Friday, December 19, 2014

Who Will Be the Last Active Player from the 1990s?

The offseason is the team for indulging in strange, off-the-wall investigations. And so, I will take this opportunity to explore a question that occurred to me during the regular season: who will be the last active player who debuted in the 1990s?

I really wish I remember what inspired this question, but the context is lost to the sands of time, as all the remains is a note on my “To Do” list that says “WHO WILL BE THE LAST PLAYER FROM THE ‘90s?” Apparently, I was really excited about it when it occurred to me, and that’s all that really matters.

With that, I headed to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index to find out who all was left from the ‘90s. The details of my search were pretty simple: sort by ascending year of debut, active players with last season 2013 or later. I thought about setting final season to 2014 or later, but I figured there might be a few cases of players who were active in 2014 but couldn’t play due to, say, injury, or steroid suspension.

With those criteria set, I got a list of 30 players who fit the criteria. However, I had to cull the list even more, as some of the results were no longer possibilities. Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, Eric Chavez, Ryan Dempster, and Alfonso Soriano have all announced their retirements. I suppose comeback tours are all possible, but I don’t know that we should be betting on them happening. That leaves us with 24 names.




There are a few other names we can probably scratch off, though. First would be LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins recently announced that 2015 would be his final season, I suppose he could change his mind, but right now, I don’t know that we have a reason to believe that. He’ll be 42 this year anyway, one of only four 40-year olds (in 2014, at least) on the list. He wasn’t likely to be the last one standing anyway, and if he actually stays true to his word, then he’d need 23 people to retire first.

Tim Hudson also announced that 2015 would be the end of the road. He’s younger than Hawkins, so I suppose that means there’s a better chance that he winds up changing his mind. But at the same time, we have no other indication that he won’t retire, so we might as well rule him out.

Also, I feel comfortable ruling out Jason Giambi and Raul Ibanez. They are two of the other over-40 players, and both have already interviewed for managerial openings. On top of that, neither was very good this year. I doubt either will make it more than another year, let alone the multiple years they’ll probably need to take the title.

I feel comfortable crossing Miguel Tejada off the list. He was “active” in 2014 in that he played 4 games in the Marlins’ minor league system after returning from a drug suspension. Also, on a more depressing note, we can probably remove Ramon Ortiz as well. His 2013 ended with a bad injury, and he was active this past season in that he was pitching in the Mexican League. Unfortunately, a 41-year old posting a 4.38 ERA in 78 innings probably won’t draw a ton of team interest.

And so, we’re down to 18 names. Let’s do a player-by-player rundown of their chances of being the last ‘90s player standing.

Debut: 1994
Age (2015): 39
I have no idea what to expect from A-Rod this season. Even before his suspension, in 2013, he was posting above-average OPS+ numbers. We’ll see if a year off helped him rehab even more, or just added to rust. He’s the wild card in this group; if he’s healthy, he’s still a generational talent, and may hang around for a while. But he’s probably not the favorite, and he most certainly isn’t with all the question marks.

Debut: 1996
Age: 40
He’s currently a free agent, and posted a 4.35 ERA in 70.1 innings for the Dodgers last year. Sometimes bullpen guys can stick around for a while, but I don’t know that he’ll make it past 2015, and I think our hypothetical last man standing will need to do that at bare minimum. Realistically, I don’t even know if he’ll get a contract for this year. Someone will probably give him a chance, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s just a minor league deal.

Debut: 1997
Age: 42
Our last player who was 40+ years old in 2014. He’s signed through this year at least, and will almost certainly start with a gig in the rotation. Being an All-Star as recently as 2013 will probably help him, but he still posted a below-average ERA last year (4.09 ERA, 85 ERA+). You have to wonder how long of a leash he’ll have.  Again, we’ll probably want to bet younger.

Debut: 1997
Age: 39
Hunter’s case is a lot like Colon’s. Both were on the 2013 All-Star teams, both were decent if unimpressive last year, and both have a starting gig for the start of 2015 at least. Colon is probably the better bet of the two though, if only because Hunter seemed unsure if he would come back for 2015, and because pitchers usually get more chances to stick around than hitters.

Debut: 1997
Age: 39
I’d say the next three players are the frontrunners. Ortiz had a typical season for him in 2014, posting a .263/.355/.517 batting line that translated to 35 home runs and a 143 OPS+ (more or less in line with his career mark). His contract also has team options for 2016 and 2017, so as long as he’s decent, he has a contract. Even if he doesn’t, I imagine some team will give him a chance right after he’s cut, just to see what’s left in the tank. Plus, as a DH, he’ll probably stay healthier for longer than the rest of the field. He definitely has some good odds.

Debut: 1998
Age: 36
Beltre is easily the favorite here. He’s the youngest of the bunch turning 36 in April. His 2014 was one of his best seasons yet, as he posted a career high in OPS+ at 147. His defense at the hot corner, which has been some of the best of all-time, is starting to slip, but he’s still above average. Obviously, things can change quickly with aging ballplayers, but Beltre looks like he has more ahead of him than any other player on this list.

