi, Part I
D-BACKS GOT: Gregorius (from CIN), Tony Sipp (CLE), Lars Anderson (CLE)
INDIANS GOT: Trevor Bauer (ARI), Bryan Shaw (ARI), Matt Albers (ARI), Drew Stubbs (CIN)
REDS GOT: Shin-Soo Choo (CLE), Jason Donald (CLE)

Quite a bit of talent changed hands in this trade. Cleveland made out particularly well, taking advantage of Arizona’s impatience with Bauer (the third overall pick in 2011) and also landing Shaw, who became a key bullpen piece for the next five seasons. Cincinnati only got one season of Choo before he reached free agency, but it featured a .423 OBP. Gregorius’ tenure in the desert also was brief, as previously discussed.

July 31, 2010: Klubot, activate
CARDINALS GOT: Jake Westbrook (from CLE), Nick Greenwood (SD)
INDIANS GOT: Corey Kluber (SD)
PADRES GOT: Ryan Ludwick (STL)

St. Louis got a solid veteran starting pitcher in Westbrook, while Ludwick struggled in San Diego. Kluber wasn’t a household name at the time, as a former fourth-round pick who was in Double-A, but four years later, he was the American League Cy Young Award winner.

Dec. 8, 2009: Max value
D-BACKS GOT: Ian Kennedy (from NYY), Edwin Jackson (DET)
TIGERS GOT: Max Scherzer (ARI), Austin Jackson (NYY), Phil Coke (NYY), Daniel Schlereth (ARI)
YANKEES GOT: Curtis Granderson (DET)

This is just a fun trade all around, though less so for the D-backs, who got decent value over three-plus seasons from Kennedy and a no-hitter from Jackson while giving up too early on Scherzer. The 11th overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft made only 37 starts for Arizona before continuing his development in Detroit, where he won his first Cy Young Award in ’13. The Tigers came away with not only Scherzer, but five seasons of a valuable starting center fielder (Jackson). Granderson put together four productive seasons in the Bronx — including two with 40-plus homers — before moving on to the Mets.

Video: Max Scherzer wins his first Cy Young Award

Dec. 11, 2008: “It was a mess”
INDIANS GOT: Joe Smith (from NYM), Luis Valbuena (SEA)
MARINERS GOT: Franklin Gutierrez (CLE), Jason Vargas (NYM), Aaron Heilman (NYM), Endy Chavez (NYM), Ezequiel Carrera (NYM), Mike Carp (NYM), Maikel Cleto (NYM)
METS GOT: J.J. Putz (SEA), Sean Green (SEA), Jeremy Reed (SEA)

Ten years later, it’s hard to say this was a true blockbuster. Smith’s “mess” assessment — recently shared with MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince — seems more accurate. But this massive deal executed at the 2008 Winter Meetings remains fascinating. It ultimately backfired on the Mets, who got little from Putz, previously a top closer in Seattle. Smith, Vargas, Gutierrez, and the late Valbuena went on to greater success afterward, though none of the dozen players involved was bound for stardom.

July 31, 2008: Mannywood is born
DODGERS GOT: Manny Ramirez (from BOS)
PIRATES GOT: Brandon Moss (BOS), Craig Hansen (BOS), Andy LaRoche (LAD), Bryan Morris (LAD)
RED SOX GOT: Jason Bay (PIT)

Ramirez’s highly successful and tumultuous tenure in Boston finally came to an end, as he was shipped off to L.A. The immediate result was an all-time great stretch run that included a .396/.489/.743 slash line and 17 home runs in 53 games. The Sox didn’t come away empty-handed, either, as Bay posted a 36-homer, 119-RBI season in 2009. No such luck for the Bucs, with only Moss going on to success — after he’d moved on from Pittsburgh.

