I like to start off every new year by celebrating the old -- the old players, at least. So many players move from team to team, seemingly at a whim, that it's worth examining each team's longest-tenured player,
I've done this in previous years (2013 and 2014 -- AL and NL versions), and this year is no different -- well, save some of the names. The AL list went up on the first, and it featured about half new names, and half old ones.
But check this out ... so far, nine of the fifteen NL teams have brought back their most tenured player from this point last season. 60% of teams brought back the old guy for another go-round in 2015, which really isn't too bad in this age of player movement. Then again, we also have four teams whose longest-tenured player doesn't even have more than five complete seasons under their belt.
Ready? Here's the list.
Atlanta Braves: Craig Kimbrel
Debut Date: May 7, 2010
Why not? This spot used to belong to Kris Medlen (I know, pretty surprising), and could have belonged to Jason Heyward, but the Braves' fireballing closer is the current champion of longevity down south. As the Braves appear to be doing the "soft rebuild" that's in vogue these days, Kimbrel's been linked as a trade possibility for a lot of teams (my personal favorite is a deal sending him to the Blue Jays), but it's hard to want to deal a guy who is as special as CK.
It is extremely hard for a closer to be worth 10 wins over four years (according to FanGraphs, it's actually closer to 10 and a half), but Kimbrel has done it. That's a guy worth keeping around.
Prefer the AL?
Prefer the AL?
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun*
Debut Date: May 25, 2007
It seems unlikely that Rickie Weeks will make a return to Wisconsin, so the long-time, longest-serving Brewer will have to cede his crown to Mr. Braun. Braun, who has more infamy than Weeks (and also more value, these days) certainly had a down year on the heels of an abbreviated 2013. It seems as if Braun's Hall-of-Fame trajectory might be permanently derailed, and he's no longer the best hitter even in the Brewers' outfield, but ... wait, was there a silver lining that was supposed to go here?
St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina
Debut Date: June 3, 2004
So what if Yadi had a disappointing 2014 after three excellent years before it? He's the heart and soul of the Cardinals team that's been one of the best in baseball over the past decade. There may not be more than a couple more years for Yadi behind the dish, but he'll probably add serious value when he's able to haul himself out there and manage the Redbirds' staff.
Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro
Debut Date: May 7, 2010
On an aside, Castro shares his debut date with Craig Kimbrel of the Braves, because that's synchronicity, holmes. Will Castro continue to man the six for Chicago going forward? Um, maybe? Addison Russell, Baseball Prospectus' #1 prospect, is waiting in the wings, and Javier Baez is probably literally looking over Castro's shoulder.
Nevertheless, Castro adds some stability to an EXTREMELY young Cubs team, and he's -- in many ways -- the old man of the organization, despite only logging five years with the team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Daniel Hudson
Debut Date: August 1, 2010
Daniel Hudson and the Arizona Diamondbacks are the current leaders for shortest pairing between team and longest-tenured player. Hudson debuted for the D'backs right after his acquisition from the White Sox in 2010, but he's still the guy on both (AL and NL) lists who has spent the least time with his given squad.
Hudson's only thrown 48 innings over the last three seasons, but I know a couple of Diamondbacks analysts who hope he could be an effective piece out of the bullpen this season. Health caveats, as always, apply.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Andre Ethier
Debut Date: May 2, 2006
I never would have seen this coming. At this rate, it seems like the Dodgers have been trying to get rid of Ethier ever since he signed an ill-fated five-year, $85 million extension back in the middle of 2012. Last season, Andre went from being a worthwhile platoon bat or average corner outfielder to being well, kind of a nightmare. He's vastly overpaid given his current skillset, and perhaps that will keep him in Dodger blue for a while longer, even if he no longer has a home in the starting nine.
San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain
Debut Date: August 29, 2005
I know we didn't get the awesome Cain-on-Cain matchup that we all wanted during this past World Series, but here we are. The Giants' de-facto ace ... at least until Madison Bumgarner showed up ... is locked down until 2017 (or 2018, depending on his option), and is likely to hold a spot in the S.F. rotation until his arm gives out. Given his iffy performances (and injuries) over the past two seasons, there's reason to think that could be sooner, rather than later.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton
Debut Date: June 8, 2010
I mean, theoretically, Giancarlo Stanton should hold this spot for the next 13 years, right? He's signed to the largest contract in history -- not only in terms of total dollar value, but also, I'd assume in terms of overall weight -- and locked into Marlins colors for nearly a decade and a half.
