We have baseball games essentially every day from now until November, which is music to every baseball fan’s ears. The 2022 season was incredibly eventful and gave us a chance to bid farewell to iconic players like Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. With that in mind, let’s talk about some veteran players who could potentially call it quits after this season.
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Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best right-handed swinging pure hitter of his era. The 2023 season will be the 21st of his illustrious career, but it also coincides directly with the end of his current contract with Detroit. Cabrera joined the 3,000-hit club last summer, he’s already eclipsed the 500-home run plateau, and clubbed 600 doubles. He’s currently sitting at 1,847 RBI, but he’ll turn 40 in April and sticking around to reach 2,000 is not likely to be in the cards. In fact, last fall Cabrera acknowledged publicly that this will likely be the end of his playing career, and expressed a desire to remain involved with the Tigers’ organization. If this season is indeed it for Cabrera, his ticket to Cooperstown is already punched. We’re talking about an offensive player who won two MVP awards, seven Silver Sluggers, and four batting titles. He won the Triple Crown in 2012, made 12 all-star teams, and as a 20-year-old rookie helped the Marlins top the Yankees in the World Series.
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I think many of us expected Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright to retire after last season, and sail off into the sunset with his longtime battery mate, Yadier Molina. A disappointing finish to the 2022 campaign, however, left a bad taste in the veteran’s mouth, and he’s eager to end on a higher note. The Brunswick, GA native has spent his entire 17 year Major League career in St. Louis, and is all probability ticketed to have his number retired by the Redbirds in the relatively near future. From a personal standpoint, Wainwright is currently sitting at 195 victories, and it’s fair to wonder if a desire to reach 200 helped fuel his decision to come back. Regardless, the Cardinals are thrilled he returned for an 18th season, and value his consistent ability to give them innings and provide leadership to their younger hurlers.
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Right-handed swinging Nelson Cruz was once one of the most feared hitters in baseball, but he’ll turn 43 this summer and it’s fair to consider what he really has left in the tank. Cruz is a seven-time all-star that has taken home four Silver Sluggers, while playing for seven big league teams. His most recent showing, though, last season in D.C., left a lot to be desired. In just over 500 at-bats for the Nationals Cruz slashed .234/.313/.337 with 10 home runs–his lowest total since 2008 when he played in only 31 games. San Diego signed him this winter to see what he can still contribute, and while they’re hoping he can add some thump from the DH spot, another down year might spell the end for one of the better offensive players of the last two decades.
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Believe it or not, Cruz is not actually the oldest player on a Major League roster ahead of the 2023 campaign. That distinction belongs to veteran southpaw Rich Hill, whom the Pirates added as a free agent in January. Hill will turn 43 during spring training, and Pittsburgh is obviously hoping he’ll be able to bestow some knowledge and tips upon his younger teammates. In Boston a year ago Hill made 26 starts and pitched to a serviceable 4.27 ERA. That performance doesn’t necessarily indicate he’s run out of steam, but it is important to note that at this point in his career Hill has become at most a five-inning pitcher. A return in 2024 can not be entirely ruled out, but if I had to guess I would say it’s about even money that this will be the end of the line for one of the game’s real success stories.
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Early in his career third baseman Evan Longoria almost instantly became the face of the Tampa Bay Rays. After being selected 3rd overall out of Cal State in the ’06 draft, Longoria shot through the Rays’ system before ultimately debuting in 2008 and going on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. He was an all-star in each of his first three seasons, and is Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in almost every major offensive category. After an incredibly successful ten-year run in Southwest Florida, Longoria moved on to San Francisco in 2018, where unfortunately, injuries have really hampered him. In five years by the Bay he only played in 477 games, slashing .250/.312/.438. This winter he signed a one-year contract with the Diamondbacks, but he’s already 37 years old, and if he endures another frustrating season health-wise, it’s appropriate to wonder if he’ll decide enough is enough.
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Charlie Morton is seemingly an annual entry on prospective retirement lists, but at 39 years old he’s still getting big-league hitters out at a high level. The veteran made a full season’s worth of 31 starts for the Braves a year ago, pitching to a 4.34 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP in 172 innings. In an Atlanta rotation anchored by Max Fried and Spencer Strider, Morton does not have to be a star, and last season he was quite productive as a backend starter. The Braves were especially appreciative of his dependability and in September secured his services for 2023 with a $20 million extension. The contract comes with a $20 million club option for ’24 but notably there’s no buyout on the option, so in all of the guaranteed money will be paid for this year. What all that means logistically, is that if Morton regresses this season or decides he’s ready to move on with his life, he won’t be leaving any money on the table, making retirement a potentially likely option.
