MLB's Last Hurrah: 12 Players Who Will Likely Play Their Final Year in 2011
Each year, players call an end to a career in Major League Baseball for various reasons. Some become tired of the daily grind and want to focus more on family, some have simply gotten older and are unable to compete at a desired level, and some are unable to fully recover from prior injuries.
This spring, several players have already announced their retirement, including Garrett Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Ian Snell and Mike Hampton. While Anderson, Edmonds and Hampton all enjoyed varying degrees of success, each with over 15 years of MLB experience, Snell retired at the age of 29, unable to fully realize his potential after being drafted in the 26th round of the 2000 Major League Baseball draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
We will take a look at 12 players who will likely call it a career after the end of the 2011 season, and conclude whether or not some of the players should have retired earlier, or if they could possibly continue to play at a high level going forward.
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12. Tim Wakefield: Pitcher, Boston Red Sox
After being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1988 as an infielder, Tim Wakefield was told by management that he would probably never get above the Double-A level as a position player—so Wakefield decided to develop his signature knuckleball.
Wakefield was promoted by the Pirates in late July 1992, winning his first start with a complete-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Wakefield continued to impress for the rest of that season, compiling an 8-1 record with a 2.15 ERA and winning two games in the NLCS against Tom Glavine and the Atlanta Braves.
Wakefield seemingly lost his control for the following two seasons, wallowing in the minors before finally being released by the Pirates.
The Boston Red Sox took a chance, signing Wakefield in 1995. Working with knuckleball experts Joe and Phil Niekro, Wakefield was able to regain command of his signature pitch. Over the following 16 seasons, Wakefield won 179 games for the Red Sox, just 13 victories behind all-time Sox leaders Roger Clemens and Cy Young.
At 44 years of age, this will likely be Wakefield’s last year with the Red Sox. Relegated to bullpen duty, Wakefield likely will not match the Sox's all-time record for victories, but his legacy in Boston has been achieved nonetheless.
Wakefield also won the Roberto Clemente Award last year, given to a player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team," as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media. Wakefield has been nominated for the award eight times and has been a shining example of giving back through community involvement during his years in Boston.
11. Arthur Rhodes: Pitcher, Texas Rangers
Left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes is entering his 20th season in the majors with his eighth team, the Texas Rangers. The all-time leader in holds, Rhodes has had a rough spring, suffering from tendinitis and recently receiving a cortisone shot to relieve inflammation.
At 41 years of age, the body may finally be breaking down for Rhodes. Although he was never quite elite enough to start or close games, he fashioned a very nice career as a bridge to the closer for several teams and as a left-handed specialist.
10. Jose Contreras: Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies
When Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras defected from Cuba in 2003 and signed with the New York Yankees, much was expected from the talented right-hander.
However, the bright lights of the big city weren’t kind to Contreras and the Yankees unloaded him, trading him to the Chicago White Sox at the 2004 trade deadline.
After nearly six seasons—never really finding his mark as a starter with the White Sox—and a brief stint with the Colorado Rockies, Contreras found new life last season as a reliever with the Philadelphia Phillies, posting a 6-4 record with a 3.34 ERA, his lowest since his breakthrough season of 2003.
However, now 39 years old, Contreras may not have much value for teams beyond this season, especially at a higher-value contract.
9. Matt Stairs: Outfield/First Base, Washington Nationals
If you were to look up the word “journeyman” in your Webster’s dictionary, you would probably find a picture of Matt Stairs next to the definition.
Stairs is entering his 19th major league season with his 13th team, the Washington Nationals. Stairs is the classic definition of a survivor, as his pinch-hitting skills and versatility have given him the ability to find a job just about anywhere.
Stairs has hit 265 home runs since he started his career with the 1992 Montreal Expos.
8. Omar Vizquel: Shortstop, Chicago White Sox
Omar Vizquel will embark on his 23rd major league season as a member of the Chicago White Sox, his second year with the team and likely his last altogether.
In a stellar career that his seen Vizquel win 11 Gold Glove awards and be selected to three All-Star teams, he still contributed for the White Sox last year, with a .272 average and 30 RBI.
While Vizquel may remind everyone of the Energizer Bunny, the 2011 season will likely be his last, and he will certainly garner Hall of Fame consideration based on his defensive skills alone.
