After a 2020 season that was anything but routine, a return to a full 162 game baseball schedule complete with a normal postseason format is refreshing. Several veteran players who may have decided to call it quits last year did not, preferring to not have baseball's strangest season ever be their last one. With that in mind, let's take a look at some guys who could conceivably hang them up later this calendar year.
Morton particularly stands out as someone who is probably only back for 2021 because of the way the pandemic shortened season played out. In fact, when he left Houston and joined the Rays as a free agent prior to the '19 campaign, he publicly stated that the two-year contract was probably going to be his last in the Majors. But here we are. The Braves were thrilled to bring the right-hander in this winter, and Morton himself is almost certainly looking at the opportunity as a chance to go out on top as Atlanta should be firmly in the thick of the National League postseason picture.
LeBlanc has seemingly been hanging on for a while now, but it would be surprising if this season did not end up being his swan song. The left-handed veteran of eight Major League organizations struggled mightily in Baltimore a year ago, working to an unsightly 8.06 ERA across six starts. He's still with the Orioles but failed to win a rotation spot in what was a wide-open spring training competition. Exactly half of LeBlanc's big-league appearances have come in relief so it isn't like he's a stranger to coming out of the bullpen. But on a young team that isn't expected to compete seriously in 2021, if he struggles you'd have to figure they'll start giving younger arms more and more opportunities.
In his heyday, the 'Buffalo' was one of the better offensive catchers in the game, but a decade-plus of playing the sport's most physically demanding position seems to have sapped a lot of his power and production. With the Mets during the truncated 2020 season, Ramos slashed just .239/.297/.387 and even began losing some playing time to the likes of Tomas Nido down the stretch. His two seasons in New York were rather ugly defensively as well, as an incredible 122 stolen base attempts were successful on his watch. The veteran was able to secure a one-year deal with Detroit late in January, but barring a turnaround year on both sides of the ball, this may well be the end.
Bon Jovi once sang "who says you can't go home?", and for Wade Davis, you'd have to believe that sentiment is what led him to join the Royals in free agency. The veteran enjoyed easily the best success of his career in a Kansas City uniform and was a big part of the Royals World Series win in 2015. A bad '19 that saw him finish with an 8.65 ERA in 42.2 innings, and a '20 season that forced the Rockies to release him after surrendering 10 earned runs in less than five innings had to leave him feeling lost. A strong spring training earned him a spot in Kansas City's bullpen, and it will be interesting to see if he can rebound.
Speaking of struggling players who have come back to Kansas City to try to rekindle their glory days. During the early part of his career Dyson was a valuable regular in the Royals outfield, and at his peak was the most dangerous baserunner in the American League. In a five-year span, the veteran swiped 156 bases for Kansas City, but since he left following the '16 season his career has gone downhill. He's bounced between four teams in four years, and failure to reestablish himself in 2021 could make it difficult to find a job in '22.
With the way his career was trending in the not-so-distant past, it's kind of incredible that Oliver Perez is still pitching at the Major League level. The southpaw has found a way to reinvent himself in Cleveland, however, and at age 39 he's still going strong. In the pandemic shortened 2020 campaign Perez delivered a 2.00 ERA in 21 appearances while holding left-handed hitters to just a .185 batting average. He was a free agent this winter and lingered on the market for a while before the Indians brought him back, and it is fair to wonder if Perez, who will turn 40 later this summer, will decide enough is enough at the end of the year.
Sticking with the Indians bullpen, Bryan Shaw is much younger than his aforementioned left-handed teammate, but three straight dreadful seasons have the right handers' career up against the ropes. After a five-year run of sustained success right here in Cleveland, Shaw joined the Rockies as a free agent in 2018 and things just did not go well. Back-to-back seasons with ERA's well over five led Colorado to release the 33-year-old, and while he was able to latch on with Seattle, his fortunes did not improve. After six outings in which he surrendered 12 earned runs the Mariners had seen enough, and if Shaw fails to get on track back in familiar surroundings, he'll be hard-pressed to find another opportunity in 2022.
