One of the most bittersweet moments in any sport is when the greatest players of a generation start to retire. On one hand it’s often sad to see them go, it can also be fulfilling to see their chapters close and to look back at their careers. In baseball, that idea has only been bolstered by the recent phenomena of retirement tours by players who know it will be their last season ahead of time. But at the same time, it may have made us forget just how many players retire every year.
Though most retirements in any season of MLB are of players whose careers never really took off, there are always a good amount of retirees each year who could be considered greats of their generation even if they aren’t hall of famers. But even then, relatively few players get high-profile send-offs. Most retirements are just a one day news story and soon forgotten, and we just get used to not seeing them around anymore.
One thing about baseball players retiring though is that we can usually see it coming. Though there’s the occasional sudden retirement from injury, we often know a retirement is coming in the next few years when a player starts getting old or their skill set just plain evaporates. But obviously unless the players themselves say so, it’s still only speculation. And yes, that was only a disclaimer in case I’m wrong about these 15 MLB players who will retire by the end of 2017.
Before we start, a few honorable mentions of sorts, just because they would be notable omissions from this list. These are players who could very easily retire this year, but I don’t think will until next year: Bartolo Colón, Ichiro Suzuki, and Adrián Beltré. Alright? On with the list then.
15 15. Ryan Howard
One thing you’ll notice about this list is that it contains many players who could easily have already played their last major league game, but just haven’t made their retirement official. And we’re starting off with one of them. Ryan Howard in his career has been a franchise player for the Philadelphia Phillies. He’ll likely be remembered well in Philadelphia, but honestly, he probably isn’t going to get remembered as an all-time great.
14 14. Juan Uribe
Juan Uribe in his 16-year career hasn’t been outstanding in either offense or defense, but he’s been just good enough at both to stick around and occasionally have his great moments. He’s actually never been an All-Star but has two World Series rings to his name and was a significant contributor to the 2005 White Sox title. (The 2010 title with the Giants, not so much) Still, he’ll be well-remembered if only because of the sheer longevity of his career.
13 13. James Shields
Usually the decline of player leading to their retirement is a gradual process and their legacy holds them around for a few more years even when their contracts aren’t worth it. But sometimes, the decline is so steep, that one year they could be still seen as a decent option, but by the next year they’re just an outright burden. James Shields is an example of the latter.
12 12. Koji Uehara
Since coming across the Pacific from Japan, Koji Uehara has been an under-the-radar great relief pitcher. His worst season in MLB is still the ill-fated run as a starter in 2009 with the Orioles, but since then he’s been a great bullpen anchor. And while he is starting to decline, he’s actually still at a pretty good level for a reliever, posting 12 K/9 last season. But his age is undoubtedly catching up to him, as he’s turning 42 in April.
11 11. Carlos Ruiz
Carlos Ruiz isn’t the first long-time Philly on this list, and spoilers, he won’t be the last. Much like Uribe earlier, Ruiz hasn’t been great on either offense or defense, but has been good enough at both to stay in the league for 12 years. His peak is undoubtedly behind him though. While he did have something of a bounce back season last year, he’s still much less of a player than he was in his prime.
10 10. Chase Utley
This one’s actually a bit more surprising because Chase Utley probably still has a little bit left in him. Yet another long-time Philly, Utley is one of the most beloved figures in the entire city of Philadelphia. Not only an all-time great of the franchise, Utley’s also a strong contender for the MLB Hall of Fame. Even after his peak was clearly past him, he was still a better than average player for most of his career, other than a miserable 2015 in part due to lingering injuries.
9 9. Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan has had a great career as a closing pitcher. After toiling in the minors before breaking out with the Giants, he was traded to the Twins and had a six year run as possibly the best closer in the league. And that’s saying something considering his competition was Mariano Rivera. He went out with Tommy John Surgery in 2010 and had two good seasons with the Rangers when he came back. But he hasn’t been the same since.