7. Jamie Moyer: Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies
Last year, in his 24th major league season, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer blew out his elbow, prematurely ending his season. At 47 years of age, most thought that Moyer’s career was over.
However, knowing he was pitching for another contract, Moyer attempted to pitch in the Dominican Republic during the winter and re-injured his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery.
Moyer’s plan is to take the entire year off and attempt a comeback in 2012 for what would be his 25th season at 49 years of age.
Moyer knows the odds are completely stacked against him; however, he is more than willing to at least give it a shot.
"Will a year make a difference?" Moyer told Philly.com. "I don't know. I'll find that out. Health-wise, I feel good. I want to give this a chance and see what happens. If it doesn't work out, so be it. I've had a pretty fun career. I've had a lot of great experiences professionally and with my family. I've been on a world championship team in my hometown.
"So either way, it's a win for me."
The guess here is that Moyer walks away and enjoys life with his eight children.
6. Jason Varitek: Catcher, Boston Red Sox
The stalwart captain of the Boston Red Sox has enjoyed a fabulous career, during which the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years and won again three years later—all with captain Jason Varitek leading by example.
Varitek, who has also caught four no-hitters during his career, is now helping to groom Jarrod Saltalamacchia as his heir apparent. While ‘Tek could stick around for several years as a backup, the belief is that the 2011 season will signal an end to a great career for a classy ballplayer.
5. Jason Giambi: First Baseman, Colorado Rockies
In a career that is clearly approaching the sunset phase, Jason Giambi is now a backup first baseman and pinch hitter with the Colorado Rockies. After hitting 415 home runs and winning the American League MVP in 2000, Giambi really doesn’t have much to add to his career at this point in time.
At 40 years of age, there appears to be little doubt that Giambi will not last beyond the 2011 season.
4. Manny Ramirez: Left Fielder, Tampa Bay Rays
It took most of the winter for a team to finally sign the enigmatic Manny Ramirez, and the Tampa Bay Rays appeared to be the only team in the running for his services.
Ramirez, who has not played a full season since 2007 with the Boston Red Sox, has had an assortment of health problems over the past three seasons. Although he appears to be healthy, at 38 years of age, it would be hard to believe that trend won’t continue. However, Ramirez says he feels great and is ready to show the world that the old Manny is back.
"I had calf and leg problems last year and got heavy, I know," Ramirez told MLB.com. "I'm down to 226 now, from about 236 or 238. But my legs are much better, I feel more flexible. It's time to have another big year."
If Manny continues to be the Manny of the past three seasons, the guess is that 2011 may be a curtain call.
3. Dontrelle Willis: Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
Dontrelle Willis has been in a complete free-fall since his glory days with the Florida Marlins in the mid-2000s. Since the start of the 2008 season, Willis has won exactly three games and has been given up on by both the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Attempting a comeback with the Cincinnati Reds, Willis was optioned by the Reds to triple-a Louisville on Monday.
The guess here is that Willis won’t recapture his former glory, and will be out of baseball by the end of the season.
2. Chipper Jones: Third Baseman, Atlanta Braves
When Chipper Jones tore his ACL last season, cutting short his 17th season with the Atlanta Braves, rumors of retirement immediately surfaced, especially considering that Bobby Cox—the only manager Jones had ever played for—was retiring as well.
However, Jones went to work during the offseason, embarking on an intense rehabilitation and conditioning program, and reported to camp this spring healthy and on fire, hitting .420 thus far.
But Jones may be one more injury away from retirement. While new manager Fredi Gonzalez will be careful with Jones, the thinking is that if he were to go down with another serious injury, he would be down for the count as far as baseball is concerned.
Jones is clearly destined for the Hall of Fame, so there would be no shame whatsoever if for some reason his season was derailed once again.
1. Ivan Rodriguez: Catcher, Washington Nationals
Ivan Rodriguez will go down in history as one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game. Of that, there is no doubt whatsoever.
Rodriguez, entering the 21st season of his career and now with the Washington Nationals, is a 14-time All-Star, a 13-time Gold Glove award winner and 1999 American League MVP.
This season, Rodriguez will be tasked with grooming the young catching prospect for the Nationals, Wilson Ramos. While Pudge will be the Opening Day starter, Ramos will more than likely get the bulk of at-bats for the Nationals behind the plate, with Rodriguez teaching him the ropes.
The sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer will likely be playing his last season.
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