July 31, 2004: Tour de fource
CUBS GOT: Nomar Garciaparra (from BOS), Matt Murton (BOS)
EXPOS GOT: Alex Gonzalez (CHC), Brendan Harris (CHC), Francis Beltran (CHC)
RED SOX GOT: Orlando Cabrera (MON), Doug Mientkiewicz (MIN)
TWINS GOT: Justin Jones (CHC)

While this technically wasn’t a three-team trade, it’s certainly worth mentioning here, as a rare example of a deal that required more than three clubs to complete. It took place a month after Carlos Beltran went from the Royals to the Astros in a three-way transaction that also had major postseason implications. In this case, Garciaparra was the biggest name involved, as a five-time All-Star and two-time batting champion. But Cabrera brought a steadier glove at shortstop and played well in his short stint in Boston before leaving as a free agent. Mientkiewicz secured his own place in Sox history, catching the final out of the World Series at first base as the club snapped its infamous championship drought.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.


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04 Jun

Here’s a look at the best free-agent signings for each team this century. Some of these players are still on the team, some of them provided their teams tons of value in the past, some of them are just getting warmed up. Last year, teams were hesitant to jump into free agency. Here are some arguments from the past as to why they should.

Note: For each player, the year listed is the first season he played with the club after he signed the contract, even if he actually signed it the previous November or December.

AL EAST

Blue Jays: Russell Martin, five years, $82 million, 2015
Martin has battled injuries the last couple of years, but he was terrific at the beginning of his contract. The Canadian catcher was perfect fit for a Blue Jays team that leaped when its window was open and made it to the American League Championship Series in consecutive years, with Martin playing a big part.

Orioles: Wei-Yin Chen, three years, $11.3 million, 2012
Chen was perhaps the Orioles’ most consistent pitcher for his four years in Baltimore, and Miami rewarded him with an even bigger contract when he left.

Rays: Carlos Pena, Minor League deal, 2007
Pena hit 46 homers for the Rays that year, and he was just as good when they re-signed him to a three-year, $24 million deal the next season — the year Tampa Bay went to its lone World Series.

Red Sox: David Ortiz, one year, $1.25 million, 2003
Ortiz was only a free agent because the Twins released him, making this arguably the most fortuitous free-agent signing ever. Every contract the Red Sox signed him to after this one — for much more money than he got in this deal — was more than worth it for them as well.

Yankees: Hideki Matsui, three years, $21 million, 2003
“Godzilla” hit a total of 70 homers across the three-year span of his original deal with the Yankees. He’d later re-sign for four years, ending his career in New York by being named World Series MVP in 2009.

AL CENTRAL

Indians: Juan Gonzalez, one year, $10 million, 2001
This was JuanGone’s last full season, and he finished fifth in MVP voting before going to Texas for the declining years of his career.

Royals: Edinson Volquez, two years, $20 million, 2015
Kendrys Morales was another option here, as both helped the Royals win that elusive World Series.

Tigers: Ivan Rodriguez, four years, $40 million, 2004
Both the Tigers and Rodriguez were widely criticized when he signed such a big deal with one of the worst teams in baseball. Two years later, they were both in the World Series.

Twins: Jim Thome, one year, $1.5 million, 2010
He came back for $3 million the next season, but he was outstanding in 2010, helping the team to the playoffs and looking like a natural fit in a Twins uniform.

White Sox: Jermaine Dye, two years, $10.15 million, 2005
Dye was the slugger the White Sox needed, and by the end of the deal, he had won a World Series MVP Award.

AL WEST

Angels: Vladimir Guerrero, five years, $70 million, 2004
This future Hall of Famer’s contract, which came a couple of years after A-Rod signed for $252 million with Texas and Manny Ramirez signed for $160 million with Boston, looked like a bargain by comparison.

Astros: Roger Clemens, one year, $5 million, 2004
Clemens signed roughly the same deal with the Astros in 2005, which, according to ERA+, is the best year of his career.

Athletics: Bartolo Colon, one year, $3 million, 2013
Colon was 40 in 2013, when he put up the lowest ERA of his career (2.65).

Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki, three years, $14 million, 2001
Technically, Ichiro was signed last century, but since he didn’t play his first game until this one, we’re counting him.

Rangers: Adrian Beltre, five years, $80 million, 2011
Beltre had just rebuilt his value in Boston on a one-year deal after a tumultuous five years in Seattle, and went on to become a legend in Texas and cementing his status as a future Hall of Famer.

NL EAST

Braves: Billy Wagner, one year, $7 million, 2010
Wagner’s lowest ERA of his career (1.43) came in his final season, which he played in Atlanta.