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Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is one of the most exciting players to ever wear a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, and fans in western Pennsylvania have to be ecstatic that he returned to the Steel City this winter. McCutchen spent the first nine seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, slashing .291/.379/.487 with 203 homers, 725 RBI, and 292 doubles in 1,346 games. He made five all-star teams with the Bucs, won four Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove, and was the 2013 NL MVP. Since leaving Pittsburgh in ’18 McCutchen was a solid contributor in San Francisco, the Bronx, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, but he was not the star he had been for the Pirates. McCutchen is now 36 years old and left money on the table in free agency to sign a one-year contract with a rebuilding team back in Pittsburgh. That’s noteworthy to me, at least, and makes me wonder if he’s thinking about retirement after 2023 and wanted the opportunity to finish where he started.
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Similarly to McCutchen, Zack Greinke stands out as someone potentially interested in ending his career in the same city it began. The veteran righty spent the first seven seasons of his big league career pitching for the Royals in Kansas City, and won the ERA title and the AL Cy Young award in 2009. He then pitched for five other organizations and enjoyed success for every one of them, before returning to the Royals in 2022. Last season Greinke earned just four wins on a bad Kansas City team, but his 3.68 ERA in 137 innings indicates he’s not quite done. Rather than pursue opportunities with teams more likely to compete in ’23, though, Greinke chose to re-up for another year with the Royals this winter, and at 39 years old it’s possible this will be his swan song.
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Stephen Strasburg’s name being on this list is a sad development, and not one that he would have predicted just a few years ago. In 2019 the right-hander led the National League with 18 wins and 209 innings pitched, but his season was just getting started. In the postseason the Arizona State product was magical, leading Washington to a World Series victory and taking home WS MVP honors in the process. The Nationals rewarded him with a huge extension that winter that has just not worked out for the team. Injuries have completely derailed Strasburg’s career since then, to the point where he’s made only eight highly ineffective appearances in the last three years. He had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in 2021, and at the outset of spring training the team announced he was not participating after another setback from that surgery. It’s incredibly unfortunate, but it seems more likely than not that Strasburg has thrown his last Major League pitch, and officially retiring seems inevitable.
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Righty Johnny Cueto was an all-star earlier in his career, before injury issues in both 2018 and 2019 threatened to totally derail his future. However, over the past three years Cueto has quietly been a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter in both San Francisco and most recently Chicago with the White Sox. A year ago the veteran put up a 3.35 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP in 158.1 innings, and was rewarded with a one-year free-agent contract in Miami. Cueto just turned 37 in February and has a World Series ring on his resume, so while it’s totally conceivable he’s productive in 2023 and wants to keep going, should he encounter regression or more injuries, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to hang them up, as he simply has nothing left to prove at this level.
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Righty Corey Kluber won two Cy Young awards, made three straight all-star teams, and won an ERA title earlier in his career with Cleveland, but he has not been that pitcher for quite some time now. Kluber endured two straight mostly lost seasons in ’19 and ’20 due to injury, made only 16 starts for the Yankees in ’21, and then came back to pitch a full season with Boston last year–albeit at a very league-average level of production. The veteran will turn 37 shortly after opening day, and it’s interesting to think about what his mindset moving forward will be. He surely wanted to prove he could make it all the way back from his injury woes and did accomplish that goal a year ago. From a business perspective, the Red Sox do hold a club option on him for 2024, but as was the case with the aforementioned Charlie Morton and the Braves, there is no guaranteed buyout money attached to that. Should Boston decline that option, it is certainly possible Kluber decides to call it quits.
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Mark Melancon has enjoyed a terrific 14-year career as a dependable late-inning reliever, but could the right-hander be nearing the end of the line? Melancon has already pitched for nine different Major League clubs, but his most recent stop, in Arizona, did not go particularly well. The veteran four-time all-star made 62 appearances for the Diamondbacks in 2022 and pitched to a 4.66 ERA with an ugly 1.50 WHIP. His ERA jumped well over two full runs from the previous season and now the question becomes if this was an aberration or a trend. Melancon will turn 38 years old just before opening day and while his contract contains a mutual option for 2024, he could just as easily become a free agent. If he turns in another disappointing season could he decide to simply walk away?
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Righty Kyle Gibson has generally been a steady and reliable back-of-the-rotation pitcher for the past decade. In 10 big league seasons he owns an 89-91 career record with a 4.52 lifetime ERA with a 1.38 WHIP. Those numbers are far from great but they do carry some value as they show he’s been a consistently league average 4th or 5th starter for a long time. The problem, however, was that last year he was increasingly below average. In 31 starts for Philadelphia Gibson worked to a 5.05 ERA in 167.2 innings, but with the Phillies in a fierce pennant race down the stretch, the team decided he was virtually unpitchable. During the regular season’s final month he pitched to a 9.73 ERA and was permitted to work only 2.1 meaningless relief innings during the Phillies’ run to the NL pennant. Gibson signed a one year free-agent contract with Baltimore this winter and if he doesn’t pitch considerably better in 2023 he may have a hard time finding a 2024 opportunity.
