Struggling MLB Players Who Should Contemplate Early Retirement
It's better to go out on your own terms than to be shown the door by someone else.
Every season, a handful of major league veteran ballplayers learn that the hard way, with performances that don't come close to resembling the body of work that they have put together over lengthy, successful major league careers.
Whether it's due to age, injury or a combination of both, sooner or later, the game that these athletes have spent the majority of their lives playing passes them by.
Look, I used to be like you, seeing a headline like this and becoming irate, jumping into the comments section and going on the attack.
"Who are you, Mr. (or Mrs.) Writer, to say that a player shouldn't continue to earn money at his craft? This is how these people make a living you buffoon! If anyone should retire, it's you!"
We aren't talking about people who live paycheck to paycheck here, folks.
These guys have all been well compensated for their work and, chances are, have been living comfortably off of the interest that their money has earned, not on their yearly salaries.
Look, I'm not one to say that people shouldn't earn as much as they can for as long as they can. We all should, regardless of our occupation. While money may not buy happiness, it sure makes things a whole lot easier.
But at some point, the extra money that these players can earn at the end of their careers gets outweighed by the damage they are doing to their legacies, to their career numbers.
Nobody wants to see Willie Mays in a New York Mets uniform again.
With that said, let's take a look at a handful of veterans who should seriously consider leaving their struggles in the past—and start looking forward to the next chapter in their lives.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of June 25.
**All salary information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Clint Barmes, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Stats: 56 G, .201/.234/.268, 7 XBH (2 HR), 10 RBI
Estimated Career Earnings: $20.4 million
Clint Barmes hasn't hit above .250 since 2008; he hasn't posted an OPS over .700 since 2009.
He lost his job as the starting shortstop in Pittsburgh earlier this season to Jordy Mercer, and while he's still a decent defensive shortstop, his glove isn't good enough to overlook his lack of production at the plate.
The older he gets, the less he walks and the more he strikes out:
|Year (Team)||Walk Percentage||Strikeout Percentage|
If those numbers aren't damning enough, consider this. Of the 267 players in baseball this season with at least 150 at-bats, Barmes ranks 265th in WRC+ (Weighted Runs Created) with 38, according to FanGraphs.
To put that in perspective, players like Dustin Ackley, Yuniesky Betancourt and Chris Getz have created more runs for their respective teams this season than Barmes.
That's not good.
If Barmes were being utilized as a late-inning defensive replacement, that's one thing. But he's such a liability at the plate that he's not even being utilized in that role.
For all intents and purposes, Barmes has become a liability, not an asset, and is merely taking up space on Pittsburgh's bench.
Jason Giambi, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians
2013 Stats: 31 G, .185/.300/.424, 10 XBH (6 HR), 21 RBI
Estimated Career Earnings: $132.8 million
There's no doubt that when Jason Giambi's playing career is over, he is going to become a coach on a major league staff and one day, he'll be managing a team.
Terry Francona, Giambi's manager in Cleveland this season, told David Satriano of the New York Post earlier this season that he's already begun to look at Giambi more as a trusted member of his staff than as a player:
This guy is not a veteran, he is the veteran. I have never been around somebody like Giambi before. Everybody talks about how good he is for the young kids. He is good for me. I’ve leaned on him, I think everybody has leaned on him.
Giambi, who interviewed for Colorado's vacant managerial post this past winter and was ultimately offered a spot as the team's hitting coach (which he declined so as not to cause distractions for new skipper Walt Weiss), has reached the point in his career where his brain is more valuable to a team than his brawn.
Did you ever think we'd be saying that about the great Giambino?
While he can still hit home runs and get on base, Giambi is nothing more than a designated hitter and left-handed bat off of the bench. The time has come for Giambi to make room for a younger player with some upside, and join Francona's coaching staff as he begins the next part of his career.
Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox
2013 Stats: 66 G, .253/.319/.373, 16 XBH (7 HR), 30 RBI
Estimated Career Earnings: $127.2 million
As the 2013 season rolls along, Paul Konerko has begun to heat up, hitting .278 with a .753 OPS in June.