Marlins: Ivan Rodriguez, one year, $10 million, 2003
Yep, Pudge is on here twice, and why not? He was the vocal leader of a World Series-winning team.

Mets: Carlos Beltran, seven years, $119 million, 2005
The only people not convinced of this are, of course, Mets fans. Per Baseball Reference’s WAR, his two best seasons (and three of his best five) came in Queens.

Nationals: Max Scherzer, seven years, $210 million, 2015
Many teams were scared off by Scherzer’s age and violent delivery. Suffice it to say, they wouldn’t mind having him right now.

Phillies: Cliff Lee, five years, $120 million, 2011
People were scared off by Lee as well. But he was fantastic nearly every year he was in Philadelphia.

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Lorenzo Cain, five years, $80 million, 2018
Is it too early to say this already feels like a steal? Maybe. But maybe not.

Cardinals: Matt Holliday, seven years, $120 million, 2010
The Cardinals parted ways with Holliday at the end of his deal, but he provided excess value to them essentially every year of the contract.

Cubs: Moises Alou, three years, $27 million, 2002
Jon Lester may yet trump this — perhaps he already has — but Alou helped get the Cubs to within a game of the Fall Classic in 2003, as close as they’d get before finally winning it all in ’16.

Pirates: Russell Martin, two years, $17 million, 2013
The Pirates’ postseason breakthrough happened the second year of this contract, and Martin was instrumental in making that happen. (Fun note: There are two guys featured twice in this piece, and both of them are catchers — Martin and Pudge.)

Reds: Aroldis Chapman, six years, $30 million, 2010
Say what you will about the Reds, but they were in on Chapman first.

NL WEST

D-backs: Randy Johnson, four years, $52 million, 1999
The easiest pick on this whole list, obviously. Johnson won the NL Cy Young Award every single year of this deal, going a combined 81-27 with a 2.48 ERA and 1,417 strikeouts in 1,030 innings.

Dodgers: Derek Lowe, four years, $36 million, 2005
The veteran right-hander won 54 games for the Dodgers between 2005-08, never starting fewer than 32 games in a season during that stretch. Yasiel Puig is also in the running.

Giants: Ray Durham, three years, $20 million, 2003
Durham hit .286/.362/.451 during this deal, helping the Giants win 100 games in his first year in San Francisco. Barry Bonds would, of course, be the all-time answer, but the only free-agent deal he ever signed with the Giants came prior to the 1993 season, precluding him from qualifying here.

Padres: Joaquin Benoit, two years, $15 million, 2014
Benoit had been a closer the previous year for the Tigers, but the Padres used him as an all-purpose reliever, and he put up a 1.96 ERA over his two seasons in San Diego.

Rockies: Mark Reynolds, one year, $1.5 million, 2017
Reynolds signed a one-year deal with Colorado prior to the 2016 season and was serviceable. He then signed another one-year deal for the following season for less money, and the Rockies got 30 homers out of him on the way to earning a Wild Card spot.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

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04 Jun

MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list is now live. There’s plenty to check out and so many ways to slice and dice the list.Everyone wants to see how their favorite teams’ prospects stack up on the Top 100, from the Padres’ 10 prospects — the most ever on one of

MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list is now live. There’s plenty to check out and so many ways to slice and dice the list.
Everyone wants to see how their favorite teams’ prospects stack up on the Top 100, from the Padres’ 10 prospects — the most ever on one of MLB Pipeline’s preseason lists — all the way down to Brewers, Marlins, Red Sox and Royals, who have one player each on the list. Here’s a team-by-team look at where things stand:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays (5)

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B (ETA: 2019)
  2. Bo Bichette, SS (2019)
  3. Danny Jansen, C (2019)
  4. Nate Pearson, RHP (2020)
  5. Eric Pardinho, RHP (2021)

Toronto has the fifth-most Top 100 prospects this year and ranks sixth in overall prospect points (254), the latter heavily weighted by the presence of No. 1 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., one of the best offensive prospects we’ve seen. The Blue Jays had never placed five players in the Top 100 before this list, and considering their farm system is among the best in the game, such Top 100 representation could become an annual occurrence.
:: Complete 2019 Top 100 Prospects coverage ::
Orioles (3)

