Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The last active MLB players from the 1990s

The 1990s were the most formative decade of my life, and it doesn't feel as though they were that long ago. Looking around baseball though, it's clear more time has passed since then than I would like to think. You can't quite count all the players from that decade who are still active in MLB on your fingers, but if you add one of your feet to the mix, you'll have more than enough digits. Only 15 players from that time played in at least one MLB game in 2015. Who are they? What chance does each of them have of becoming the last active player from the group? Do they have a tontine, with the last surviving member receiving the Hellfish Bonanza? (Oh how I hope they do.)

When will the last of them finally call it quits, closing the book on the 90s, and on 1900s as well? Let's look and see...

Update at the end of 2016: Of the 15 players on this list, all of whom played in MLB in 2015, only seven of them (Rodriguez, Colon, Ortiz, Beltre, Pierzynski, Beltran, and Nathan) played in 2016 as well. We're down to single digits, and some of those seven have announced their retirement, so we're getting very close to the end.

The 15 players from the 1990s who appeared in at least one MLB game in 2015, presented in the order of their MLB debut:

Alex Rodriguez (July 8, 1994) - The longest tenured active player is also arguably the best player among all the thousands who made their debut during the 90s. Rodriguez's career (one marked by controversy and a very long suspension) seemed to be in steep decline, but he's currently having his best season since 2009. He's hit 18 home runs this year, giving him 672 for his career. He will turn 40 later this month, and likely missed too much time to catch Bonds' home run record or any of the other big ones he was once on track for, but he's still got offensive numbers among the best in baseball history.

LaTroy Hawkins (April 29, 1995) - The longest tenured active pitcher is also the oldest active player, at 42 years and 7 months, as of this writing. Hawkins has appeared in 1,021 games during his career, enough to put him 13th on the all-time list. He spent his first nine seasons with the Twins, but has now pitched for a total of 10 teams.

Bartolo Colon (April 4, 1997) - A 3-time All-Star, Colon has had quite a career. Beginning with his first full season, 1998, Colon pitched at least 188 innings in eight consecutive seasons, an average of 216 a year. During that time the Expos traded Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips to acquire Colon (oops), and Colon won the 2005 American League Cy Young. Suddenly Colon was plagued by injuries, and from 2006-2010, he pitched just 257 total innings, his career seemingly basically finished. In 2011 though, at the age of 38, Colon put together close to a full season, and a pretty good one at that. Colon now has 213 career wins, 2,184 strikeouts, and a 3.98 ERA in 2,891 innings pitched. Among Dominican-born pitchers, only Pedro Martinez and Juan Marichal were better.

Torii Hunter (August 22, 1997) - Hunter (who turns 40 later this week) returned to the Twins this season, the team he played for from his debut through the end of 2007. He is a 5-time All-Star and an 8-time Gold Glove winner. He has 2,405 career hits, including 491 doubles and 345 home runs. I don't think he's ever going to become a Hall of Famer, but he'll certainly have his supporters.

David Ortiz (September 2, 1997) - A 9-time All-Star who has finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting 5 times, Ortiz has 2,227 hits, including 562 doubles and 481 home runs, with 1,576 RBI. He also has tremendous postseason numbers and helped Boston win three World Series, with a batting line of .455/.576/.795 in those three series. A DH his entire career, he has negative defensive value, but he has been one of the best hitters of his generation, and probably one of the 4 or 5 best in Red Sox history. PED connections probably mean no Cooperstown for him, but like Hunter, he'll have plenty of people arguing his case.

Aramis Ramirez (May 26, 1998) - A 3-time All-Star, Ramirez has put together a better career than most baseball fans probably realize, collecting 2,247 hits to date, with 481 doubles and 379 home runs. Ramirez has had ten seasons with 25+ HR and ten seasons with 25+ doubles. During the 2000s, Ramirez is among the National League leaders in numerous categories: 3rd in hits and doubles, 2nd in home runs, extra-base hits, and total bases, and #1 with 1,350 RBI. Ramirez only turned 37 last month, making him the second-youngest player on this list.

Adrian Beltre (June 24, 1998) - I think Beltre is one of the most underrated players in baseball history. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe he's properly rated and will coast into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, which is what he deserves. He doesn't seem to get talked about as that kind of player though. Beltre has 2.675 hits, including 542 doubles and 402 home runs. Since his first full season in 1999, only Ichiro and Jeter have had more hits, only Pujols and A-Rod have had more total bases. Oh yeah, and while he's won "only" 4 Gold Gloves, Beltre has been a fantastic defensive player. At 36 years old, Beltre is the youngest player on this list. His numbers are way down this year, but if he can bounce back and have even a couple more solid seasons, he'll reach 3,000 hits, and there will no longer be any doubt about his place in Cooperstown.

