Wright, Longoria in line to be rare one-team wonders
With a bright blue Mets jersey covering his dress shirt, David Wright stood at his recent Winter Meetings news conference and was asked if he had considered an alternate future.
"To me, there was no thought of ever putting on another uniform," the six-time All-Star third baseman said.
Now he might not have to. Once scheduled for free agency after the 2013 season, Wright is set to remain in New York through 2020 after inking an eight-year, $138 million extension. The Mets' franchise cornerstone was drafted by the organization at age 18, debuted in the Majors at 21 and will play the final year of the contract at 37.
FACES OF THE FRANCHISE
Players with the most games still with their original teams
Final year of contract
2014 (player option)
2015 (vesting option)
2017 (team option)
2018 (team option)
2018 (vesting option)
2020 (team option)
2018 (team option)
2021 (mutual option)
2021 (team option)
2024 (team option)
2023 (team option)
2018 (team option)
2019 (team/vesting option)
Wright called it, "a dream come true to be able to finish my career where I've started it," and he wasn't the only third baseman to move in that direction this offseason, with the Rays also locking up Evan Longoria. That six-year, $100 million extension comes with a club option that could keep Longoria in Tampa Bay through 2023, his age-37 season.
If either player remains in one uniform for the duration of his playing days, he will be beating the odds. The forces that pull players and teams apart typically are stronger than those holding them together. Loyalty and commitment are nice, but money and opportunity often win out, and the two parties often reach a point where they no longer see eye to eye on at least one of those points.
Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes spent a combined 20 big league seasons with the Cardinals and Mets, respectively. But they both left as free agents last offseason when their original clubs could not or would not match big offers by the Angels and Marlins.
Baseball is a business, and business decisions sometimes dictate an organization moving in a different direction. Sentimentality doesn't help in the standings.
Michael Young has played all 13 of his Major League seasons with the Rangers, claiming franchise records for games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. His 1,823 games are the third most of any active one-team player, behind the Yankees' Derek Jeter and the Rockies' Todd Helton.
But as a 36-year-old with diminishing performance, no clear position and a significant salary, Young no longer fit with Texas, which shipped him to Philadelphia on Dec. 9. Young granted approval for the trade because the Phillies will give him the opportunity to play third base every day. That made Young's decision easy, if only from a baseball perspective.
"What I had with the fans was very special," he said. "I don't take that for granted. They saw every hit, every at-bat, every strikeout, every error. I'm going to miss that."
In the case of James Shields, it wasn't that the Rays wanted to move the franchise leader in starts, innings, wins and strikeouts. But after seven productive seasons with Tampa Bay, Shields became expensive as he neared free agency, and the budget-conscious Rays took the opportunity to flip him and fellow right-hander Wade Davis for prospects still subject to six years of team control.
The Rays have picked their spots carefully, inking Longoria to a lengthy below-market extension shortly after his arrival in the big leagues in 2008, then extending him further this offseason.
"My goal from Day 1 was to be the first player that played their whole career here," Longoria said when the latest deal was announced, "to be the first guy that came into the organization and went out with the organization and played all the years in between as a Ray, so when that opportunity came about, it was exciting."
Many obstacles, such as those now impacting Young, still could arise to stop Longoria (637 career games) or Wright (1,262) from joining history's elite one-teamers. Carl Yastrzemski sits at the top of the list, having played all 3,308 of his games for the Red Sox, and is followed by the Cardinals' Stan Musial (3,026) and the Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr. (3,001). Yankees closer Mariano Rivera leads all pitchers, with 1,051 games, and the Senators' Walter Johnson leads starters with 802.
Ripken and Rivera show how even in the era of free agency, great one-team careers remain feasible. So do Tony Gwynn, Craig Biggio and Chipper Jones, who played his 2,499th and final game for the Braves last season.
When Jones announced his retirement in March, he talked about his admiration for Ripken and Gwynn. A year earlier, Ryan Braun mentioned those two, plus fellow Hall of Famer Robin Yount, in explaining his decision to sign an extension with the Brewers through 2020.
"It's incredible for me to hopefully have an opportunity one day to say, 'I spent my whole career here in Milwaukee,' and it's something I truly want to do," Braun said.
He and Joey Votto, who is signed with the Reds through at least 2023, are two of the young players best set up to follow in those footsteps. It's a practice Ripken is glad to see continuing.
"There are challenges all across the board for players to play in one place; sometimes situations change, sometimes rebuilding programs change, sometimes you can't last," he told MLB.com after Braun signed. "It's really good to see players do it. If a lot of players had their druthers, they would like to play in a place they grew up, but sometimes you don't have choices.
"When you do have choices, and you can start to get your long-term identity with a team, it makes me feel good. I'm sure the fans [in Milwaukee] feel really good that they can watch [Braun] for a while, and you hope the situation is always preserved."