Still, the 37-year-old first baseman looks nothing like the six-time All-Star who has been the unquestioned leader on the south side of Chicago for more than a decade.
According to FanGraphs, Konerko ranks 50th in WAR (-0.9) and 39th in WRC+, trailing behind guys like Lyle Overbay, Nate Freiman and Carlos Pena among the 53 players in baseball who have at made at least 50 plate appearances while playing first base this season.
With the White Sox looking like they'll be sellers at the trade deadline, there's at least a 50-50 chance that Konerko, who has spent 15 of his 17 years in the big leagues with Chicago, will be dealt to another team.
While Konerko very well may retire after the season anyway, the thought of him ending his career in anything other than a White Sox uniform just feels wrong, doesn't it?
Placido Polanco, 3B, Miami Marlins
2013 Stats: 61 G, .235/.290/.270, 8 XBH (0 HR), 9 RBI
Estimated Career Earnings: $51.8 million
The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Placido Polanco.
Miami's Opening Day third baseman and cleanup hitter, the 37-year-old has lost his starting job to Ed Lucas and been a non-factor at the plate. He's become a defensive liability and nothing more than an occasional pinch-hitter off of the bench.
For a guy who had a career .299/.344/.403 slash line entering the season, this is no way for the two-time All-Star's career to end, wasting away on the bench of a rebuilding Miami club.
Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
2013 Stats: 3 G, .417/.417/.500, 1 XBH (0 HR), 1 RBI
Estimated Career Earnings: $62.3 million
Brian Roberts, currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk, told the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina that he's hoping his current stint in the minor leagues will be a short one:
Obviously, there will be a lot of factors that play into it. But to be brutally honest, I don't want to be there long. As soon as I'm ready I'm going to call them and say I'm good. I don't know if that's three days or 10 days, but hopefully not the latter.
The real question that we should be asking isn't how long Roberts will take to get back into playing shape—but how long it will be before he lands back on the disabled list with another injury.
Sad but true: Brian Roberts cannot stay healthy.
A myriad of injuries has limited the two-time All-Star to 118 games since the end of the 2009 season.
|2013||Knee||75 (and counting)|
That's not a good trend for any player, much less a 35-year-old second baseman.
When he has played, the results haven't been good. In the 118 games that he has played since the end of 2009, Roberts has a .248/.311/.344 slash line, 30 extra-base hits (seven home runs) and 40 RBI.
A free agent at the end of the season, it's hard to imagine any team, including Baltimore, is going to sign him to anything other than an incentive-laden one-year deal (heavily based on playing time) or a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Considering his track record, it's even harder to imagine that Roberts would be able to meet those incentives.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees
2013 Stats: N/A
Estimated Career Earnings: $353.4 million
He's got 86 million reasons to keep playing, but Alex Rodriguez continues to struggle with his insatiable desire to be the center of attention.
Unfortunately for A-Rod, he keeps garnering that attention for all the wrong reasons.
Already one of the most unpopular players in the game and a focal point of MLB's investigation into PEDs being supplied to players by the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Florida, Rodriguez, recovering from his second hip surgery in two years, sent out this seemingly innocent tweet on Tuesday night:
Visit from Dr. Kelly over the weekend, who gave me the best news - the green light to play games again! http://t.co/RuzfXOJjHI
— Alex Rodriguez (@AROD) June 25, 2013
That didn't sit well with Yankees' GM Brian Cashman, who told ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand: "You know what, when the Yankees want to announce something, [we will]. Alex should just shut the f--- up. That's it. I'm going to call Alex now."
It's painfully obvious that Cashman—that the organization—wants Rodriguez to disappear.
He's damaged goods; a shell of the player that he once was. His legacy is forever tainted by steroids, and if-and-when he passes Willie Mays for fourth place on the career home run list, that accomplishment will be vilified, not celebrated.
The threat of a lengthy PED-related suspension looms in the distance, only further complicating things.
Continuing to play and accumulate stats isn't going to help his Hall of Fame candidacy. You and I have a better chance of being enshrined in Cooperstown than A-Rod does at this point.
No matter what he does, Alex Rodriguez can't win.
It will never happen, but the best thing he could do for himself and for the sport is to simply go away.