Bruce Chen (September 7, 1998) - Chen announced his retirement earlier this season, after appearing in two games with the Indians. I've included him, because I'm including everyone who played in 2015, but we can cross him off the list of candidates for last man standing. He pitched 1.532 innings, with an ERA of 4.62. He mixed in some solid seasons with some not so solid ones. In 2010 he pitched the only shutout of his career, a two-hitter for the Royals.

A.J. Pierzynski (September 9, 1998) - Pierzynski (twice an All-Star) only played in 16 games during the 90s, and didn't have his first full season til 2001, but he's played in more than 100 games in every season since then, which is very impressive for a catcher. Only three players in MLB history (Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, and Bob Boone) had more than 14 seasons with 100+ games while primarily playing catcher. Pierzynski has 1,930 career hits, including 383 doubles, putting him 70 hits away from becoming only the 10th catcher with 2,000+ hits, and 17 doubles shy of becoming just the 4th catcher with 400 two-baggers.

Carlos Beltran (September 14, 1998) - I think Rodriguez and Beltre are the two best players on this list, but Beltran would be third for me, and the one other guy I'd think awfully hard about for the Hall of Fame. A very good center fielder in his younger years, Beltran has also been one of the most efficient base stealers in history, nabbing 311 of them with an astounding 86% success rate. From 2000 to 2009, Beltran averaged 26 steals a year with a 90% success rate. Beltran also has 2,385 hits, including 487 doubles, 78 triples, and 380 home runs, with over 1,400 runs scored and runs driven in. He's slowed down in the last couple years, but could still reach some round numbers that would give him a good chance at Hall of Fame induction.

Joe Nathan (April 21, 1999) - Nathan began his career with a couple years as a middling starter for the Giants, who weren't impressed enough to keep him around, eventually trading him (and future All-Star Francisco Liriano) to the Twins for Pierzynski. Minnesota immediately made Nathan their closer, and he became one of the very best in baseball, making 6 All-Star teams and receiving mention on Cy Young ballots a couple times. He's had nine seasons with 35+ saves, a number bested by only Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. His 377 career saves rank 7th. Nathan is 40, and looks to be about finished, but he's been one of the ten best relievers ever.

Tim Hudson (June 8, 1999) - Hudson was on Rookie of the Year ballots in his first season, won 20 games and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting in his second season, and by the end of his fifth season could rightfully have been considered one of the four or five best pitchers in baseball, up there with Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Curt Schilling. From there Hudson settled in as more of a really good than great pitcher, but he remained really good for a really long time, with an ERA+ of 115 or better every season but one through 2011. Hudson turns 40 years old this very day, and is in the midst of his worst season, perhaps nearing the finish. With 219 wins (the most in baseball since his debut), a 3.49 ERA (120 ERA+) and 2,065 strikeouts, he's earned a spot in the Hall of Very Good.

Randy Wolf (June 11, 1999) - Wolf had a very good 2002 season with the Phillies, and was an All-Star in 2003. Injuries cost him a fair amount of games during the next few seasons, by he rebounded to have probably the best year of his career in 2009, helping the Dodgers win the NL West. He missed all of 2013, and pitched only 25.2 innings in 2014, then spent most of 2015 in Triple-A, before appearing with the Tigers late in the season. He has 133 career wins, with 1,791 career strikeouts an a career ERA+ of 100, exactly league average.

A.J. Burnett (August 17, 1999) - Burnett is the only player on this list who'll be in Cincinnati tonight, where he'll be making the first All-Star appearance of his career at the tender age of 38. Burnett (who says he plans to retire at the end of this year) is having the best season of his career, with a 2.11 ERA. He has 162 career wins, a 3.95 ERA, and 2,470 strikeouts, which is more than anyone but Randy Johnson and CC Sabathia. If he's able to maintain his current success, someone will be willing to pay him a whole lot of money to rethink retirement.

Buddy Carlyle (August 29, 1999) - You'll be forgiven for asking "Who?" upon seeing Carlyle's name, as journeymen middle relievers are not especially well known. Carlyle pitched in 7 games in 1999, then threw 3 innings the following year. The results weren't good though, and it was 2005 before he appeared in MLB again. He pitched 14 innings, then was gone again until 2007, when he started 20 games for the Braves. Since an awful stint in 2009, Carlyle pitched only 7.2 MLB innings between 2010 and 2013. Then in 2014, he came back and turned in the best year of his career, with a 1.45 ERA in 27 relief appearances. He's fallen back to earth this season, but his determination and stick-with-it-ness over the years are a marvel. His career numbers: 292.1 innings, a 5.14 ERA (82 ERA+), and 232 strikeouts. One of 14 players from the 90s still standing.