8 8. Coco Crisp
Yet another player who will mostly be remembered just because of how long he lasted, Coco Crisp has been battling injuries for the past few years and is currently not signed to a team. He’s had long stints with the Boston Red Sox, the Oakland Athletics, and the Cleveland Indians, including returning to help them reach the World Series last year. But he’s at a point where if he does keep playing, it’s only going to be on one-year deals.
7 7. A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski is one of the more memorable names to be retiring soon, but not necessarily for the best reasons. He’s been known to be a bit of a high-maintenance personality in the clubhouse, and even he admits it. His former manager Ozzie Guillen summed it up best when he said about him “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.” He’s nowhere near a hall of fame level catcher, but his polarizing personality means we won’t soon forget him.
6 6. Matt Harvey
Hold on. Hold on. Now I know, Matt Harvey is very young at just under 28 years old and has been a great pitcher in his few years in the league, so I understand, this is a bold prediction. In fact, calling it bold is an understatement. But here’s the thing; great players calling their careers off early, especially due to injuries, does happen. Hell, Sandy Koufax, arguably the best left-handed pitcher of all time, barely lasted 10 years. If any current major leaguer is going to be forced into retiring well before we’ve seen all they can do, it’s going to be Matt Harvey.
5 5. Matt Cain
Matt Cain isn’t exactly the oldest pitcher in the league either at only 31. He’s spent his entire career with the San Francisco Giants and has been an absolute stud for most of his run with them. He was part of a dominant rotation that led them to three World Series titles in five years, even though an injury pulled him out of the 2014 run. And who could forget him pitching a perfect game against the Astros in 2012? However, it’s painfully obvious he’s not the same pitcher anymore.
4 4. Jimmy Rollins
And you thought I was done talking about long-time Phillies. While Jimmy Rollins has been better as a player than both Ruiz and Howard, he’s not quite at Utley’s level as a player. He likely makes the Phillies Hall of Fame but not the MLB Hall of Fame. Rollins spent just over 14 years as a Philly and was great for most of it, winning multiple Gold Gloves, All-Star nods, and even a National League MVP award in 2007. His last season with the Phillies in 2014 also turns out to be the last good season of his career.
3 3. R.A. Dickey
The fact that R.A. Dickey is even still going is remarkable in itself. Starting as a failed pitcher for the Texas Rangers, he perfected a hard knuckleball to revitalize his career. But even then, it wasn’t until he found his way to the Mets in 2010 that he found success with it. He even won the 2012 Cy Young Award, the first knuckleballer to do so. Unfortunately, his move to the Blue Jays didn’t work out as well and he’s now more remembered for being on the wrong side of the trade that sent Noah Syndergaard to the Mets.
2 2. Ryan Vogelsong
Ryan Vogelsong has had a stop-start career, going back and forth between the Giants and Pirates and even spending three years in Japan before finally establishing himself in 2011 with the Giants. Admittedly, he only had two good years, but that included the Giants 2012 World Series run. He hasn’t posted a sub-4 ERA since, but did contribute to their 2014 run as well. Still, despite a career with a total bWAR of just 1.6, those two World Series runs certainly make him hard to forget.
1 1. Carlos Beltrán
The order of the list really doesn’t mean much of anything, but I did insist on keeping the best for last. If anyone is going to get the send-off tour this year, it’s going to be Carlos Beltrán. Last year he reportedly said he’d either have it be his last year, or just do one more. So unless he’s changed his mind, this is the final season for Beltrán. And what a career he’s had.
Based on JAWS, he’s not a shoo-in first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he’ll almost certainly be inducted at some point. He’s had a 19-year career starting with a Rookie of the Year nod with the Royals and will finish with his one-year deal return to the Astros, whom the Royals traded him to in 2004. He’s run a .845 OPS for his career in the regular season, but is especially known for being a monster in the postseason, OPSing 1.078 and being a perfect 11 for 11 in steal attempts. Whether we get the year-in-advance announcement and a retirement tour or just a respectful reflection at the end of the season, Beltrán will be missed.
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