  1. Yusniel Diaz, OF (ETA: 2019)
  2. Ryan Mountcastle, 3B (2019)
  3. DL Hall, LHP (2021)
    Diaz was one of many prospects acquired by the Orioles last summer as they launched their rebuild, but he’s the only one of the group to crack this year’s list. Former first-rounders Mountcastle and Hall, the latter of who has some serious traction after his impressive first full season, join him on the Top 100, giving the organization its most Top 100 prospects since MLB Pipeline expanded its rankings from 50 to 100 players beginning in 2012.
    Rays (6)
  4. Wander Franco, SS (ETA: 2021)
  5. Brent Honeywell, RHP (2019)
  6. Brendan McKay, LHP/1B (2020)
  7. Jesus Sanchez, OF (2020)
  8. Matthew Liberatore, LHP (2021)
  9. Ronaldo Hernandez, C (2021)
    For the second straight year the Rays have six players in the Top 100, a group now headlined by teenage phenom Wander Franco. Overall, the club checks in at fourth overall with 358 prospect points, up from 345 in 2018. More impressive, the Rays also placed a record 10 players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 10 prospects-per-position lists, besting the previous high-water mark (eight) set by Boston in 2014.
    Red Sox (1)
  10. Michael Chavis, 3B/1B (ETA: 2019)
    The Red Sox farm system isn’t nearly as strong as it was when MLB Pipeline ranked it baseball’s best in mid-2015, with many of those players contributing to a 2018 World Series championship either by graduating to the big league roster or getting used in trades. Boston fans aren’t complaining, even if the organization has its lowest total of Top 100 Prospects (one) since 2011.
    Yankees (2)
  11. Estevan Florial, OF (ETA: 2021)
  12. Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP (2019)
    The Yankees tied for the 2017 preseason lead with seven Top 100 Prospects, but Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier and Aaron Judge have graduated to New York and Blake Rutherford, Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield have been dealt for veterans. The system has several highly promising youngsters who could crack the Top 100 in the next couple of years, but for now Florial and Loaisiga represent the Yankees’ lowest total since 2015.
    AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
    Indians (2)
  13. Triston McKenzie, RHP (ETA: 2019)
  14. Nolan Jones, 3B (2020)
    Since our preseason list expanded to 100 in 2012, the Indians have averaged slightly more than two ranked prospects each year. They have two again in 2019 with McKenzie and Jones, and should boost that total in years to come because they have more talented teenagers than most organizations.
    Royals (1)
  15. Brady Singer, RHP (ETA: 2020)
    While the Royals have just the one representative in Singer, his presence on the list is indicative of a recommitment to building up a farm system that was used to produce a World Series championship team. The Royals didn’t have anyone on the Top 100 in 2017 or 2018 and Singer could be joined on the list by some exciting international signees making their way to the higher levels or even one of the other three picks in the top 40 picks of last June’s MLB Draft (Singer was No. 18 overall).

Tigers (3)

  1. Casey Mize, RHP (ETA: 2020)
  2. Matt Manning, RHP (2020)
  3. Franklin Perez, RHP (2020)

The Tigers produced a total of seven Top 100 prospects from 2013-17, during which they never had more than two players on any preseason list. They have three this year, thanks to an influx of high-ceiling pitchers through the Draft as well as trades in recent years, and seven in the past two years. It might not be long until Mize, Manning and Perez make an impact, too, as all three hurlers have the potential to reach the Majors by 2020, if not sooner.
Twins (3)

  1. Royce Lewis, SS (ETA: 2020)
  2. Alex Kirilloff, OF (2020)
  3. Brusdar Graterol, RHP (2020)
    The Twins have had a well-deserved reputation regarding their farm system for years and had a stretch from 2013-16 when they had six prospects on the Top 100 three times and five once. While they’re down to three this time around, having Lewis at No. 5 and Kirilloff at No. 9 marks the first time the Twins have had two top 10 prospects since Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó were Nos. 1 and 4 in 2014. And keep an eye on Graterol. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, the kid gloves can come off even more, perhaps leaving him poised to make a huge leap to be among the elite right-handed pitching prospects in the game.
    White Sox (6)
  4. Eloy Jiménez, OF (ETA: 2019)
  5. Michael Kopech, RHP (2020)
  6. Dylan Cease, RHP (2019)
  7. Luis Robert, OF (2020)
  8. Nick Madrigal, 2B (2020)
  9. Dane Dunning, RHP (2019)

