This year, we’ve seen former quality MLB players such as Joakim Soria, Daniel Murphy, Cody Allen, Nick Markakis, Hector Rondon, Jordan Zimmermann, Welington Castillo, and Nate Jones decide to retire. All current MLB free agents are experiencing the first work stoppage of their career right now. Should the lockout end sometime in February, there could be a burst of concentrated free agent signings and trades unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
While that will likely work out just fine for the likes of Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Freddie Freeman, a free agent frenzy could also include a cold shoulder toward former MLB stars nearing the end of their careers. Instead of putting the finishing touches on rosters with a sprinkling of February or March one-year MLB deals and minor league deals, front offices will be working to acquire many significant star and mid-tier free agents and trade targets when the lockout ends. It stands to reason that many veterans with declining skills will be told they need to wait even longer before a team is willing to commit. That could leave former stars without jobs. Rich Hill has a deal with the Red Sox heading into his age-42 season, but let’s take a look at eight elder statesmen who may at least consider retirement.
- Albert Pujols: 42 in January, Pujols mashed lefties and gave the Dodgers a veteran presence off the bench this year. Back in October, he said, “I don’t think my time to retire has come. I don’t want to sit in my house next year, knowing that I can still keep playing.” Pujols is 21 home runs shy of 700 for his career, and he’d be aided by the addition of the NL DH.
- Ryan Zimmerman: Zimmerman, 37, had an October send-off at Nationals Park but hasn’t publicly made a decision about retirement. At a press conference, he said, “Do I want to keep playing? I think I can keep playing. I think I had a really good year with the role that I was supposed to do, and now it’s a decision of whether I want to keep doing that, or do I want to be around my family a little bit more. I think the only thing I kind of told Davey is I started the season around 50/50 and it hasn’t gone up.” GM Mike Rizzo said Zimmerman has an MLB contract with the team as long as he wants it.
- Brett Gardner: Gardner, 38, scuffled with the bat this year but wasn’t much worse than he was in 2016 or ’18. He wants to return to the Yankees in 2022, but chose a $1.15MM buyout over a $2.3MM player option.
- Nelson Cruz: Cruz, 41, has been defying age for many years but managed only a 96 wRC+ in 238 plate appearances after a trade to the Rays. Before the season, Cruz said “retirement is not on my mind,” and now he might have the chance to DH in the National League. Cruz is tied with Jeff Bagwell and Vladimir Guerrero at 40th on the all-time home run leaderboard with 449. It’s easy to see Cruz striving for the 500 club, which currently has 28 members.
- Jed Lowrie: Lowrie, 38 in April, played only nine games from 2019-20, encompassing his contract with the Mets. This year, surprisingly, he played 139 games for the A’s. Lowrie struggled in the season’s final two months, but thus far he’s given no indication he’s looking to retire.
- Zack Greinke: Greinke, 38, gave up 20 earned runs over 15 1/3 innings in his final four regular season appearances, ballooning his ERA from 3.41 to 4.16. He battled through COVID-19 and neck soreness, but capped his season by giving the Astros four scoreless innings to start Game 4 of the World Series. Asked after the game if he wants to continue playing, Greinke declined to answer. Back in March, Greinke said, “Hopefully, I’ll pitch a lot longer still, but a lot of things come into play on whether you’re allowed to pitch as long as you want to and stuff.”
- J.A. Happ: Happ, 39, posted a 6.77 ERA in 19 starts for the Twins, but managed a 4.00 mark in 11 outings after being traded to the Cardinals. He’s given no indication about retirement.
- Jon Lester: Lester, 38 in January, also pitched better upon a trade to the Cardinals this year. Asked in September about playing in 2022, Lester was reportedly noncommittal. He reached his 200th career win on September 20th.