MLB Players Most Likely to Retire After the 2021 Season

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist ISeptember 21, 2021

MLB Players Most Likely to Retire After the 2021 Season

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Letting go of a good thing is really difficult.

    For the MLB players mentioned in this piece, they've had tremendous success throughout their careers. Some have won MVPs, batting titles, Cy Young Awards and World Series titles. 

    But all good things must come to an end.

    Without truly knowing a player's intentions at the end of a season, here we take a look at the ones most likely to retire after 2021.

DH Nelson Cruz, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    Designated hitter Nelson Cruz made it clear back in February that retirement was not on his mind.

    However, the 41-year-old has since been traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Tampa Bay Rays, where he has a legitimate opportunity to win a World Series.

    Cruz has done everything else, so this is all that's left for him. He is a seven-time All-Star, the 2011 ALCS MVP, the 2014 American League home run leader, the 2017 AL RBI leader and a four-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

    It's quite the resume to take home, especially if the Rays capture a title.

    Cruz has post-retirement plans, though seven months ago said he's "not ready yet." Let's see if the final results of 2021 push him in that direction.

1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The fact that Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels had such a public, ugly split speaks to a reality every baseball observer can acknowledge: the 41-year-old does not have a ton left in the tank.

    He's slashing .238/.287/.442, compared to his career slash line of .297/.375/.544 and playing far less in a diminished role with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Playing less, in part, is what led to his breakup with the Angels.

    Anywhere Pujols might go in the future will have the same conditions, with the hope of him being a quality reserve.

    Perhaps his most significant contribution right now is having teammates use his bat to help them out of a collective slump.

    It was working for Justin Turner, at least through about four games. He went 7-for-16 with a pair of home runs using Pujols' bat from Sept. 12-15 against the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, but since cooled off against the Cincinnati Reds.

SP Rich Hill, New York Mets

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    The Mets' Rich Hill has been fighting off questions about retirement for a couple of years now.

    However, he will be 42 years old next season, and Father Time is undefeated. Hill is on his fourth team in the last three seasons, despite still performing at a high level.

    The Tampa Bay Rays traded him to the New York Mets before the deadline this year, and they have not missed a beat. The Mets, meanwhile, can consider Hill to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season.

    Hill is coming off a solid start against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday night, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out seven batters on 86 pitches in 4.2 innings.

    Hill's ERA is 3.88 since joining the Mets, almost identical to his 3.87 ERA in 19 starts for the Rays.

    The motivation for Hill is still winning a World Series, an opportunity he just missed with the Dodgers and potentially the Rays. Hill retiring seems reasonable if he doesn't join a contender.

SP J.A. Happ, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    It's worth wondering how long J.A. Happ will continue pitching since he turns 39 in October.

    The lefty won a World Series early in his career with the Philadelphia Phillies and was an All-Star in 2018.

    Happ has been better since being traded from the Minnesota Twins to the St. Louis Cardinals but still carries a 6.02 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the season.

    At his age, Happ clearly has more playing days behind him than in front, so he has to be thinking about retirement after every season.

    But the Cardinals are vying for a National League Wild Card spot, and Happ could contribute to another World Series contender 13 years after his first.

    If the Cardinals go on a deep run, it wouldn't be surprising to see Happ hang it up.

C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    San Francisco Giants legendary catcher Buster Posey is playing with house money.

    There has been nothing for this guy to prove after the last decade, as his legacy is secure with three World Series titles, an NL MVP award, a batting title, Gold Glove and four Silver Slugger awards.

    Posey sat out the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season to care for his newly adopted twin daughters, who were born eight weeks premature last summer.

    Posey, now 34, is having his best season since 2017. He is slashing .297/.386/.499, and the Giants, surprisingly, have maintained their status as the best team in baseball.

    There is a $22 million club option for 2022 on Posey's contract, but the Giants also have Joey Bart as a promising young catcher.

    You have to think the potential for another World Series, coupled with Posey's children at home, is motivation to take it to the house after this season.

SP Jon Lester, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Like Posey, St. Louis Cardinals starter Jon Lester has nothing left to prove and would only be pitching for love of the game after this season.

    It makes total sense for the three-time World Series champion, five-time All-Star and 2016 NLCS MVP to hang it up before his age-38 season.

    When asked about his future earlier this month, Lester was non-committal about playing next year. He said he would get through this season and discuss the future with his family, part of which includes his three children, who he mentioned are getting older.

    Representing three teams in two seasons after playing on three teams through his first 14 years could be a sign that it’s time to call it a career.

SP Jake Arrieta, San Diego Padres

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    San Diego Padres starter Jake Arrieta was pulled from his most recent start Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals with a right adductor strain.

    He faced just six batters before the injury forced his exit.

    This is another established player whose production has declined, and he's worn three different uniforms in the past two seasons.

    The former World Series champion's ERA has steadily increased since 2016, ballooning to 7.39 in his 24 combined starts for the Chicago Cubs and Padres.

    As recently as July, the 2015 Cy Young winner was incredulous to the idea he was cooked, and that he just has not been executing his pitches.  

    "There is still a lot left in the tank," he told reporters. "The stuff still plays." 

    Arrieta is an unrestricted free agent after this season, so the question is whether the rest of MLB agrees with his self-assessment.

RF Josh Reddick, Free Agent

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It seems more like baseball no longer wants Josh Reddick than the other way around. He did not return to the Houston Astros this season because it was understood it was Kyle Tucker's time to take over in right field.

    Then Reddick signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this year but was released in August.

    The New York Mets signed Reddick to a minor league deal a few days later, and he played 11 games for their Triple-A squad before he was released again toward the end of the month.

    Reddick recently showed up to Minute Maid Park as a spectator since he has not drawn the interest of any other club.

    If this is indeed the end for the 34-year-old veteran outfielder, his career included a Gold Glove Award in 2012 and a World Series title in 2017. He is also a fan favorite in Houston, where he could easily enjoy a post-playing career as an analyst or coach. 

1B Pablo Sandoval, Free Agent

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    It seems like MLB has given up on the two-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion and 2012 World Series MVP.

    In 73 at-bats for the Atlanta Braves this year, Sandoval slashed .178/.302/.342 before he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Eddie Rosario ahead of the deadline and immediately released.

    Sandoval signed with the Braves late in the 2020 season after being released from his second stint with the San Francisco Giants but was never productive in Atlanta.

    The 35-year-old was decent as recently as 2019 when he hit .268 with 14 homers.

    There were flashes early this season when Sandoval hit two home runs in his first three at-bats, but reality has set in and what's been a tremendous career appears to be over.

1B Edwin Encarnacion, Free Agent

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The former Toronto Blue Jays slugger reportedly wants to play another two seasons with the goal of reaching 500 career home runs before retirement.

    Someone would have to give the 38-year-old a chance to do so, which did not happen in 2021. Encarnacion finished 2020 with a slash line of .157/.250/.377 over 44 games with the Chicago White Sox.

    It's no wonder he did not draw a ton of interest this season.

    Encarnacion did, however, hit 10 home runs last year and would've been on pace to hit more than 30 homers if the season had been played in full. The power still seemed to be there, and he's obviously motivated to accomplish a specific goal.

    But again, the desire has to be mutual.

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