And yet ...
You can't really predict what the Marlins will do from one minute to the next, and the player himself holds an out clause after six more seasons. In a perfect world for Marlins fans, Stanton's the guy in South Beach for the long haul. In a perfect world for everyone else, well, he winds up on your favorite team.
New York Mets: David Wright
Debut Date: July 21, 2004
If you follow the Mets, you probably recall that for years, and years ... and years, the team lacked a consistent presence at third base. It was a position of need for a team that never truly had a stable hand at the hot corner, until David Wright arrived. I know the Mets haven't been very good for the past decade (2006 excluded), but Wright has been quite good during his long tenure with the Amazin's.
There's a strong chance that, while not as great as former cross-town captain Derek Jeter, Wright could get the same sort of retirement tour when he's finishing out a long, storied career with the Mets in 2021 or so. And he, like only perhaps one or two other players on this list (check out the Marlins, Phillies, Pirates, and Rockies for the other guys with shots at it), has already carved out a spot in Cooperstown after his playing career winds down.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman
Debut Date: September 1, 2005
Like so many players on this list, Zimmerman's production has declined from his peak years. In 2009 and 2010, it was hard to argue that many players combined defensive prowess and excellent offense as well as Zim. He was an off-brand Evan Longoria. In 2015, the defense is gone, the offense has faded a bit, and he'll likely move across the diamond to the cold corner to finish out his tenure in D.C.
San Diego Padres: Will Venable
Debut Date: August 29, 2008
This will probably change in about a week, as the Padres seem primed to trade everyone on the roster who pre-dated A.J. Preller -- as well as a couple of players who didn't. Oh well. I've been waiting for Venable to "break out" for the past five years, I think, and I'm starting to realize that he's probably just a pretty good outfielder who's about to hit a decline phase.
Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley
Debut Date: April 4, 2003
Here's the grand old man of the National League, who beats out Yadier Molina and David Wright by over a year. Currently, Chase Utley is in a bit of a decline phase, like so many players on this list. Unlike many players on the list, however, his decline phase is STILL AWESOME. He's a legendary baserunner (no, really, look it up at FanGraphs), plays crucial defense at the pivot, still can hit, and he played 155 games last year despite having knees made out of balsa and Elmer's glue.
While it's sad to see the Phillies break up their long-time up-the-middle combo, at least the Philadelphia faithful still have the best second baseman since Roberto Alomar to watch.
(I'm not sure you can have any article about Chase Utley without linking out to Mac's love letter to Chase Utley from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so here.)
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen
Debut Date: June 4, 2009
Cutch has almost become boring in his excellence, but the boredom fades when you watch the Pirates' young superstar hit. Believe it or not, he actually improved on his tremendous 2013 MVP campaign this past season, raising his wRC+ to an excellent 168. He hits 68% better from the league average, plays a critical defensive position, and is basically everything you could ask of a clubhouse influence on this Pirates squad. Here's to hoping McCutchen stays this productive for a long time in Pirates black and gold.
Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips
Debut Date: April 9, 2006
Phillips is a neat guy for this list, because he's one of the few players to begin his career in a different system (Cincy is actually his third organization) than the one where he ends up today -- and not only that, but he spent parts of four big-league seasons with Cleveland before coming cross-state to Cincinnati.
Brandon suffers from what I consider a perception problem. Throughout his career, he's been considered more of an offensive force than he's really deserved, earning most of his objective value through steady play at the pivot. His inability to reach base consistently could be considered a flaw, but he has provided nice surplus value to the Reds for nearly a decade, and without a ready-made replacement in house, they could do a lot worse than keeping him around.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
Debut Date: August 30, 2006
Game-for-game, there may not be another player in baseball that brings more value to his team than Troy Tulowitzki, save perhaps Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. Tulo does it all -- he hits for power and average, gets on base, fields the ball like a champ at a critical position. But health is a skill in many ways, and it's a skill Tulo lacks. It is truly amazing that the Rockies' franchise player could rack up about five wins (via fWAR) in just 94 games last season. The only thing that might be more amazing than that is the possibility the Rockies would trade him.