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For MLB veterans, there’s much to lose if the season is canceled

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What a potentially canceled season might mean for players at the back-end of their careers. 

St. Louis Cardinals v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

With each passing day we seem to get closer to an abbreviated or tournament style multi-month season out of both the NHL and NBA, and with each passing day it seems like the MLB players’ union and the league are further and further apart.

In the last week, the NHL announced that they have agreed with the NHLPA to a 24-team tournament style Stanley Cup playoff, and the NBA is looking at various options, basing teams out of Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Of course, this is all logistics-dependent, but the two sides of players and owners are aligned in doing what they can to their respective sports back on tv.

The current rhetoric between agents, union reps, owners, and players themselves indicate that baseball is at an impasse. It’s a harbinger of what is going to be a nasty collective bargaining fight after the 2021 season, but with the current health crisis, the conversation has accelerated.

We don’t need to rehash what has been said on both sides of the baseball coin, rather today we’ll focus on a number players entering their age-35 season or later who have contracts that expire after this season, regardless of whether or not a pitch is thrown.

Overall, there are ten position players and nine pitchers entering their age-35 season. This week we’ll take a look at the everyday players who have much to lose with regards to additional contracts post the 2020 season (or non-season). Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Joey Votto are all older than 35, but they are under contract post the 2020 season. .

35+ year Old Position Players

Player Age Team Free Agent Year
Player Age Team Free Agent Year
Albert Pujols 40 Angels 2022
Nelson Cruz 39 Twins 2021
Shin-Soo Choo 37 Rangers 2021
Miguel Cabrera 37 Tigers 2024
Yuli Gurriel 36 Astros 2021
Ryan Braun 36 Brewers 2021
Brett Gardner 36 Yankees 2021
Joey Votto 36 Reds 2024
Alex Gordon 36 Royals 2021
Justin Turner 35 Dodgers 2021
Italics = 2020 Contract Year

Nelson Cruz’ resurgence last year for the Twins demonstrated old Nellie still can hit for power and average. His 41 home runs and near-.400 OBP drove the Twins to 101 wins, and their first division title since 2010.

FanGraphs’ projections expected a decline from a 4-win season last year, but expected a productive player. Not playing in over a year would certainly be a detriment to the near-40 year old.

Shin-Soo Choo has had an up-and-down career, reaching his peak in 2019 amassing 6.1 fWAR. In the seven years he’s spent with the Rangers so far, he’s totaled only 8.9 wins, hardly living up to expectations. Choo was adequate offensively, posting a 112 wRC+, but his defense has suffered significantly as he’s aged. Whether or not he’d get a contract if this season was canceled remains to be seen.

Yuli Gurriel, Ryan Braun, and Brett Gardner are all entering their age-36 season. Gurriel and Gardner posted over 3 wins last season, and have aged fairly well. Gardner has served as an excellent fourth outfielder, ending up getting a lot of playing time thanks to multiple injuries in New York’s outfield.

Gurriel was a late-bloomer, coming into the league in 2016 and posting his best year to date last season. The Astros are an aging team, but their window to win is now. There is probably no team worse-off by missing a season than Houston, especially since their star pitchers Justin Verlander and Zack Grienke are on the backside of the aging curve as well.

Braun on the other hand has been mired in mediocrity over the last three seasons and it’s doubtful the Brewers would bring him back for a 2021 season, especially if he hasn’t played in a year-and-a-half.

Save for an injury that sidelined Alex Gordon for an extended period of time in 2009 and 2010, he has been an everyday presence in Kansas City’s outfield since 2007. His contract had expired after the 2019 season, but the Royals offered a $4 million one-year 2020 contract that brought the 36-year-old back to the Royals.

Last season, Gordon was serviceable, but hardly the star he was previously. He was a below-league-average hitter, and unsurprisingly played lousy defense. There was considerable debate as to whether the Royals would sign him for this season, looking at a lost 2020, it’s even less likely KC pulls the trigger for 2021.

Last on the list is Justin Turner, perhaps one of the greatest late-career stories in Dodgers franchise history. Turner had a lackluster career in New York before being traded to Los Angeles, where his career has taken-off.

There’s no reason to expect Turner’s production to fall-off-a-cliff. Last season he tied his career high in home runs with 27, and slashed a solid .290/.372/.509. If there’s anyone on the list I would expect to re-sign with his current team it’s Turner. LA has one of the deepest rosters in baseball, but LA would be clearly taking a step back if they gave Taylor the nod going forward. Considering the success Turner and LA have had together, it’s been a match that is unlikely to end just because Turner is on the other side of 35.

Next week we’ll take a look at the 35-and-older pitchers who are looking at perhaps losing-out on their chance to garner a 2021 (and beyond) contract.

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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