Debut: 1998
Age: 37
After his strong 2013, Beltran slipped hard in 2014, with injuries limiting him to only 109 games and a 98 OPS+. But there are good signs. He’s one of the most talented players on this list; players with the highest peaks usually get a few extra years over most other players, due to having further to fall. He’ll probably see some time as a DH in 2015, which might help him stay healthy (although we have no idea how much time there he’ll get). And the biggest factor? His contract runs through 2016, guaranteed. No other player has that (Beltre’s entering his last year, with an option for 2016, although that will probably be taken). That extra certainty is definitely a mark in his favor. He definitely has a chance.

Debut: 1998
Age: 38
Gonzalez played in only 9 games in 2014 before the Tigers cut him. He had mostly been a bench player in the years before that. He’s probably done.

Debut: 1998
Age: 38
He could become the extreme dark horse candidate if he stays on as a back-up catcher extraordinaire. I feel like there are always a handful of guys hanging on as backup backstops into their 40s, so he might hang around for a while if he does what he did this year, filling in for teams desperate for depth. But realistically, it probably won’t happen. I mean, even this year, he would have been done mid-year if not for a last-minute injury to Yadier Molina. And even then, arguably, the Cardinals would have still been better off without him (Baseball-Reference estimates his value this season as -0.3 for Boston and -0.6 for St. Louis).

Debut: 1998
Age: 37
Ramirez made the All-Star team this year, but almost certainly didn’t deserve it. Either way, he’s returning to Milwaukee for 2015, so he at least has that locked down. He’s missed some time each of the last two years, but seems healthy. His offense has definitely slipped, though (since 2012, his OPS+ has gone from 136 to 127 to 109). If he continues to fall at that rate, his chances are done. If he can rebound or even just plateau, though, he has a chance; he is one of our youngest options, after all.

Debut: 1998
Age: 38
Last seen being cut by the Royals in the midst of a pennant race. He’ll probably get a spring training invite, but he also posted a 7.45 ERA last year. His surprising 2013 is looking like an outlier; he has a 4.53 ERA since 2009. You have to wonder how many more chances he’ll get.

Debut: 1999
Age: 38
Burnett seems to have been weighing retirement for each of the last few seasons, and most rumors are that he’ll only pitch for teams close to his home (which limits him to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.). Again, we know he’s set for 2015 at least, but anything after that is a toss up. He’s also coming off a season in which he led the majors in losses, earned runs allowed, and walks allowed. He might rebound, but limiting which teams he’ll sign with hurts his chances of sticking around for the long term.

Debut: 1999
Age: 37
The fact that Buddy Carlyle is on this list at all is hilarious. Coming in to 2014, he hadn’t pitched at the Major League level since 2011. He had 253.1 innings, a 5.58 ERA, and a K/BB ratio below 2. And then, he came out of nowhere to post a 1.45 ERA in 31 innings. I’d like to see if this is a permanent reinvention or a one year fluke. If it’s a fluke, he stands no chance. If he’s for real though? He’s one of our youngest competitors, and bullpen guys can sometimes hang on for a while (see: LaTroy Hawkins).

Kyle Farnsorth
Debut: 1999
Age: 39
Farnsworth couldn’t even stick in the two worst bullpens in the majors last season (the Mets and Astros). It’s been an impressive road for the former 47th round pick, but this is probably the end of it. If not, it’s pretty close.

Debut: 1999
Age: 40
McDonald has long been a backup infielder, and he hasn’t hit over .200 in two seasons. His defense, long his selling point, has slipped from its peak, and will probably only get worse as he gets older. I don’t know if I’d even count on him making it to 2015.

Debut: 1999
Age: 40
Molina has been surviving off his pitch framing for a while already, but it’s hard to see any team giving him a shot at starting after he hit .178/.230/.187 last year in 80 games. At best, his pitch framing offsets his bat at this point. He’s probably already done.

Debut: 1999
Age: 40
Another 2013 All-Star who regressed hard in 2014. Nathan is signed through this season at least, and will definitely be given a chance to hold on to his role as closer at the very least. Plus, if he does bounce back, he has a 2016 option. Plus he’s a relievr, so he’s going to be throwing fewer innings, there’s less of an injury risk, and so on. It could happen, but if 2014 is the new normal, Nathan stands no chance.

Debut: 1999
Age: 38
A rather disappointing end to out list. After missing all of 2013, Wolf threw just under 113 innings in 2014 between the Marlins’ rotation and the AAA rotations of the Marlins, Orioles, and Angels. He wasn’t particularly impressive in any stint. I don’t know that I would bet on him making it until the end of 2015, let alone beyond that.


So, with all that out of the way, what’s the conclusion? I’d say that the title of “Last Player from the 1990s” is currently Adrian Beltre’s to lose. Carlos Beltran and David Ortiz are neck-and-neck for second. Aramis Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez are outside chances. A.J. Burnett is unlikely, but a reasonable dark horse choice. And if you have extra money you want to blow on an unlikely longshot with a huge payout, Pierzynski, Carlyle, or Nathan are your choices. Outside of them, though, we’re looking at a rapidly approaching end of an era.

2 comments:

  1. Hard to believe there were still 2 players left from the 80s (Vizquel and Moyer) not that long ago! I think it's safe to say nobody on this list is likely to make it into a 25th season.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Use your football knowledge and skills to win huge cash prizes with the newest free football game, The Last Player Standing. To play pick a winning team from the weekly fixtures from Barclays Premier League, Championship and other worldwide football leagues and get through to the next round, download The Last Player Standing App free today and start to win instant real money prizes.

    ReplyDelete