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Who is going to be the last of them still playing?

Rodriguez is signed through 2017, and if he's able to keep doing what he's doing this season, he could be approaching 750 home runs by that point, in which case he'd probably keep going. As I said though, he's about to turn 40, and seems unlikely to maintain his great first-half numbers for another two and a half years.

If I had to bet on someone, I'd bet on Beltre, because he's the youngest guy on the list, and until his numbers dropped so severely this season, he was playing far better than anyone else on the list. The push for 3,000 hits should keep playing until at least 2018.

Of course, I could also believe that in 2023, a 45-year-old Buddy Carlyle will throw a few innings.



6 comments:

  1. One thing I find interesting...three of these guys were teammates in the '90s! Ortiz, Pierzynski, and Hunter all were first together with the 1998 Twins, where they were teammates with Paul Molitor, Otis Nixon, Mike Morgan, Bob Tewksbury, Rick Aguilera, Greg Swindell, and Terry Steinbach. Wow.

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    1. Checking with this blog post as we begin the 2016 season. What nobody seems to note is that only will the winner of this derby be the last MLB player left standing from the '90's, he'll be the last player left from the 20TH CENTURY, the century in which the game as we know it became what it is now. Anyway, since the end of the 2015 season, seven of these guys retired and only six are still on MLB rosters, those being Rodriguez, Colon, Ortiz, Beltre, Beltran and Pierzynski. Nathan and Carlyle are out there hoping to catch on with someone.

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    2. Yep, I'm definitely also thinking of these as the last remaining players from the 20th century, but didn't want to oversell the drama in the post! I still feel like Beltre is the best bet, but I think it would be cool if Colon pitched until he's 50.

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    3. Not only did David Ortiz, Torii Hunter, and AJ Pierzynski all played for the Twins in 1998 but so did LaTroy Hawkins. The longevity of that group is very impressive.

      Also, technically the year 2000 (Y2K) is part of the 20th century, which didn't end in 1999 but on December 31st 2000, so guys who made their MLB debut in the 2000 season should count as players from the 20th century (but not 1990s). That means adding Jimmy Rollins, Jason Grilli, and Ryan Vogelsong to the list. Mark Buehrle hasn't officially retired and was pretty good last year. Bronson Arroyo is still rehabbing with the Nats on a minor league deal. Journeyman Randy Choate was released last month in spring training but could resurface. Johan Santana has been making some noise about a midseason comeback. Jason Marquis made 8 starts for the Reds last season and could resurface. Scott Downs would only accept a MLB deal after he was released in 2015 spring training and is probably done. Joel Pineiro played with the Jays AAA team last year. Jon Garland hasn't played since 2013 but he's only 36 and was pretty solid. Maybe he'll get the itch.

      As far as who will be the last one standing, Ortiz has already announced this is his last year, so he's out. Beltre just signed a big 2 year 36 million extension with the Rangers, so he'll be around until at least 2018 and I think he could easily hang around as a bench bat until 2020 or perhaps as an everyday DH. The problem with A-Rod is that he has stopped playing in the field as a 3B or 1B, so he needs to hit at a high level to justify a MLB roster spot. If he has a down year in 2017, I doubt anyone would give him a new contract. I wouldn't count out Colon either. It wasn't that long ago that guys in their 40s pitch and start playoff games. Jamie Moyer aside, Randy Johnson pitched until he was 46. Roger Clemens and Tim Wakefield until 45. David Wells and Kenny Rogers until 44. Andy Pettitte, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling all pitched into their 40s. That's what makes the recent rapid drop in performance and premature retirements of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt so baffling. Pierzynski is still the starting catcher for the Braves. I can see teams signing him to be a mentor/backup way into his 40s but I'm not sure if he'll want to keep grinding. Beltran's bat is still really good and I could see him go back to Kansas City to wrap up his career when he becomes a free agent after this season as a part-time outfielder/part-time DH. His knees are shot though, so I doubt he'll last longer than Beltre.

      What's truly impressive about A-Rod is that he's not only the last player who made his MLB debut in 1994 but that everybody who made their debuts in 1995 and 1996 retired as well. Out of all active players, Colon has the 2nd earliest debut almost 3 years after A-Rod's debut.

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