10 MLB Stars Who Are Candidates to Retire After 2023 Season
The 2022 Major League Baseball was the final curtain for a handful of longtime luminaries, most notably including prospective Hall of Famer Yadier Molina and a no-doubter for Cooperstown, Albert Pujols.
As the start of the 2023 season draws near, we can't help but wonder: Who might be next to call it a career?
The final list could end up being a lengthy one, but we focused on 10 star players who are candidates to be on it come the end of the year. A couple are already planning on '23 being their last hurrah. Otherwise, we were left to speculate on who's nearing the end of the line by weighing their service time, accomplishments and any relevant public comments they've made.
Lest anyone confuse this for anything other than a sentimental exercise, we've shared our favorite memory of each player. At least as they stand right now, anyway.
Let's start with some honorable mentions and then count 'em down from least likely to most likely to retire.
DH Matt Carpenter, San Diego Padres
Having turned 37 back on Nov. 26, Carpenter will enter 2023 as one of the oldest hitters in the league. But if there's more where last year's stupendous 1.138 OPS came from, his returning for his age-38 season in 2024 would hardly be out of the question.
OF/DH Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
The 36-year-old McCutchen is on the downswing of his career, having posted a subpar OPS+ for the first time in 2022. But if his return to the Pirates for 2023 ends up reinvigorating him, both team and player could be only too willing to re-up for 2024
RHP David Robertson, New York Mets
Robertson will turn 38 on April 9, and the '23 campaign will be his 15th in the majors. He might nonetheless still be too good to retire at the end of it, as he was indeed one of the top relievers in the bigs last year by way of a 2.40 ERA over 63.2 innings
3B Justin Turner, Boston Red Sox
On Nov. 23, Turner celebrated his 38th birthday a few days before Carpenter celebrated his 37th. He does have a $13.4 million player option for 2024 on his deal, however, and he might exercise it if this year so much as goes as well as 2022 did. He had a solid .788 OPS over 128 games.
10. RHP Charlie Morton, Atlanta Braves
MLB Seasons: 15
2022 Stats: 31 GS, 172.0 IP, 149 H (28 HR), 205 K, 63 BB, 4.34 ERA
Charlie Morton has occasionally broadcasted uncertainty about his future, including when he and the Tampa Bay Rays were gearing up for the shortened season in 2020:
Marc Topkin @TBTimes_Rays
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rays?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Rays</a> Morton says he has not made up his mind on playing beyond this season, but that part of him doesn't want to end his career "this way,'' in these odd circumstances, and that he's in good shape and ready. As he said in Spring 1.0, circumstances - such as health - will dictate
Likewise, there have been occasions in the last few years when opposing hitters have not so politely suggested that retirement might be the best thing for Morton. For example, he pitched to a 4.74 ERA in 2020 and he began last year with a 5.67 ERA through 12 outings.
Simply to these extents, one can imagine Morton choosing to make his 16th season in the majors his final one. Yet he doesn't have to walk away, and he might not if he finds he still has gas in the tank.
While Morton may have started last season poorly, he was on his way to finishing it with a 3.63 ERA over his last 19 starts—in which his fastball averaged 94.8 mph—by the time Atlanta signed him to a one-year extension in September. It includes a $20 million club option for 2024, which may well be picked up if his '23 season goes as well as '22 eventually did.
Though some might favor Morton getting the final out for the Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series, "iconic" is the best word to describe the time he got three outs on a broken leg in the first game of the Fall Classic in 2021.
9. RHP Zack Greinke, Free Agent
MLB Seasons: 19
2022 Stats: 26 GS, 137.0 IP, 157 H (14 HR), 73 K, 27 BB, 3.68 ERA
Zack Greinke's return to the Kansas City Royals after a 12-year odyssey through Milwaukee, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Arizona and Houston went well, but he was nonetheless unsure of what would come next when last season ended:
Anne Rogers @anne__rogers
Zack Greinke tells me he hasn't made a decision on returning next year: "I don't know for sure what's going to happen. We'll figure it out eventually, but I don't know at the moment."<br><br>Says he's enjoyed his time with the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Royals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Royals</a>: "Enjoyed the season a lot. Love the guys here."
Even now, Greinke and the Royals are still in a stalemate. He remains a free agent, with the Royals reportedly trying to get him to sign a low-salary, incentive-laden deal to return for 2023.
But if Greinke was going to retire, it's reasonable to presume that he would have done so by now. It's also not unreasonable to think that he could keep pitching into 2024 and maybe even 2025.
Because while age has taken its toll on Greinke's fastball velocity, which is now stuck in the high 80s, it hasn't yet rendered him a subpar pitcher. Last year was the 18th time in 19 seasons that his ERA+ finished above the league average of 100.
Somebody at Netflix should Google "Zack Greinke stories" and buy the adaptation rights to all of them, post haste. The 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer's many highlights are also a hoot in their own right, and none more so than the ones in which he was having a blast showing off his talents for hitting and bat-flipping.
8. RHP Corey Kluber, Boston Red Sox
MLB Seasons: 12
2022 Stats: 31 GS, 164.0 IP, 178 H (20 HR), 139 K, 21 BB, 4.34 ERA
If anything's going to keep Corey Kluber pitching beyond 2023, it might be a relationship with the Red Sox that has the potential to become a cozy one.
