The defining characteristic of 2010s baseball is the youthful renaissance that transpired throughout the game. The once-vogue long term deals for aging sluggers look to be behind us in today’s game, with the newest trend being teams signing their young players to long-term extensions, often irrespective of whether or not they have even suited-up for the major league club.
In conjunction with the renaissance of youth in the game, veterans remain popular among fans, and continue to be the defining face for a number of clubs. While there is certainly a decline in the number of ‘franchise players’ in today’s game, there are actually two players who fit the bill who may be retiring after a lengthy career together.
Today we take a look at some players who may end up retiring at the end of the 2020 season, including a battery we have seen for a decade-and-a-half. Thankfully we have been spared a recent farewell tour, a la Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, and Mariano Rivera, but that does make it more difficult to ascertain who will be back in 2021, and who is likely to call it quits after the 2020 season. Here’s our best shot at some players who may be en route to retirement after the 2020 season.
It’s rare to have a team in the playoff conversation and truly be competitive year-in-and-year-out. With peaks and valleys of competitive windows, tanking, and rebuilding (just another word for tanking, in many cases), the St. Louis Cardinals buck the trend.
Additionally, it’s rare that players stick with the same team their entire career, a uniqueness exemplified by the rarity that is the battery tandem of pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina. Both Yadi and Wainwright are entering the last year of their contracts, and both may end up retiring together, which would be a terrific story line following strong seasons.
It would truly be fitting to have Wainwright and Molina retire simultaneously, since they have been together for their entire careers. Molina made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2004, and became the starting catcher in 2005. While Wainwright earned a cup-of-coffee in 2005 and 2006, the two players’ careers have been intertwined ever since.
Over the course of both players careers, the two have shared a battery across 278 starts, including in the postseason. Independently, Yadi has posted a 40.2 bWAR, and is likely to earn Hall of Fame enshrinement. Wainwright’s 36 bWAR probably leaves him short, but if the 2020 Cardinals are passing through your city, and you’re lucky enough to have the rotation align with a Wainwright start, take advantage of it.
Veteran 39-year-old Nelson Cruz has been a productive Major League player since 2008. If one were to take a poll before the 2019 season, most people probably would have figured that Nellie would hang up his spikes after his current two-year contract with the Minnesota Twins. The first of those two years yielded much fruit for both Cruz and the Twins, as Cruz posted his best wRC+ of any full season he’s played, casting some doubt as to whether he really needs to call it quits after 2020.
FanGraphs’ projections expect a .283 batting average, and a .363 OBP. Throw another 40-home run year, and the Twins have themselves quite a player at a decent cost. Whether or not Cruz does enough to earn another contract entering his 40s, to see a player at this age be this productive is certainly something to take advantage of if the Mariners come to a ballpark near you.
In December, Cole Hamels agreed to a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. This will be his third team in three years, and the fourth of his career. Hamels has never been the most dominant pitcher in the National League, he had nine consecutive years of 183 or more innings, and made a name for himself during the Phillies most competitive years. Unsurprisingly, he has been less durable in his later years, but still has some decent bullets left in his arm.
Last season he showed some of the good, the bad, and the ugly, but overall, he had a decent season for a veteran starter. In 141 ⅔ innings, he struck out 143 batters and walked only 56. Though the stuff is obviously diminished, he’s still productive. For any Phillies that wants to relive the glory days of Hamels, they’ll get to see him suit-up in Philly wearing a rival Braves’ uni.
As painful as it is for Mets fans to see, Justin Turner has had himself quite a career once he left Queens. In his six years with the Dodgers, Turner has posted a 139 OPS+, compared to a 95 OPS+ in New York. He has increased his batting average, walk rate, and completely reinvented himself as a power hitter. In 301 games in New York, Turner hit a total of eight home runs. EIGHT! In six seasons in Los Angeles, he’s average 19 dingers per season.
Turner has showcased his power in postseason, and has become a fan favorite in LA. He’s 35 years old, and may have another contract yet in him, but this will be the last of his four-year deal with the Dodgers. We have a feeling he’ll be around for a bit longer past 2020, be it with the Dodgers of elsewhere, but he’s worth mentioning.
Ben Zobrist and Alex Gordon have yet to make decisions on retirement post-2019. It’s possible their last MLB games are behind them, though it is possible they come back to play in 2020.
Felix Hernandez is trying to come back in 2020, though it’s unclear whether there’s a team out there that wants to give him a one-year deal, particularly with his diminished velocity.
Additionally, there are five interesting players who have 2021 options. Dee Gordon, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Gardner, Jon Lester, and Ryan Braun. Whether these options are picked up remains to be seen, but skip seeing these guys at your own risk.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano