The winter vacation period has generally been a quiet time on the hot stove, perhaps especially this year given that many free agent deals have come before Christmas. New Year’s Eve has generally been quiet, but there have been some big bustles that have taken place on the last day of the calendar in recent years.
Here is an overview of the major transactions that have taken place on December 31 since the turn of the 21st century:
- 2018: Mariners agree deal with Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.
After eight dominant seasons in Japan, the Seibu Lions posted Kikuchi ahead of the 2019 campaign. The Mariners had long been seen as a good left-handed candidate, and on the last day of 2018 word broke that the Mariners had gotten their man. . Kikuchi had agreed to an initial three-year, $43 million deal with Seattle that came with a $13 million player option, as well as a four-year club option that promised Kikuchi an additional $66 million. Kikuchi would have a rocky start to life in the big leagues, working to a 5.39 ERA in 41 starts during the 2019-20 seasons. He has found some form in 2021, however, working to a 4.41 ERA in 157 innings. It was enough for Kikuchi to turn down 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 strong core still under contract, general manager Walt Jocketty decided to bolster his offense by acquiring veteran Byrd from the rebuilding Phillies. Byrd owed $8 million in 2015, and the Phillies contributed half of that. In exchange, they got Lively, a promising young pitcher in the Reds system. He would go on to make 20 starts for Philadelphia between 2017 and 2018, but would be claimed on waivers by the Royals in 2018 and last in the big leagues in 2019. Byrd, 37, would hit .237/. 286 / .448 with 19 homers in 96 games, but the Reds would fall well out of the game and eventually return him to the Giants in August of that year.
- 2013: Astros sign veteran reliever Jesse Crain to a one-year, $3.25 million contract.
The 2013 Astros lost 111 games and were in the midst of rebuilding. 2014 saw the emergence of some of the core players who would become building blocks over the next decade in Houston, and the team clearly felt veteran leadership wouldn’t hurt in the young clubhouse. Crain, then 31, had been a solid reliever for several years in Minnesota, but had developed into an elite relief arm in the previous three seasons for the White Sox. Between 2011 and 2013, he would pitch 150 ERA 2.10 relief innings for Chicago. Unfortunately for Houston, Crain would land on injured reserve in spring training while recovering from offseason surgery and he wouldn’t throw a single pitch for the Astros, or any other big league team. after this 2013 season.
- 2012: Royals sign 38-year-old veteran Miguel Tejada to a minor league deal
Tejada had been a force for several years for the Orioles and the 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 indeed declined. Tejada’s final MLB season came in 2011 when he hit .239/.270/.326 for the Giants, and he had spent the 2012 season playing Triple-A. Still, he made the Royals’ big league roster in 2013, appearing in 53 games and hitting .288/.317/.378. He would suffer from a calf injury that looked set to end his season, but a 105-game ban following two positive doping tests ended his season, and he would no longer play in the backyard. big.
The 2011 White Sox finished a disappointing 79-83 and felt comfortable sending their All Star and California native outfielder Quentin out west. The 29-year-old was worth 2.5 fWAR the previous season and gifted the White Sox with a pair of young pitchers. Unfortunately for Chicago, Castro would pitch just 6 2/3 innings of relief for them, while Hernandez would be torched for eight earned runs over four innings in a lone start for the team. For the Padres, Quentin would be productive if he could stay on the court, cutting .268/.368/.498 in 168 games in his first two seasons. His knee would continue to cause him problems, and a disappointing 2014 would be his last appearances in the big leagues.
- 2010: Orioles sign veteran Derek Lee on a one-year contract.
At his peak, Lee had been an extremely productive hitter for the Cubs and Marlins, finishing third in MVP voting in 2005. Those numbers were going down, but Lee was still putting up strong enough numbers in 2010 for the Orioles to feel comfortable with. to give him $7.25. MM salary for the 2011 season. He struggled to a .246/.302/.404 line with 12 home runs in 85 games for the Orioles that year. With Baltimore in the middle of a losing season, they sent him to Pittsburgh at the deadline, and Lee would hit .337 / .398 / .584 in 28 games for the Bucs, before retiring at the end of the year.
- 2009: The sign of the Cubs Marlon Byrd to a three-year contract and the Phillies sign Danys Baez to a two-year pact.
Byrd’s first of two NYE trades would come in late 2009, as the Cubs added him to a deal that would net him $15 million over the next three years. Byrd would go to the All-Star Game in his first season in Chicago, cutting .293/.346/.429 with 12 homers in 630 plate appearances as the Cubs finished 75-87. A miserable 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 been in the big leagues shortly before 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, $5.25 million deal, but Baez struggled, working to a 5.48 ERA the first year and a 6.25 ERA the second. The Phillies released him in August 2011 and he would not pitch in the big leagues again.
- 2004 : The Yankees are bringing back veteran Tino Martinez on a one-year, $3 million contract.
Martinez played 1,054 games for the Yankees between 1996 and 2001, earning four World Series rings in that time before replacing first baseman with Jason Giambi. He had played the previous year for the Devil Rays, but after turning down his $8 million option, the Yankees rushed to add him as cover for the player who replaced him. Martinez, 37, played in 131 games that year for the Yankees, and while he wasn’t the same offensive threat as a few years earlier, he still posted a respectable .241/ line. 328/.439 with 17 homers as the Yankees went 95-67 in 2005. The Yankees declined their $3 million option for 2006 and Martinez retired.