The winter holiday period has generally been a quiet period on the hot stove, perhaps particularly so this year given so many free agent deals occurred prior to Christmas. New Year’s Eve has generally been quiet, but there have been a few big moves that took place on the final day of the calendar in recent years.
Here’s a look at major transactions that took place on December 31 since the start of the 21st century:
- 2018: The Mariners agree to a deal with Japanese hurler Yusei Kikuchi.
After eight seasons dominating in Japan, the Seibu Lions posted Kikuchi ahead of the 2019 campaign. The Mariners had long been seen as a strong fit for the left-hander, and on the final day of 2018 word broke that the Mariners had got their man. Kikuchi had agreed to an initial three-year, $43MM deal with Seattle that came with a $13MM player option, as well as a four-year club option that promised Kikuchi an additional $66MM. Kikuchi would have a challenging start to life in the big leagues, working to a 5.39 ERA over 41 starts across the 2019-20 seasons. He did find some form in 2021 though, working to a 4.41 ERA over 157 innings. That was enough for Kikuchi to decline his player option but not enough for Seattle to exercise their four-year club option, so Kikuchi hit the open market and found a new home in Toronto ahead of the 2022 season.
After back-to-back playoff appearances the Reds took a step back in 2014, finishing 76-86. With a solid core still under contract GM Walt Jocketty made a move to bolster their offense, acquiring the veteran Byrd from the rebuilding Phillies. Byrd was owed $8MM in 2015, and the Phillies chipped in for half of that. In exchange, they got Lively, a promising young pitcher in the Reds system. He’d go on to make 20 starts for Philadelphia between 2017-18 but would be claimed off waivers by the Royals in 2018, and last pitched in the big leagues in 2019. The 37-year-old Byrd would hit .237/.286/.448 with 19 home runs across 96 games, but the Reds would fall well out of contention and wound up flipping him to the Giants in August of that year.
- 2013: The Astros sign veteran reliever Jesse Crain to a one-year, $3.25MM deal.
The 2013 Astros lost 111 games, and were deep in the midst of their rebuild. 2014 saw the emergence of some of the core players that become building blocks over the next decade or so in Houston, and the team clearly felt some veteran leadership wouldn’t hurt in the young clubhouse. The then-31-year-old Crain had been a solid reliever for a number of years in Minnesota, but had blossomed into an elite relief arm over the previous three seasons for the White Sox. Between 2011-13, he’d throw 150 innings of 2.10 ERA relief for Chicago. Unfortunately for Houston, Crain would land on the injured list in spring training as he recovered from off-season surgery and he wouldn’t throw a single pitch for the Astros, or any other team in the big leagues after that 2013 season.
- 2012: The Royals sign 38-year-old veteran Miguel Tejada to a minor league deal
Tejada had been a force for a number of years for the Orioles and Athletics, winning the AL MVP award in 2002. Yet by the time the Royals agreed to a minor league deal with the veteran shortstop, his star had well and truly waned. Tejada’s last MLB season came in 2011 when he hit .239/.270/.326 for the Giants, and he’d spent the 2012 season playing at Triple-A. Yet he made it onto the Royals’ big league roster in 2013, appearing in 53 games and hitting .288/.317/.378. He’d suffer a calf injury that looked set to end his season, but a 105-game ban following two positive drug tests ended his season, and he wouldn’t play in the big leagues again.
- 2011: The Padres acquire outfielder Carlos Quentin from the White Sox for minor leaguers Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez.
The 2011 White Sox finished a disappointing 79-83, and felt comfortable sending their All Star outfielder, and California native, Quentin out west. The 29-year-old had been worth 2.5 fWAR the previous season, and netted the White Sox a pair of young pitchers. Unfortunately for Chicago, Castro would throw just 6 2/3 innings of relief for them, while Hernandez would be torched for eight earned runs in four innings in a solitary start for the team. For the Padres, Quentin would be productive when he could stay on the field, slashing .268/.368/.498 over 168 games in his first two seasons. His knee would continue to cause problems, and a disappointing 2014 would be his last appearances in the big leagues.
- 2010: The Orioles sign veteran Derrek Lee to a one-year contract.
In his prime, Lee had been a hugely productive hitter for the Cubs and Marlins, finishing third in MVP voting in 2005. Those numbers were dwindling, but Lee was still putting up solid enough numbers in 2010 that the Orioles felt comfortable giving him a $7.25MM salary for the 2011 season. He struggled to a .246/.302/.404 line with 12 home runs over 85 games with the Orioles that year. With Baltimore in the midst of a losing season, they sent him to Pittsburgh at the deadline, and Lee would hit .337/.398/.584 over 28 games down the stretch for the Bucs, before retiring at the end of the year.
- 2009: The Cubs sign Marlon Byrd to a three-year deal and the Phillies sign Danys Baez to a two-year pact.
The first of Byrd’s two NYE transactions would come at the end of 2009, as the Cubs added him on deal that’d pay him $15MM over the next three years. Byrd would go to the All Star game in his first season in Chicago, slashing .293/.346/.429 with 12 home runs over 630 plate appearances as the Cubs finished 75-87. A wretched start to the 2012 season (3-for-43) would see him traded to the Red Sox in April of that year, the final year of his three-year contract. Baez had shifted around the big leagues a fair bit prior to landing in Philadelphia, appearing for five teams over eight years and working to a combined 4.04 ERA. The Phillies signed him to a two-year, $5.25MM deal, but Baez struggled significantly, working to a 5.48 ERA in his first year and a 6.25 ERA in his second. The Phillies released him in August, 2011, and he wouldn’t pitch in the big leagues again.
- 2004: The Yankees bring back veteran Tino Martinez on a one-year, $3MM deal.
Martinez played 1,054 games for the Yankees between 1996 and 2001, winning four World Series rings in that time before they replaced the first baseman with Jason Giambi. He’d played the previous year for the Devil Rays, but after they declined his $8MM option, the Yankees swooped in to add him as cover for the player that replaced him. The 37-year-old Martinez wound up playing in 131 games that year for the Yankees, and while he wasn’t the same offensive threat as a few years prior, he still posted a respectable .241/.328/.439 line with 17 home runs as the Yankees went 95-67 in 2005. The Yankees declined their $3MM option for 2006, and Martinez retired.