When you watch baseball every year, as surely everybody reading this does, you start to learn a little about every player. They become familiar to you, regular background presences in your life, names that don’t affect your daily life but keep coming up all the time, regardless. You can’t help but feel fondness toward them after a while, and why not? I bet you’ve thought more about Aníbal Sánchez over the last decade than you have several cousins.
And, more to the point: You’d be sad if they were gone.
Today, we take a look at seven players who remain, at press time, unsigned, but have become familiar sights every baseball season. Some will end up signing, maybe most of them, but we’re three weeks away from the start of the 2021 season, and they’re not with a team yet. It would be a shame if they didn’t sign and we didn’t get to see them again. They are, in a way, our friends. Here’s an appreciation of seven guys still out there, guys we’re not ready to say goodbye to yet. They are listed in alphabetical order by last name, and ages listed are as of Opening Day.
(Note: This list was going to have eight names, but then Nick Markakis retired on Friday.)
1. Matt Adams, 1B (age 32)
Always an underappreciated bat, Adams was basically the replacement for Allen Craig in St. Louis, who was the replacement for Albert Pujols. Adams played for Washington and Atlanta, but he’ll always be known for his time in St. Louis, including his dramatic weight loss before the 2017 season that rendered him almost unrecognizable. He also may have hit the second-most thrilling Busch Stadium home run of the past 10 years, off Clayton Kershaw no less.
2. Yoenis Céspedes, OF (age 35)
This can’t really be it for him, can it? He has played only eight games since 2018, and was last an All-Star in 2016, but the baseball world would just feel a little bit more empty if Céspedes didn’t end up playing somewhere, wouldn’t it? He looked good at a showcase last week, and odds are someone gives him a shot. They better, because I am not ready to write an obit on Yoenis Céspedes’ career and I don’t think anyone else is either.
3. Edwin Encarnación, 1B (age 38)
It made a ton of sense for the White Sox to bring in Encarnación to serve as DH last year, a veteran around all those young sluggers, but the bet didn’t pay off: He had the worst offensive year of his entire career. (He hit .157!) He turned 38 shortly after the new year, and if there were a universal DH, you could see a team maybe taking a chance on him. But now that it’s back to only being in the AL, and following his difficult year, there’s reason to wonder if this is it. (He is certainly wondering himself.) But he did have 34 homers just two years ago. Plus, who wants to say goodbye to the parrot?
4. Matt Kemp, OF (age 36)
Kemp was, sort of amazingly, voted into the All-Star Game in 2018 (his first ASG in six years), but he struggled in 20 games in Cincinnati in 2019 and 43 in Colorado last year. He looks like he is done … but to be honest, he has kind of looked done several times in his career and keeps coming back regardless. I’m still not sure he shouldn’t have won the MVP over Ryan Braun in 2011. (He certainly thinks so.)
5. Jeff Samardzija, RHP (age 36)
His Giants contract finally ran out last year, and while it probably didn’t go like Giants fans hoped it would, he wasn’t all bad: 653 2/3 innings of 4.24 ERA pitching over five years is hardly explosive, but there have been a lot worse deals. Unfortunately for him, he was rocked in his four 2020 starts, but he was perfectly fine in 2019. The Orioles or the Angels wouldn’t take a flyer on this guy? Heck, he can even beat UCLA!
6. Aníbal Sánchez, RHP (age 37)
Ah, yes, the aforementioned Sánchez. He is forever one of those pitchers you don’t notice at all until he has just thrown 175 innings for your team. From 2010-19, he made fewer than 25 appearances only once. He was fantastic for Detroit in 2013, lousy from 2015-17, then excellent for Atlanta in 2018 and a key part of a World Series-winning team in Washington in 2019. It didn’t go well for him in Washington last year, but nothing went well for anyone in Washington last year. He’s 37 and his agent says he has “rejected multiple offers” and is waiting to see how COVID-19 protocols work out. I’m not sure precisely what that means, but Sánchez has been a much bigger part of baseball over the last decade than almost anyone has noticed. Also, he threw a no-hitter … 15 years ago!
7. Matt Wieters, C (age 34)
You kids out there might not remember this, but Wieters was once considered a once-in-a-generation prospect. After dominating the Minors in 2008 (.355/.454/.600 slash line with 27 homers), he received a lot of hype. So much so that a website was created. In honor of MattWietersFacts.com, which finally went offline in 2019:
- Matt Wieters Once Framed A Pitch So Perfectly That It Counted As Two Strikes.
- Upon Matt Wieters’ Birth, Baseball-Reference Set His HOF Likeliness To YES.
- Once, Matt Wieters Hit A Home Run That Only Measured 400 Feet, But It Landed In The Year 2078.
- Matt Wieters Is The Reason I Comes Before E, Except After C.
He is also no longer Yadier Molina’s backup catcher after two years at the position. He never became the legend he was supposed to become. But I’m not ready to say goodbye to him either.
I’m not ready to say goodbye to any of them.