At age 38 J.A. Happ is one of the oldest starting pitchers still going at the big league level, and it's become time to wonder just how long he'll be able to continue taking the ball every 5th day. After a frustrating 2019 season in the Bronx the lefty did rebound a season ago, throwing to a respectable 3.47 ERA in nine starts. The Yankees, however, did not make a real effort to retain him in free agency, and it took Happ until late January to find an opportunity in Minnesota. The Twins are counting on him to capably occupy a rotation spot, and whether he succeeds or fails in that endeavor, it's logical to assume retirement is something he'll have to at least consider at the end of the year.
Early in his career with the Angels, Shoemaker was a steady back of the rotation hurler, but injuries have just completely derailed his career for several seasons now. The righty has dealt with problems with his throwing shoulder, throwing forearm, a torn ACL in his left knee, and he even a scary skull fracture suffered from being hit by a line drive. In the last three years, the 34-year-old has combined to take the mound only 18 times, and should he require more IL stints again in 2021 he may just decide enough is enough.
There's a real chance the 2021 season will be the last chance we get to see surefire future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols in action, and for that reason, every baseball fan should be rooting for the superstar to put up a big year and go out with a bang. Pujols hasn't officially declared that this is the end for him, but it is the final year of his contract with the Angels. And at 41-years-old with five consecutive seasons of a sub .250 batting average, writing may be on the wall. Pujols is entering 2021 just 38 homers shy of the magic number of 700, so that could be something to pay attention to. If he gets into the 690s perhaps he tries to latch on somewhere else next season to achieve the incredible milestone.
Suzuki has somewhat quietly had a really nice career and been a steady backstop for five different teams now. But 37-years-old is starting to get up there for guys that play position number two on your scorecard. The veteran reportedly left money and playing time on the table to join the Angels as a free agent this winter, citing a desire to play closer to his family. Depending on how this season goes, he may decide that retiring and relaxing in southern California sounds more desirable than latching on to be the backup for a team on the opposite coast.
The idea that Jed Lowrie is playing at all in 2021--let alone is the Oakland Athletics' starting second baseman--must be so unbelievably hard for fans of the New York Mets to even comprehend. The veteran switch-hitter signed a two-year contract with the Amazins' prior to '19, but a never-ending list of ailments limited him to only seven hitless at-bats in a Mets uniform. Oakland brought him back to familiar territory over the winter and while so far all signs are pointing up, Lowrie will be 37 later this month and with his injury history, it is not a stretch to think this could be the end.
Side-arming righty Joe Smith has carved out a nice career for himself as a middle reliever, particularly in the AL West where he's given both the Angels and Astros seasons with a sub-two ERA. The veteran did not pitch at all last season, however, and at age 37 he entered the 2021 campaign with 782 big league appearances. It would not be shocking to see him hang up his cleats at the conclusion of this season.
Ian Kennedy has seemingly been around forever, and it may come as a surprise to some to hear he's still only 36. The righty was a first-round pick of the Yankees back in '06 and arrived in the Bronx just over a calendar year later with huge expectations. After mixed results in New York, he was quickly traded to Arizona where in 2011 he garnered Cy Young votes. His peak was short-lived, however, as the veteran then bounced to San Diego and Kansas City failing to match that breakout season. In 2019 the Royals moved him to the bullpen where he delivered a solid campaign in middle relief, but his truncated '20 season was not strong. Kennedy is now pitching out of the Texas Rangers bullpen in what could easily become his last dance.
It was somewhat surprising that Sandoval beat out Jake Lamb in spring training to land the last spot on the Braves bench. Once an integral piece of three San Francisco Giants championships, the Panda has not exactly been trending upwards in recent seasons. Last year he slashed a disappointing .214/.287/.262, and while he hit a big pinch-hit home run for Atlanta on opening day, it's hard to really expect him to be a lethal bench bat for Atlanta all year.
Speaking of Braves' veterans, there was a time when right-hander Nate Jones was one of the very best relief pitchers in all of baseball. His 2016 season, in particular, was phenomenal, and while injuries have hampered him far too much, generally when Jones has been healthy he's been good. Until last season in Cincinnati. In 21 games as a Red the Butler, KY native worked to an ugly 6.27 ERA and was only able to secure a minor league deal with a spring training invite from the Braves over the winter. He did make the club, but without a significantly better showing this summer, it may be hard to find a similar opportunity next season. And at 35-years-old it begs the question of how much longer he'd be able to go.