Kluber and his wife, Amanda, have a home about 20 minutes from Fenway Park in Winchester, Massachusetts. He was thus interested in signing with Boston well before the two sides put ink to paper on a one-year deal earlier this month, telling Alex Speier of the Boston Globe in November: "I think they're well aware of how I feel."
But while there may be a foundation for a continued partnership here, one assumes Boston's end of it is contingent on how well Kluber pitches in 2023.
He may be a three-time All-Star and a two-time Cy Young Award winner, but even he's well aware that his velocity is not what it used to be. He didn't even average 89 mph on his heater in 2022, and it showed as he got lit up in the regular season and, in the end, by Oscar Gonzalez for a series-clinching home run in the American League Wild Card Series.
There are frankly countless GIFs of Kluber's breaking ball that come to mind, as well as the no-hitter that he threw for the New York Yankees in 2021. But if the question is what best represents vintage "Klubot," the answer is that time he laid waste to the St. Louis Cardinals for 18 strikeouts in 2015.
7. LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
MLB Seasons: 15
2022 Stats: 22 GS, 126.1 IP, 96 H (10 HR), 137 K, 23 BB, 2.28 ERA
Clayton Kershaw might already be living the retired life right now if things had gone a little differently last winter.
He apparently didn't even pick up a baseball until January after spending the first few months of the offseason recovering from the forearm injury that ended his 2021 season. At that point, the Dallas native was looking at just three options once the MLB lockout lifted: return to the Dodgers, sign with the nearby Texas Ranger or retire.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 National League MVP eventually went through Door No. 1 and ended up pitching well, but he still wasn't a firm yes on returning for one more season after the Dodgers' season ended:
Bill Plunkett @billplunkettocr
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dodgers?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Dodgers</a> Clayton Kershaw was asked postgame last night if he plans to play again in 2023: "Yeah I think so, but -- no buts, I think so. We'll see what happens. Going home and being around and being a full-time dad changes your perspective on things. ..." 1/2
It's far from impossible to imagine Kershaw returning for his age-36 season in 2024, particularly if 2023 goes anywhere near as well for him as 2022. But if his performance declines and/or the injury bug takes further bites out of his arm or back, it's likewise far from impossible to imagine him deciding he's had enough.
We're talking about one of the best left-handed pitchers of all time here, so picking out just one memory of Kershaw is an unfair ask. But for our money, the only thing better than a 15-strikeout no-hitter—the third-best pitching performance of all-time by game score, by the way—is one called by the late, great Vin Scully.
6. 3B Evan Longoria, Arizona Diamondbacks
MLB Seasons: 15
2022 Stats: 89 G, 298 PA, 14 HR, 0 SB, .244 AVG, .315 OBP, .451 SLG
You only have to go back to June 2022 to find a time when Evan Longoria was openly pondering retirement, and he might have walked away as soon as the San Francisco Giants made the unsurprising decision to decline his $13 million option for 2023.
Instead, the three-time All-Star and Gold Glover was quick to clarify that he wanted to keep playing...with a few conditions:
The "or two" part of this report obviously leaves the door open to Longoria returning for another season in 2024. Presumably, he'll be that much more willing to do so if he helps the Diamondbacks make yet another leap forward after they improved from 110 losses in 2021 to 88 last year.
It is, however, a tall order for the Snakes to contend in a division as top-heavy as the National League West. And while he can still hit, Longoria's willingness to retire might only increase if he endures a second straight injury-shortened campaign.
It all feels like a distant memory at this point, but Longoria was truly one of baseball's brightest superstars in his early years with the Tampa Bay Rays between 2008 and 2013. Certainly, never more so than when he walked the Rays off into the playoffs to cap maybe the wildest final day of any MLB season ever in 2011.
5. DH Nelson Cruz, San Diego Padres
MLB Seasons: 18
2022 Stats: 124 G, 507 PA, 10 HR, 4 SB, .234 AVG, .313 OBP, .337 SLG
There's a reason the Padres decided that Nelson Cruz was worth taking a chance on via a one-year deal that only guarantees him $1 million for 2023. Well, really multiple reasons.
One is that Cruz and Padres general manager A.J. Preller are familiar with each other from their former days with the Rangers. Another is that Cruz is possibly slated for a major rebound after having surgery to correct the vision issues that had been bothering him.
That's a convenient explanation for why Cruz's boomstick suddenly vanished midway through 2021. He was on his standard 40-homer pace when he joined the Rays in July of that year, but over 179 games between then and the end of his 2022 season, he hit just 23 home runs with a .675 OPS.
Yet even if this makes it easier to dream of Cruz returning in 2024—particularly if his career home run total, which sits at 459, is close to 500—there's no ignoring the possibility that age was the real culprit behind his decline. And if so, the possibility that he might not even make it to the end of this season.
Baseball has been around for a long time, so it's a special thing if a player has done something that no other player has ever done. In Cruz's case, that's the one and only walk-off grand slam in playoff history.
