New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia will soon announce that he’ll retire after 2019. It’s also pretty clear Seattle Mariners legend Ichirio Suzuki is nearing the end of his esteemed career. But we’re expecting more than two prominent retirements. Whether it’s two starting pitchers who have been among the best in the game over the last decade, a past Triple Crown winner, or many others, 2019 could well be the end for a number of well known players.
As spring training gets going, we’d suggest that you savor the moments with these MLB players. This could be the last spring training for any of them.
Yoenis Cespedes, left fielder, New York Mets
Mets fans were put out by Cespedes appearing to be out of shape when showing up to camp. That’s far from ideal. Even worse, it’s only part of the problem. Injuries have long been an issue for Cespedes. He’s played 150 games in a season only twice in his career. The last two years have been particularly bad, as Cespedes has played in only 119 combined games. He’s only 33 but at this point, it’s safe to call Cespedes an old 33.
Think about what Cespedes’ stock would look like if he struggled through a third straight injury plagued season. He’ll be 34 at the end of the season. While New York does owe Cespedes $29.5 million for 2020, that’s the final year of his deal. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine the Mets just moving on and releasing him. At that point, Cespedes will be a 34-year-old free agent with a vast injury history. Teams aren’t exactly beating down the door to sign those guys. If Cespedes can’t stay reasonably healthy, 2019 could be his last hurrah.
Alex Gordon, left fielder, Kansas City Royals
Gordon was a cornerstone piece for Kansas City as it won the AL pennant in 2014 and the World Series in 2015. But the last three years have been a constant struggle. From 2016-2018, Gordon hit .225/.310/.355 with a combined 39 combined home runs. It’s essentially impossible to imagine the Royals picking up their end of a $23 million mutual option for 2020. So, Gordon will be facing free agency as a 36-year-old corner outfielder. That’s not exactly a great sales pitch to begin with. Imagine how bad it’ll be if Gordon has another bad year. The market would be ice cold, which could well bring Gordon’s career to an end.
Adam Wainwright, starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
Father time has done its damage to Wainwright. Once one of baseball’s most durable pitchers, Wainwright has failed to log even 10 appearances in two of the last four seasons. That includes 2018. On top of that, Wainwright is set to become a free agent after the season. So nothing beyond 2019 is guaranteed. Moreover, Wainwright will turn 38 in August.
We can imagine a scenario where some team would sign him to a deal in 2020. But this certainly feels like it could be the final season of a great career.
Ryan Zimmerman, first baseman, Washington Nationals
The Nationals do have an $18 million club option for Zimmerman in 2020. But the chances of them picking up are slightly less likely than Donald Trump announcing Hillary Clinton as his 2020 running mate. So, if Zimmerman wants a job next season, he’ll to prove himself this year. He can only do that if he stays healthy, something that’s been an issue for Zimmerman for a long time. He’s reached the 100-game plateau in only two of the last five seasons.
For Zimmerman, who will turn 35 at the end of the season, doing well enough in 2019 to get a contract in 2020 will be an uphill battle.
Curtis Granderson, left fielder, Miami Marlins
We’ve seen a dip in Granderson’s numbers in recent years. He hit 30 home runs in 2016, 26 in 2017, and 13 in 2018. That’s not exactly a promising sign for someone who’s always relied on power. But the real issue for Granderson is age. He’ll be 38 on Opening Day in 2019. Very few players are that old to begin with, especially outfielders. He’s already playing with house money in that respect.
Granderson is by all accounts a great clubhouse guy. That will definitely help his cause if he wants to play beyond this year. But it’s also easy to imagine 2019 being the final year of his career.
Fernando Rodney, relief pitcher, Oakland Athletics
We can point to Rodney struggling somewhat through 2018 (3.36 ERA, 1.46 WHIP). But Rodney’s had season’s like that before. He’s not a stud reliever, but he’s not awful, either. The bigger issue with Rodney is that he’s going to turn 42 in March. At that age, it’ll be hard enough to see Rodney getting a job next year if this season is similar to 2019. If it’s any worse, it’s even harder to see that happening.
Rodney has had a good, long career. But realstically speaking, it’s not going to last much longer.
Dustin Pedroia, second baseman, Boston Red Sox
This is complicated somewhat by the fact that Pedroia is signed through 2021. It’s difficult to imagine the Red Sox paying him the $25 million he’s owed over the 2020 and 2021 seasons to just stay home. But while it’s difficult to picture, it’s not impossible. Boston is coming off of a season in which it won 108 games and a World Series with Pedroia playing three games. Also, picturing Pedroia in another uniform is essentially impossible. Like so many veterans who are past their primes, Pedroia means far more to his longtime team than he would anyone else.
We wouldn’t call it likely that this will be it for Pedroia. But between the Red Sox success without him, his own injury history, and his overall decline, it’s not exactly a challenge to imagine 2019 being the final time we see Pedroia in uniform.
Ben Zobrist, utility man, Chicago Cubs
Zobrist had a down year in 2017, but bounced back reasonably well in 2018. We of course don’t know what 2019 will hold. But performance isn’t really the issue here. Zobrist is in the final year of his contract in 2019. He’s also very active with community work. While Zobrist is far from the only player who can make claim, he definitely has something that would keep him occupied. When we think about that, we also must remember that we’re not exactly talking about someone in his prime. Zobrist will be 38 in May. Thinking that this season could be the end is not exactly outrageous.
Felix Hernandez, starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners
In a way, King Felix’s value in Seattle is similar to Pedroia’s in Boston. He’s clearly on the downside of his career but is also a franchise icon. As such, he means far more to the Mariners than he would any other team in the league. The difference between Hernandez and Pedroia is that Hernandez is in the final year of his deal. In other words, the only real complication that the Red Sox face with Pedroia doesn’t exist with King Felix.
If he doesn’t have a serious bounce back year in 2019, the cold reality is that Hernandez will have a hard time landing an MLB contract for 2020.
Miguel Cabrera, first baseman, Detroit Tigers
We finish with Cabrera, easily the hardest situation to figure out. Even ignoring the $30 million mutual options for 2024 and 2025 (which will never be picked up), the Tigers owe Cabrera $124 million from 2020-2023. This season being the end for Cabrera would either mean Detroit buying that or him walking away from it. The former will never happen. The latter could. One thing to note is that in 2019, Cabrera will exceed $250 million in career earnings. It’s hard to play with someone else’s poker chips. But he’s not hurting for cash.
Additionally, Cabrera has really struggled to stay healthy in recent years and hasn’t been as effective at the plate. On top of that, the Tigers are really in the early stages of a rebuilding project. Is that something that Cabrera will want to suffer through in the final years of his career? Miggy has nothing left to prove. We’re not expecting him to retire, but it’s well within the realm of possibility.