With Bartolo Colon re-signing with the Mets on Wednesday afternoon, it is a good time to reflect on some of the veteran players in the game who continue to perform for their teams. While we will miss out on an age-40 season from Torii Hunter and Tim Hudson, we have with us some players whose legendary / nefarious status in the game will be remembered for decades and who may end up in Cooperstown someday.
It's not easy to play a sport at age 40. One must compete against guys half one's age. Guys who are considered veterans in their own right could conceivably be the sons of some of the veterans discussed. There is a reason players like Rafael Betancourt, Randy Choate, Scott Atchison, Joe Nathan, and Joel Peralta remain unsigned. While they may end up signing a minor league deal, getting invited to camp, or put in a few innings here and there, the seven players I will discuss below are everyday players who are key cogs to their teams in their own way.
Here is a list of the players 40 years of age of older under contract for 2016 as well as their value (in fWAR) for 2015 and projected value (again in fWAR) for 2016:
|Player||Age (as of 2016 Opening Day)||2015 fWAR||Projected 2016 fWAR|
Bartolo Colon served as a versatile, team-first role model for a young pitching staff in 2015. He pitched 194 innings, mostly as a reliable back-end starting pitcher, and then moved to the bullpen for the playoffs. Despite his age and his gut, Colon put up 2.5 fWAR. Since turning 40, Colon has posted over nine total fWAR. Nine! He will enter 2016 in his age-42 season and reportedly took less money to be with the Mets, where he identified well with the personnel and the fans.
Colon is projected to be the most valuable player of the ageless wonders, with David Ortiz not far behind him. Papi already announced 2016 will be his last, and based on what he did in 2015 as well as 2016 projections, it seems he will leave the game without ever having experienced the collapse some players face. Last season, Ortiz put up 37 home runs and 37 doubles en route to a 138 wRC+. He was one of the better producing hitters in a lineup with bloated contracts and overpaid (per value) stars like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Steamer projects Ortiz for 27 home runs, but any way you look at it, Papi is likely to have a productive season for Boston.
R.A. Dickey will be 41 years old when he takes the hill in Toronto. While he never repeated his magical 2012 Cy Young season, he remains a mid/back-rotation starter for the Jays. There is no point in crying over spilled prospects (*cough* Noah Syndergaard & Travis d'Arnaud*cough*), and Dickey is still a reliable innings eater for Toronto despite his age. Steamer projects Dickey for another 190+ inning season, which has value.
As a knuckleballer, the longball has plagued Dickey most of his career, but when that pitch dances, he can still be effective. The life of a pitcher like Dickey is atypical; similar pitchers who relied on the knuckler had careers well into their mid-to-late 40s. Phil Niekro pitched until he was 48, Charlie Hough took the hill until he retired after his age-46 season, and Tim Wakefield pitched in Boston until he was 44.
Not far behind Dickey is Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara. Koji is entering his age-40 season and is coming off an injury-plagued 2015 in which he threw only 40 innings. With the additions of Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, the Red Sox can use Koji more strategically than bringing him out for every ninth inning with a lead.
The career trajectory (and public relation trajectory) of Alex Rodriguez is one of the more unconventional in the game. In 2015, ARod put up his best year since 2012, posting 2.7 fWAR. He is projected to take a major step backward in 2016, but the fact that he's rosterable at all is nothing short of a miracle. ARod hit 33 home runs in over 600 plate appearances and despite his age served as a model of stability for the Yankees (he played in 151 games). Steamer projections for 2016 foresee a significant step back in power, on-base percentage, and batting average. Interestingly enough, his year off may have been the best thing for his health. It will be interesting to see if he can again outperform the cautious projections.
Ichiro is the second-oldest player on this list and the only one who cost his team wins in 2015. He served as a Japanese icon who took the pacific northwest baseball market by storm. Ichiro has 2,935 hits and will likely hang on to get those last 65 hits. He should be able to hit the mark in 2016, but it will be more of an amassing of hits than anything of real value for Miami. At least the approach to 3,000 should be fun in what may turn out to be another dismal year in Miami.
Aging curves can be a beast sometimes. It is often difficult to watch our favorite players go into their decline phase. When they come up to bat, it is so easy to fall into old habits in thinking the player is who he was 10 or 15 years ago. While the mystique may be gone, it's fun to appreciate players whose durability provided us entertainment throughout a good portion of our lives. Next season, take a step back and appreciate these guys for what they've done and the entertainment they bestowed on us for nearly two decades. Who knows, you may even get to see Ichiro pitch again.
[Editor's Note: An earlier version incorrectly implied Zack Wheeler and not Noah Syndergaard was sent to NY for Dickey.]