Sports has a way of raising people up, and taking people down over the course of a career. Taking a ten-year lens, it’s amazing what the game can do to a player. In 2008, Josh Hamilton was a household name, and the 2008 Home Run Derby Champ; Dustin Pedroia was the American League Most Valuable Player that year. In 2018, Pedroia was a non-factor on a World Championship team, and Hamilton has been out of the majors for three years.
Baseball is a fickle game, which makes durability, success, and bona fide entertainment on the field all the more valuable. This offseason, we are bidding farewell to surefire Hall-of-Famer, Adrian Beltré, catchers Victor Martinez and Joe Mauer, as well as veterans Chase Utley and David Wright.
Looking at the schedule and career trajectories of a variety of veterans, let’s take a look at who you should be trying to see in 2019…after all, this isn’t Roger Clemens’ retirement, and this may be the last-chance to see these players on the field.
Sabathia hasn’t been the same player he was in his prime for a long time, but that’s not what this is about in the long-run. CC has reinvented himself, and remains an important part of the Yankees’ rotation. CC has accumulated nearly 70-fWAR, and has seen his share of baseball history over his 17-year career.
He came up with the Indians in 2001, he pitched during the height of the steroid era. He led Milwaukee to an improbable playoff berth in 2008, and has spent nearly a decade in the Bronx. CC has had to adjust his pitching style in order to be a productive pitcher in MLB for 17 seasons, and 2019 is likely the last chance we’ll have to see him in person. For baseball fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Colorado, and Arizona, the Yankees will be visiting in 2019. It likely will be your last chance to see a classic hurler.
We seem to do this every offseason, but Cólon said he wanted to pitch in 2019, and frankly, there’s no reason why one of the 30 teams shouldn’t give him the opportunity. He threw nearly 150 innings last year, and although they weren’t great innings, he did finish with a positive fWAR, a modest-if-not-great strikeout rate of nearly 13 percent, and an excellent 4.0 percent walk rate. At this point in his career, Colon is more caricature than impact-player, but if nothing else, wouldn’t it be fun to bring your kids to a game started by a guy who used to pitch for the Montreal Expos?! 2019 might be your last chance.
Neither flashy, nor elite, Ben Zobrist has made a career simply by doing everything well. Zobrist made a name for himself as an ultra-utility man with the Tampa Bay Rays in their unlikely 2008 World Series run. He took his talents to the Northside of Chicago, where he is now in the final year of a four-year contract.
Perhaps few will tell their grandchildren about the time they saw Ben Zobrist go one-for-three with a walk and a double in a typical mid-summer game, but fact of the matter is, this breed of player is becoming increasingly more important as bullpens expand, and benches shrink.
Over the course of his career, Zobrist has posted a 114 wOPS+, while playing 879 games at second base, 644 in the outfield, and 235 at shortstop. It has been an intriguing career of versatility and adaptability, and while he’s not likely a Hall of Fame talent, his uniqueness will be remembered for years.
Hunter Pence does not yet have a contract for 2019, and it would be a shame if he wilted into oblivious because he could not find a starting job. Pence had the distinction of being one of the few players who in his prime, could hit for average and power, while also looking like there’s a bumblebee in his uniform.
Pence made his mark in three cities, providing exceptional value as an Astro, Phillie, and most recently, a Giant. Where he plays, and if he plays, in 2019 remains to be determined, but having steadily gone downhill since 2016 does not bode well for him.
Bautista had a rough 2018, bouncing around the National League East, from the Braves, to the Mets, to the Phillies. He seemed to have the worst of all three worlds, as he played for the Braves before they were a division contender (they won the East easy by eight games), played for the Phillies after they were a contender (they were within a stone’s throw of the division in August, but finished 10 games back) and in-between those cities, played for the Mets (....yeahhh).
The highlight of Bautista's career of course, came in that epic 2015 ALDS game five against the Rangers. A bat-flip that will live in infamy, Batista will go down as one of the most fun players in Toronto history since Joe Carter. While he may not hold the same lore in your own city, he did make six all star teams, and play in the bigs for 15 years. If he’s back in 2019, it might be his finale.