Betances is not quite as old as most players on this list, but he certainly has as much to prove as anybody. Once one of the most feared right-handed relievers in the whole game, recent years have not been kind to the big man. Betances missed essentially all of 2019 while with the Yankees, and after switching boroughs last season, his first year with the Mets was a disaster. In 15 games Betances finished with a putrid 7.71 ERA and he again missed significant time on the IL. His velocity was noticeably down during spring training which is not a good sign, and a similarly rough 2021 would put his career on the ropes.
Despite sitting out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, Ryan Zimmerman remains the face of the Washington Nationals. The team's first-ever draft pick holds pretty much every club record since the organization moved to D.C., and while he is no longer a starting player he still has a role. For how long, that remains to be seen. Playing part-time in '19 Zimmerman slashed a steady .257/.321/.415 but if his role diminishes further it would be much easier to see him retiring rather than suit up somewhere else.
At 35-years-old Miller is still a valuable left-handed reliever and an incredibly important member of the players' association. In the pandemic shortened 2020 season the veteran was terrific working out of the Cardinals' bullpen, pitching to a 2.77 ERA across 16 outings. But it's worth pointing out that in each of the two full seasons prior he struggled to a mark well over four. He's currently in the final year of his contract, and should he regress back to that level of performance his options next winter could become limited. And it would be difficult to imagine someone of his stature and gravitas accepting just a minor league invite somewhere.
The bespectacled Eric Sogard is currently playing regularly for the Cubs, but that is a development that will likely change sooner rather than later. Chicago has top prospect Nico Hoerner in the minor leagues, and you'd have to imagine this is going to be his position before too long. Especially is Sogard swings the bat like he did last summer for the Brewers when he slashed a tough .209/.281.278
Back-up catchers do admittedly often hang around forever, but the ones that do generally have to be able to do two things very well. Play tremendous defense every time they're in there, and offer some power even if they don't hit for a high average. The Brewers Manny Pina did both of those things for a long time, and while he can still play defense, the offense is falling behind. Last season he hit .231 with only three extra-base hits, and while if Milwaukee moved on someone would be interested in bringing him on board as a low risk depth piece, as a veteran who will be 34 later this summer hanging them up and retiring might sound more appealing.
The idea of Buster Posey deciding to retire is more of a longshot than some others on this list, but it's not impossible. The Giants de facto captain has dealt with significant injuries during his career, he's played the most demanding position in baseball for over a decade, and he opted out of participating at all during the 2020 season. Posey is currently 34-years-old and his Giants remain buried in a division that promises to be owned by the Dodgers and Padres for the foreseeable future. It's extremely doubtful he would ever move on and play somewhere else, and with a contract that expires at the conclusion of this season, retirement does sound more and more possible.
Vogt is a prototypical backup catcher who is hanging on, though just how much longer he can really hang on remains to be seen. The veteran left-handed swinger hit an abysmal .167 for the Diamondbacks a season ago, while contributing only one home run and struggling to throw out opposing base-stealers. He's an excellent leader and a good clubhouse guy, but Arizona could likely find a better player for this role, and they quite possibly will at some point.
There was a time when Joakim Soria was one of the very best closers in all of baseball, but at this point, that was many moons ago. The right-hander has over 725 innings worth of mileage on his arm at this point, and while he was still productive as a set-up man in Oakland last season, the 2.82 ERA he put up was noteworthy in only 22 games and was his best mark since '15. Soria will turn 37 next month and if his '21 season in Arizona includes injuries and inconsistency retirement could certainly be on the table.
Melancon has never been talked about enough as one of the real good right-handed relievers in this game, but for a long time, the veteran out of the University of Arizona has been a reliable presence late in games. When he joined the Padres as a free agent this winter they became his 8th Major League team, and his 2.84 lifetime ERA across over 600 big league outings is nothing to be sneezed at. That said, Melancon is currently 36-years-old and while he profiles as someone that still has more left in the tank, a potential arm injury at this stage in his career could change things.
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.