In the first 13 years that MLB Pipeline compiled preseason Top 50/100 Prospects lists, just 15 White Sox farmhands warranted mentioning. But since Chicago fully committed to rebuilding, they’ve annually ranked among the leaders with six in 2017, seven in 2018 and six this year — a three-year total of 20 that trails only the Braves (23) and Padres (20). Four of the 2019 White Sox — Jimenez, Kopech, Cease, Dunning — were acquired via trades, though Chicago will rue giving up Fernando Tatis Jr. (No. 2 on the Top 100) to the Padres for James Shields.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels (2)

  1. Jo Adell, OF (ETA: 2020)
  2. Griffin Canning, RHP (2019)
    The Angels’ contingent on the Top 100 is down from a year ago, when they had four on the list, but this is still very much a system on the rise. Adell is one of many exciting, toolsy players who took steps forward in 2018, though none leapt up as quickly as Adell, who played his way across three levels to Double-A. Outside of Shohei Ohtani‘s relatively brief stay as the No. 1 prospect last year, Adell’s No. 14 ranking is the highest for an Angels prospect since Mike Trout was No. 3 in 2012.
    Astros (6)
  3. Forrest Whitley, RHP (ETA: 2019)
  4. Kyle Tucker, OF (2019)
  5. Yordan Alvarez, OF (2019)
  6. Josh James, RHP (2019)
  7. Corbin Martin, RHP (2019)
  8. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP (2020)
    Though the Astros graduated a ton of young talent to Houston and traded some more as they went from baseball’s worst record each year from 2012-14 to a World Series championship in 2017, their farm system remains robust, especially in terms of Top 100 right-handers. Houston has baseball’s best pitching prospect in Whitley and the best hitter/pitcher prospect duo when Tucker is factored in.
    Athletics (3)
  9. Jesus Luzardo, LHP (ETA: 2019)
  10. A.J. Puk, LHP (2020)
  11. Sean Murphy, C (2019)

The A’s are the only organization not to have a top 10 prospect in the past 15 years of prospect rankings on MLB.com. Luzardo climbs to No. 12, which puts him in a tie with Addison Russell for highest-ranked prospect, and he should impact Oakland’s rotation in a big way at some point in 2019. He and Puk give the organization two of the top lefties in the game and once Puk is 100 percent back from last April’s Tommy John surgery, the pair of southpaws should form the cornerstone of the big league foundation. And it should be Murphy, one of the best defensive catchers in the Minors, forming a tremendous future battery with them.
Mariners (3)

  1. Justus Sheffield, LHP (ETA: 2019)
  2. Jarred Kelenic, OF (2022)
  3. Justin Dunn, RHP (2019)
    GM Jerry Dipoto recommitted to building up the M’s farm system and the trades he’s made are reflected in having three Top 100 prospects, the most since the organization had five back in 2013. All three came in trades, with Sheffield the first to get a real shot at impacting the big league club in 2019, Dunn not too far behind and Kelenic, a 2018 draftee out of high school, a few years away. The last time the M’s had a pair of pitchers in the Top 100 was on that preseason list in ’13, when a pair of lefties, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, made the cut.
    Rangers (3)
  4. Hans Crouse, RHP (ETA: 2021)
  5. Julio Pablo Martinez, OF (2020)
  6. Cole Winn, RHP (2021)
    The Rangers long have had an affinity for high-risk, high-reward prospects, and Crouse and Martinez are the latest examples. Their system isn’t as strong as it was in the first half of this decade, though Texas’ three Top 100 Prospects are its most in three years.
    NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
    Braves (8)
  7. Mike Soroka, RHP (ETA: 2019)
  8. Kyle Wright, RHP (2019)
  9. Ian Anderson, RHP (2020)
  10. Cristian Pache, OF (2020)
  11. Austin Riley, 3B (2019)
  12. Touki Toussaint, RHP (2019)
  13. Bryse Wilson, RHP (2019)
  14. Drew Waters, OF (2021)