4. LHP Rich Hill, Pittsburgh Pirates
MLB Seasons: 18
2022 Stats: 26 GS, 124.1 IP, 125 H (15 HR), 109 K, 37 BB, 4.27 ERA
Now that Albert Pujols' spikes are permanently hung up, Rich Hill is the oldest player in Major League Baseball. So, congratulations...we guess?
Honestly, there are better compliments to pay Hill. His nickname is an all-timer, for one. And more to the point, for how he's a living, breathing example of why age is often just a number. He's still an effective pitcher, in part because his fastball is about the same as it's ever been and in part because he still curveballs with the best of 'em.
All the same, the thought of retiring has naturally crept into Hill's mind. He spoke last August about possibly having it both ways in 2023, taking extra time to spend with his wife and son at the beginning of the year and then hopping aboard with a contender in July.
It was therefore somewhat puzzling when Hill inked a one-year deal with the lowly Pirates earlier this month, but the gambit may be to end up with a contender by way of a midseason trade. If he were to get his wish and it pays off in the form of a deep playoff run, maybe that'll be enough for him.
There isn't technically a no-hitter on Hill's record, but anyone who remembers him pitching nine no-hit innings before finally giving up a home run leading off the 10th on Aug. 23, 2017 will know that there kinda-sorta ought to be.
3. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
MLB Seasons: 16
2022 Stats: 91 G, 376 PA, 11 HR, 0 SB, .205 AVG, .319 SLG, .370 OBP
Pretty much as soon as Joey Votto underwent major surgery on his left shoulder and biceps last August, speculation ramped up that maybe the Reds legend was going to retire. That turned out to be a "nope," and in short order:
This shouldn't have been surprising for at least one reason. Voluntarily retiring would have required Votto to give up the $25 million salary he's set to earn in 2023, which...well, you try saying no to $25 million.
As for whether the end of the six-time All-Star and 2010 NL MVP's contract might ultimately coincide with the end of his career, Votto hinted he could keep playing "if I perform well," but also made a point of wanting to "start and finish my career in the same uniform."
Anything can happen, one supposes. But if it's both good performance or bust and Reds or bust for Votto come 2024, his generally diminished returns and their recent cheapness would seem to make for a narrow window for things to work out.
As the owner of a .297/.412/.513 slash line, 342 home runs and a 145 OPS+, Votto's career performance has "Cooperstown" written all over it. But he should also be remembered for all the memories he's made for others just by being an hilarious, affable and all-around swell guy.
2. RHP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
MLB Seasons: 17
2022 Stats: 32 GS, 191.2 IP, 192 H (16 HR), 143 K, 54 BB, 3.71 ERA
There isn't much doubt about this one. After sharing one last season with longtime batterymate Yadier Molina and fellow Cardinals legend Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright has already said that 2023 will be his final season.
On more than one occasion, at that. The righty knew back in October that the '23 campaign would be his last, and he reiterated that stance as recently as Jan. 15. He'll play his 18th season, during which he'll turn 42 on Aug. 30, and then that'll be that.
Granted, we can't help but think about Wainwright possibly pulling a Tom Brady and deciding he's not done just yet. He is, after all, perhaps the ultimate ageless wonder in baseball right now. The last two seasons have seen him rack up a 3.37 ERA over 398 innings, the latter of which ranks second behind only 27-year-old hurler Sandy Alcántara.
Then again, when you're already one of the most accomplished pitchers of the 21st century and a World Series champion, about the only thing you have left to prove is that you know when it's the right time to walk away. Wainwright clearly already does.
Avert your eyes, Carlos Beltrán, because nobody's ever going to forget when Wainwright only need three pitches to retire you to close out the 2006 National League Championship Series.
1. DH Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
MLB Seasons: 20
2022 Stats: 112 G, 433 PA, 5 HR, 1 SB, .254 AVG, .305 OBP, .317 SLG
The last time there was an MLB season without Miguel Cabrera, the Montreal Expos were still a thing, the Rays were still the Devil Rays and Barry Zito was the best pitcher in the American League.
It's been a while, in other words, but the end of the road for Cabrera is nigh nonetheless. About this, he seems to have no qualms whatsoever:
Jason Beck @beckjason
Ahead of his charity gala this week in Miami, Miguel Cabrera reiterates to <a href="https://twitter.com/CDeNicola13?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CDeNicola13</a> that 2023 will be his final season.<br><br>"It feels a little weird to say that," he said. "I thought I'm not going to say never, but I think it's time to say goodbye to baseball."
Whereas it's possible to imagine Wainwright deciding to give it one more go, it's sadly not as easy to extend the same courtesy to Cabrera. As he's devolved into perhaps the worst everyday player in baseball, his decline over the last six years hasn't exactly gone unnoticed.
It's a good thing, then, that Cabrera has absolutely nothing left to prove. By way of being a 12-time All-Star, a two-time MVP and World Series champion and one of just three players with 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles, his ticket to the Hall of Fame is as good as punched.
There's a lot to choose from, to say the least. But for us, nothing really gets at the essence of Cabrera's brilliance like the time he fouled two straight balls of his leg and still took the best relief pitcher in history deep for a game-tying home run in 2013.