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 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.
Despite following a Rookie of the Year campaign with an NL MVP award, his peak didn’t last that long. He was only really an all-around batter for 6-7 years before becoming a power only batter with consistently below replacement value. He likely only lasted as long as he did because of his legacy with the Phillies franchise, but after finally becoming a free agent, there’s likely no reason for any team to take a chance on him. We’re just waiting for him to say it for himself.
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.
His entire career has been up and down, playing for little to no value for a few years, then breaking out for a few good years, and then back to a lull, and back and forth. But after being released by the Indians mid-season last season in the worst year of his career, we’re all left to wonder if anyone will take a chance on him again. Hell, we barely heard anything about him this offseason. We’re not ruling out one last season, but we’re not exactly calling it likely. But no less, his retirement still isn’t official yet.
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.
Throughout his career Shields has been a 'good but only bordering on great' pitcher, but after a trade to the Chicago White Sox last year, he turned just plain terrible. Putting up the prospects and money to get him from the Padres at first seemed like a move of commitment to make a run at the playoffs last season, but quickly just made the front office look like complete fools. Unless he somehow gets it together and bounces back from an almost unbelievably awful year, expect him to be released mid-season and not come back.
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.
Uehara has pitched less than 50 innings for the last two seasons and in the offseason could only work out a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. His ERA ballooned to 3.45 last season, which is in that awkward zone of being good for a starter, but subpar for a reliever. He’s reportedly said himself that he’ll keep playing until he’s terrible and nobody wants him, so it’ll all depend on how this year with the Cubs goes. His value as a player has been steadily going down since the World Series run with the Red Sox, so we can’t help but wonder if this is the year he’s just not worth it anymore.
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.
Recently traded by the Phillies to the Dodgers, and then to the Mariners this winter, he’s only got one year left on his contract and is explicitly a backup catcher nowadays. He’s at a point in his career where his main value is just as a veteran presence in the clubhouse, which makes him a good trade target, but not necessarily one who is likely to be signed as a free agent for next year. He also is open about his love for the Phillies franchise and with him no longer a part of it, he may be ready to call it after this year.
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.
But the fact of the matter is that he is clearly in the twilight of his career and is still not even signed for the 2017 season. And if he does get a contract, it’s probably only going to be a one year deal because of his age and declining production. The popular opinion regarding his retirement is that he should have one last season with the Phillies before walking away, but with the Phillies focusing on the future now, his retirement will likely be much more anti-climactic.
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.
He had a terrible year with the Detroit Tigers in 2014 and hasn’t been the same since. In fact, he’s barely even been a major leaguer since then. In 2015 and 2016 combined, he hasn’t even topped 10 innings pitched. He’s currently on a minors deal with the Nationals, and it looks as if his career is going to end on a sour note, just making us wish that he’d called it a career back in 2013 along with Rivera.
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.
He’s said himself that he does at least want to play in 2017, but even if a team does grab him, it’ll probably be his last year in the league. Even when he was young, he wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire as a player. He was valued for most of his career as a speedy base stealer and defender, and while he hasn’t declined in those departments as sharply as most players his age do, it won’t be enough to keep him around much longer.
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.
Pierzynski started struggling since moving from the White Sox to the Rangers in 2013, but actually had a bit of a comeback season with the Braves in 2015, causing us all to re-consider how long he would really last. But then he not only struggled again in 2016, it was his worst season yet. There was even a moment where teammate Julio Teheran celebrating his son’s birth was mistaken for Pierzynski announcing his retirement, but rest assured, he has not officially called it yet. But he has no team right now, and will likely do so soon.
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.
After just two years in the Major Leagues, Matt Harvey went down for a year with Tommy John Surgery. He came back and was good in 2015, but then struggled in 2016 before exiting again, this time with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. There’s no getting around the fact that Harvey will break down for good unless he finds the mechanical problem causing the injuries and fixes it. Maybe it’s too early to be calling it and Harvey won’t go out this year, but nobody should be surprised if he has to retire much earlier than most people with his talent and stats would.
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.
In 2013 he hit the disabled list for the first time and has seemingly been there more often than not since then. The 2013 campaign was also the year he started struggling. He wasn’t great anymore, but he was still passable at least through 2014. After that, he’s just been plain terrible, with an ERA above 5.50 in 2015 and 2016. He may have been a star pitcher and ace just a few years ago, but now he’s just a burden on any team’s roster. His release and retirement are just a matter of time.
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.
Since then he’s hung right around replacement level value in a season with the Dodgers and part of a season with the White Sox before being released. He was only able to nab a Minor League deal with the Giants and barring an astounding return to form, he likely won’t play another game in the majors unless the Phillies give him the sendoff fans are calling for. But as we mentioned before, the Phillies seem too focused on the future to be bothered.
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.
After his contract with the Blue Jays ended last season, he signed a 1-year deal with the Atlanta Braves, giving them a veteran presence in the rotation as they rebuild. Though he’s not as bad as many other pitchers in the league just yet, he’s still just an innings eater at this point. And while the fact that he’s a knuckleballer probably makes his age (42) not as much of a factor, it’s hard to see him going another season, especially if his stats continue to get worse.
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.
Currently he’s on a minors deal with the Minnesota Twins and is trying to make one last comeback after a pitch hit him in the face in 2016 and nearly ended his career. Though he probably could at least make it to the majors for part of the season, it’s hard to count on the 39-year-old doing well enough to stay in the league past 2017.
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.