While this is the second year in a row the Braves have had eight representatives on the Top 100, it’s the first time in the last three they don’t lead all Major League organizations (That honor belongs to the Padres). Five of the eight are pitchers, not surprising given that six of last year’s eight and four of the seven on the 2017 list were hurlers. Soroka and Anderson have been on the list three years in a row. The Braves still have eight members on the Top 100 despite losing top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr., who was No. 1 on the list at the time he graduated.
:: Prospect Points ::
Marlins (1)

  1. Victor Victor Mesa, OF (ETA: 2019)
    Previous Marlins ownership let the farm system fall into decline, and it’s doesn’t exactly encourage optimism when the Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich trades from a year ago didn’t produce a single Top 100 Prospect. After tying for the lead with six preseason Top 100 prospects in 2013, Miami has had a total of 10 in six years since.
    Mets (2)
  2. Peter Alonso, 1B (ETA: 2019)
  3. Andres Gimenez, SS (2020)
    After failing to place a prospect on MLB Pipeline’s preseason Top 100 in 2018, the Mets are back on the board with a pair of representatives in Alonso and Gimenez. If all goes as planned, Alonso, fresh off his 36-homer, 119-RBI season, should spend much of the season in the big leagues, while Gimenez tackles the upper Minors at age 21. For context, the organization’s best showing came in 2015, when they placed five prospects on the Top 100, and they followed it with four the next year.
    Nationals (3)
  4. Victor Robles, OF (ETA: 2019)
  5. Carter Kieboom, SS (2020)
  6. Luis García, IF (2021)
    Robles has been a staple in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 since 2016, when he first cracked the rankings at No. 63. He moved up to No. 8 on the list the following year, then ranked No. 6 in 2018. He’s joined on the new Top 100 by a pair of fast-rising middle infielders in Kieboom and Garcia, giving the Nats exactly three Top 100 prospects for a second straight year.
    Phillies (3)
  7. Sixto Sanchez, RHP (ETA: 2020)
  8. Alec Bohm, 3B (2021)
  9. Adonis Medina, RHP (2020)
    The Phillies had one of the richest farm systems in baseball in the recent past, with a height of seven Top 100 prospects in 2016 and six on last year’s list. With a young big league roster, there isn’t as much pressure on the system to get guys to the big leagues, but Sanchez and Medina could take big steps forward in terms of health and consistency in 2018, giving the organization the chance to have two of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game approach Philadelphia at around the same time. Sanchez and Medina, who were also on last year’s Top 100 together, give the Phillies their best 1-2 pitching prospect combination since Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd were in the top 15 back in 2004.
    NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
    Brewers (1)
  10. Keston Hiura, 2B (ETA: 2019)
    The Brewers are one of four teams this year that have only one Top 100 prospect, although their lone representative is a very good one. MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked second baseman for 2019, Hiura is also one of the Minors’ premier offensive prospects. Several other Brewers prospects could find themselves on this list a year from now, but none of them can match Hiura’s high ceiling.
    Cardinals (2)
  11. Alex Reyes, RHP (ETA: 2019)
  12. Nolan Gorman, 3B (2022)
    With exactly 50 career innings under his belt and his prospect status still in place for 2019, Reyes has now made MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list in four straight years — he was the top-ranked pitching prospect and No. 6 overall on the 2017 list. Gorman, the club’s first-round pick in the 2018 Draft, enters his first full season in the middle of our Top 100 after he clubbed 17 home runs in 63 games during his pro debut.
    Cubs (2)
  13. Miguel Amaya, C (ETA: 2021)
  14. Nico Hoerner, SS (2020)
    In the middle of the decade, the Cubs had one of the best collection of hitting prospects in recent memory, several of whom ended the franchise’s 108-year World Series championship drought in 2016. Chicago recently has tried to develop homegrown pitching with little success, and its top two prospects are position players Amaya and Hoerner.
    Pirates (4)
  15. Mitch Keller, RHP (ETA: 2019)
  16. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B (2019)
  17. Travis Swaggerty, OF (2021)
  18. Oneil Cruz, SS (2021)
    The Pirates having at least four members of the Top 100 is nothing new. With the exception of last year, when the organization had three prospects on the list, the Pirates have had at least four representatives every year since 2012, with a height of seven in 2015. This is Mitch Keller’s second straight year leading the Pirates’ Top 100 prospects. He joins Jameson Taillon (2011-2012) and Tyler Glasnow (2015-2016) as pitchers to top the Pirates’ contingent in multiple years.
    Reds (4)
  19. Nick Senzel, 3B/2B/OF (ETA: 2019)
  20. Taylor Trammell, OF (2020)
  21. Hunter Greene, RHP (2021)
  22. Jonathan India, 3B (2021)

