A last hurrah for these 1-team players?

September 20th, 2021

Some player-team relationships have endured long enough that it’s difficult to imagine one without the other. But for a number of pending free agents, that separation could soon become a reality, whether they put on a new uniform for the first time in 2022 or simply call it a career.

Time isn’t up just yet, though. These last couple weeks of the regular season -- and in some cases the postseason ahead -- offer an opportunity to appreciate these pairings while they remain intact.

Is this actually the last hurrah? Only time will tell, but for now, here are 10 veterans who have only played for one MLB team and now are in the final guaranteed year of their contracts. They are listed in descending order of tenure.

, SP, Cardinals
16th season with STL
It seemed as though Wainwright’s St. Louis tenure might end when he was a free agent following the 2018, ‘19 and ‘20 seasons. Each time, he re-signed for another go-around. Those decisions have been fruitful for both sides, with Wainwright working back from injury and underperformance to once again become the team’s most dependable starter over the past three seasons. In fact, the 40-year-old is pitching like an ace again. He also said recently he plans to keep going in 2022. There’s little reason to think he won’t do so in St. Louis, alongside the already-signed Yadier Molina.

, 1B, Nationals
16th season with WSH
With the exception of 2020, when Zimmerman opted out due to the pandemic, the Nationals have not played a season without him since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005. In fact, Zimmerman is now the Nats/Expos franchise’s all-time leader in games, plate appearances, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, RBIs and runs scored. He also will turn 37 on Sept. 28 and now occupies a bench role, although his bat retains significant pop. Zimmerman said last month in a radio interview that he was unsure about playing in 2022, so consider this potentially the end of an era in D.C.

, SP, Dodgers
14th season with LAD
Kershaw has been a Dodger since signing soon after the team made him the seventh pick in the 2006 Draft. A seven-year extension signed in 2014 and a new three-year deal agreed to after Kershaw opted out following the ‘18 campaign have kept them together. Now, free agency beckons again. It’s a situation potentially complicated by Kershaw’s injury history (including this year’s elbow issue) and the Dodgers’ star-studded free agent crop that could force some tough decisions. Then again, if both parties are committed to Kershaw wearing Dodger Blue until he enters Cooperstown, maybe it’s not complicated at all.

, OF, Yankees
14th season with NYY
The remaining link to the Yankees’ last World Series title (2009), Gardner just keeps plugging away. The 38-year-old looked like he had finally hit a wall early this season, but he’s been quite productive since then. The Gardy Party has remained in the Bronx on one-year contracts in both of the past two offseasons, and the current deal includes both a player option and team option, so it’s possible the veteran doesn’t return to free agency at all. Even if he does, would he really wear anything but pinstripes in 2022?

, 1B, Braves
12th season with ATL
The last time Freeman wasn’t the Braves’ Opening Day first baseman was 2010, when Troy Glaus filled that role. It feels almost inconceivable that the streak would end in 2022, but then again, Freeman and Atlanta have yet to agree to an extension, making free agency seem like a real possibility. The 2020 NL MVP, who just turned 32, remains a consistently stellar performer and appears poised to post an OPS+ above 130 for the ninth year in a row. Other suitors would no doubt line up if Freeman hits the open market, but it would be a shock if the Braves don’t ultimately make it work.

, RP, Dodgers
12th season with LAD
The last time Jansen was a free agent, after the 2016 season, the Dodgers brought him back on a five-year, $80 million deal. The righty responded with his best season in 2017, and while his dominance has waned since, he remains a highly effective closer who is approaching 350 career saves. Yet a 34-year-old reliever may not be among the Dodgers’ top priorities during a hectic offseason. Therefore, a player the Dodgers first signed as a 17-year-old catcher out of Curacao in 2004 could be closing elsewhere in ‘22.

, C, Giants
12th season with SF
The Giants got a taste of life without Posey when he opted out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, and the 34-year-old’s resurgent 2021 campaign suggests that the time off worked wonders. Before this season, Posey’s $22 million club option for 2022 seemed certain to be declined, but an OPS near .900 changes the dynamic. Even with prospect Joey Bart looming, San Francisco seems likely to either exercise the option or ink Posey to an extension, as the club recently did for shortstop Brandon Crawford.

, 1B, Giants
11th season with SF
Will San Francisco keep the whole band together? Crawford is staying. Posey seems likely to join him. Belt might be less certain, because first base is an easier spot to fill than shortstop or catcher. Of course, on a rate basis, Belt also has been a top-10 hitter since the start of the 2020 season, so even at age 33, there’s plenty of reason to keep him around. By the end of 2021, Belt will have played more games as a San Francisco Giants first baseman than anyone except Willie McCovey and J.T. Snow, so if he is in a new uniform in ‘22, it will be a strange sight.

, 3B, Mariners
11th season with SEA
This is shaping up to be a tough decision for Seattle, which holds a $20 million club option on Seager for 2022. (That option was for $15 million but recently escalated to $20 million based on plate appearances, according to The Seattle Times. That is likely to come with a $2 million buyout.) Seager has been in the organization since he was drafted in 2009, has been in Seattle since 2011 and now has played more career games as a Mariner than anyone not named Edgar, Ichiro or Griffey. He also is the team’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee and has hit a career-high 34 homers for a club that’s this close to snapping MLB’s longest postseason drought. Yet as a 33-year-old with a sub-.300 OBP, it doesn’t seem certain that Seager’s Seattle tenure will continue past this season.

, INF, Cardinals
11th season with STL
There’s no suspense about Carpenter’s $18.5 million option for 2022. The Cardinals are a lock to decline that, considering the precipitous fall in his production since his top-10 NL MVP finish in 2018. Now relegated to bench duty as the club pursues another postseason berth, the 35-year-old recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he wants to continue playing, but it remains to be seen what sorts of opportunities will be available. Either way, Carpenter’s St. Louis legacy is secure, as a 13th-round pick who developed into a three-time All-Star.

The younger crowd
While they haven’t been around for as long as those above, there are a number of other prominent players who are set to reach free agency at season’s end after spending their entire MLB careers, to this point, with just one team. Here are nine more players who could be wrapping up their tenures over the next month or so.

(7th season with A’s)
(7th season with Astros)
(7th season with Mets)
(7th season with Rockies)
(7th season with White Sox)
(6th season with Red Sox)
(7th season with Dodgers)
(6th season with Rockies)
(7th season with Mets -- if he returns from IL)