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Third baseman Josh Donaldson has been a productive run producer for a long time, but age and wear and tear appear to finally be catching up with him. Donaldson landed in the Bronx in a winter trade ahead of 2022, and while the Yankees thought they were adding some right hand thump to their line-up, that didn’t really materialize. In fact, the campaign quickly became one of the worst of the veteran’s career. In 132 games Donaldson slashed just .222/.308/.374 with 15 homers–the lowest full-season total of his career. The 37-year-old is a former AL MVP but if he turns in another mediocre year in 2023 could this be it? His contract does contain a mutual option for 2024 but the Yankees wouldn’t hesitate to buy that out if they had to. And if that happened, would someone with Donaldson’s resume potentially accept a bench role elsewhere? Or would he rather just walk away?
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When healthy Michael Brantley has one of the sweetest left-handed swings in baseball, but unfortunately for both him and the Astros, injuries have seriously hampered him in recent years. Last year a serious shoulder injury limited the veteran to only 64 games, in which he slashed .288/.370/.416 with five home runs. Brantley remains one of the better pure hitters in the sport, but it remains to be seen just how much the shoulder problem sapped his power. If he cannot get back to driving the ball like he used to in 2023 or again requires extended time on the injured list, what could the future hold? Brantley is an unrestricted free agent after this season and will turn 36 in May. It may not be entirely likely, but it’s certainly possible that this time next year he’s sitting at home retired rather than participating in spring training.
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Outfielder Charlie Blackmon has spent his entire career in Denver with the Rockies, and for much of that time he’s been one of the most productive left-handed hitters in the National League. In a dozen Major League seasons Blackmon owns a lifetime .297/.354/.488 slash line with 207 homers, 709 RBI, 286 doubles, and 58 triples. And he was still a productive member of the Rockies offense just last season. He will, however, turn 37 years old this July and after exercising the final player option on his contract this winter, he’ll be a free agent at year’s end. If Colorado is not competing this summer it’s possible the team could look to trade him, but as a veteran with 10 and 5 rights he would have to approve the trade. And if he prefers to play his entire career in one city and the Rockies don’t intend to bring him back next year, could the upcoming campaign be our last look at one of the league’s more exciting players in recent memory?
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There was a time not all that long ago when righty Kirby Yates was arguably the best relief pitcher in the game, though at this point that seems like a distant memory. In 2019 Yates converted 41 saves and delivered a 1.19 ERA for the Padres en route to his first all-star appearance. But his career got seriously thrown off track soon afterward. Bone chips in his elbow and then Tommy John surgery stripped Yates the better part of three years, and while he made nine appearances for Atlanta a year ago, he was mostly ineffective. Yates will turn 36 just before opening day this season and while it would be a nice story if he were able to fully rebound and become elite again, it would appear to be just as likely that he’s retired this time next year.
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Switch-hitting Carlos Santana was a feared middle-of-the-line-up hitter for most of his career, but lately his bat has not been nearly as productive. Santana will turn 37 just after opening day and is coming off a season that saw him slash .202/.316/.376. He still had some pop as evidenced by his 19 homers and 18 doubles, but consistency was a big issue for him in 2022, both in Kansas City and Seattle. The Pirates signed the veteran to a free-agent deal this winter to see if he can rediscover some of his old form but it is a very low risk one-year agreement and they won’t stress about cutting bait if they need to. And in the absence of a productive 2023 campaign, how many suitors will be lining up to sign an aging veteran on the downslide?
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Veteran Justin Wilson has been a useful left-handed reliever for a long time, with 11 seasons of big league experience under his belt. His most recent campaign though, with the Reds, was cut short when he required Tommy John surgery last June. Wilson is expected to miss most of this season while he recovers, and while he’d assuredly like to come back and pitch after the operation, if he endures any setbacks it’s important to remember he’ll turn 36 this summer. The Anaheim, CA native may be one of the less likely retirement candidates on this list, but not everyone has a linear recovery from Tommy John, and if there are complications perhaps he cuts his losses.
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First baseman Joey Votto has been the face of the Cincinnati Reds for over a decade, and it’s upsetting to think of his days as a big leaguer potentially winding down. But there are a litany of reasons that might be the case. For starters, Votto will turn 40 before this season ends and that has historically been an age when players don’t play far beyond. Most importantly, though, he’s coming off probably his worst season. A rotator cuff surgery ended Votto’s 2022 campaign after only 91 games, in which he slashed an uncharacteristic .205/.319/.370 with just 11 home runs. The Reds own a $20 million club option on Votto for 2024 but it comes with a $7 buyout. If he struggles or deals with injuries again in ’23 Cincinnati will not pick up that option and at that point would Votto really try to suit up for another club?
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.
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