The Reds have had at least four representatives in the Top 100 for four years running now and it’s been a direct pipeline from the Draft. All four on this year’s list are draftees, with Senzel (2016), Greene (2017) and India (2018) all first-rounders, while Trammell was a Competitive Balance pick in that 2016 MLB Draft. Senzel, who was No. 7 a year ago, moves up to No. 6, the highest ranking a Reds prospect has garnered since lefty Aroldis Chapman was No. 6 in 2011. The Senzel-Trammell combination is the best prospect tandem in the organization since Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey were top 10 guys in 2007 and 2008.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs (3)

  1. Jazz Chisholm, SS (ETA: 2020)
  2. Jon Duplantier, RHP (2019)
  3. Taylor Widener, RHP (2019)
    While Duplantier and Widener both finished last season on the Top 100, the addition of Chisholm to this year’s preseason list, after his breakout regular-season campaign that continued in the Arizona Fall League, gives Arizona more Top 100 prospects than they’ve had since 2015. Chisholm and Duplantier are both homegrown players, while Widener was acquired last offseason in a three-team trade with Tampa Bay and the Yankees.
    Dodgers (4)
  4. Alex Verdugo, OF (ETA: 2019)
  5. Keibert Ruiz, C (2020)
  6. Dustin May, RHP (2020)
  7. Gavin Lux, SS/2B (2020)
    The Dodgers continue to churn out rookie stars — Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler in the last three years — and seem to regenerate more top prospects to replace them. Verdugo is ready to produce if he gets the chance, and Ruiz, May and Lux aren’t far behind him. Ruiz headlines the best prospect catching depth in any system.
    Giants (2)
  8. Joey Bart, C (ETA: 2021)
  9. Heliot Ramos, OF (2021)
    The Giants haven’t featured more than two preseason Top 50/100 Prospects since 2009, and their average of 1.63 since we expanded to 100 in 2012 is the second-worst in baseball (ahead of only the Angels). That didn’t stop them from winning three World Series championships in the first half of the decade, but will make the rebuilding process more difficult. Bart is San Francisco’s highest-rated prospect since Buster Posey was No. 4 in 2010.
    Padres (10)
  10. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS (ETA: 2019)
  11. MacKenzie Gore, LHP (2021)
  12. Luis Urías, IF (2019)
  13. Francisco Mejía, C/OF (2019)
  14. Chris Paddack, RHP (2019)
  15. Luis Patino, RHP (2021)
  16. Adrian Morejon, LHP (2020)
  17. Michel Baez, RHP (2020)
  18. Logan Allen, LHP (2019)
  19. Ryan Weathers, LHP (2021)

The Padres have an MLB Pipeline-record 10 Top 100 prospects this year. That number is up from seven in 2018, when they also garnered honors as MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked farm system, and only slightly less than the organization’s collective total (11) from 2015-17. The Red Sox had held the previous record for most Top 100 prospects after placing nine players on the list in 2014. Meanwhile, after leading all 30 teams with 423 prospect points in 2018, the Padres, with seven prospects ranked inside the Top 50, have established a new MLB Pipeline record this year with 574 points.
Rockies (2)

  1. Brendan Rodgers, IF (ETA: 2019)
  2. Colton Welker, 3B (2020)
    The Rockies had six prospects on the Top 100 back in 2016. That was the first year Rodgers hit the preseason list after he was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 Draft. The infielder, who should graduate off of lists at some point in 2019, cracks the top 10 for the first time on this year’s preseason list. Welker, the club’s fourth-round pick in 2016, has hit everywhere he’s been and could make a sizeable leap up the list with a successful jump to Double-A this season.

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