Witnessing epic last hurrahs for 13 players

September 27th, 2019

With free agency or retirement looming as the offseason approaches, some longtime player-team pairings might be nearing their end.

But 2019 isn’t quite over yet. There is one more weekend of the regular season, and for some, the big stage of October. There is still time to create more memorable moments in their current uniform -- perhaps even in the World Series.

The following list of 13 players focuses on those who have played for only one Major League team, but it’s worth noting that some other long-tenured players also could be moving on soon. Most notably, Yankees lefty CC Sabathia is retiring after his 19th season in the Majors and 11th in the Bronx.

Also left out are some players who could reach free agency this offseason but appear far from certain to do so, including the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus (opt-out), the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen (opt-out), the Indians’ Corey Kluber (club option), the Pirates’ Starling Marte (club option), the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (opt-out), and the Braves’ Julio Teheran (club option).

Here are 13 more in the final guaranteed year of their contracts who might soon be saying farewell. They are listed in descending order of career WAR, per Baseball Reference.

Félix Hernández, RHP, Mariners
Hernández's Seattle farewell came Thursday night. It was an emotional event, as the franchise icon made his 418th and likely final Mariners start, pitching against the A's at T-Mobile Park as the King's Court rooting section showered him with affection. It was a nice moment at the end of a difficult few years for the six-time All-Star and 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, who signed with the Mariners as a 16-year-old in 2002, debuted while still a teenager and became King Félix. Hernández said he wants to play in 2020, but if he does, it probably won't be with the only big league organization he's ever known.

Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees
The stars have come and gone over the years, while Gardner stays. A 2005 Draft pick, Gardner has combined on-base ability with sneaky pop, excellent baserunning and strong defense. The club brought him back for a 12th season in 2019 and has reaped the rewards in terms of production and valued leadership. Gardner recently told the New York Post that he expects to play in 2020 and hopes it’s with the Yankees. He certainly could put off his farewell for at least one more year, even if teammates Sabathia and Dellin Betances depart.

Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals
It was 13 years and more than 300 starts ago that, as a young closer, Wainwright recorded the final outs of all three playoff rounds of the Cardinals’ championship run. It seemed like his last hurrah was coming at this time a year ago, but he felt good enough last September to want to return. St. Louis brought him back on a one-year deal, and Wainwright has been a solid rotation piece in 2019. His final regular season start is set for Saturday against the Cubs, and with the Cardinals headed back to the postseason, Wainwright could get another shot to add to his October legacy.

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Nationals
He’s been a National almost as long as the Nationals have been a team. After years of losing, the Nats have emerged as contenders in the second half of Zimmerman’s career, while at the same time, persistent injuries forced him to move across the diamond from third base, and ate into his playing time and All-Star production. As a result, Washington almost certainly won’t exercise the 34-year-old’s $18 million option for 2020. However, Zimmerman recently told MLB.com’s Bill Ladson that he would be willing to stay in D.C. “for a lot less money,” which could increase the chances of a continued partnership.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
After much speculation, the Giants held on to Bumgarner at the July 31 Trade Deadline, in deference to rising postseason odds that soon slipped away. Now he may opt to test the open market coming off what has been a stellar season, following a pair of injury-shortened campaigns. But first comes at least one more start at Oracle Park, on Sunday against the rival Dodgers. Even if Bumgarner departs after that, his legacy in San Francisco is secure. Some all-time great postseason performances on the way to three championships guaranteed that.

Alex Gordon, OF, Royals
While the Royals’ 2015 championship roster has broken apart over the past four years, Gordon re-signed with the club on a four-year deal ahead of the 2016 season. That contract is about to expire, pending a $23 million mutual option for ‘20. Even assuming that isn’t exercised, Royals fans may not have to see Gordon play anywhere else. Before the Trade Deadline, general manager Dayton Moore said, “I couldn’t imagine Alex Gordon in another uniform.” As for Gordon, whose name is splashed across the franchise's all-time leaderboards, he has not decided whether he wants to play next season.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
Barring a last-minute contract extension, it looks like he will be one of the most highly coveted free agents this season. A first-round pick by Washington in 2011, Rendon reached the Majors quickly and has developed into a top-10 position player over the past three years. He’s never gotten, or wanted, the attention that Bryce Harper and others have received, but Rendon will have a chance to push the Nats to their first postseason series victory before hitting the open market.

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians
The 2009 second-round pick and two-time All-Star has been a part of four playoff teams in Cleveland, but his chance to participate in a fifth Indians postseason run came to a premature end earlier this month, when he sustained a fractured hamate bone. The club appears unlikely to exercise Kipnis' $16.5 million club option for 2020, and if his Cleveland tenure wraps up after nine seasons, he said, "It'll be hard to part ways."

Jose Abreu, 1B/DH, White Sox
The Cuba native signed with Chicago prior to the 2014 season and immediately produced one of the greatest offensive seasons by a rookie in baseball history. He’s been stationed in the heart of the Sox lineup ever since, but will he continue to be a part of a rebuilding roster that has taken some strides in 2019? White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf reportedly has assured Abreu that he will, so it appears the South Side may not have to say goodbye to the slugger just yet.

Kole Calhoun, OF, Angels
He has been providing solid production in Mike Trout’s shadow for most of Trout’s career, including 33 home runs this year, but now the question is whether the Angels’ next five-tool outfield prospect will displace him. Jo Adell is MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 overall prospect, and has reached Triple-A this summer at age 20. With Trout now a Halo for the long haul and Justin Upton also signed through 2022, the club could turn its third outfield spot over to Adell rather than pick up Calhoun’s $14 million option for next season.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Dodgers
Los Angeles landed Ryu from South Korea before the 2013 season, and the 32-year-old has been highly effective when healthy over the years. That’s certainly been true in 2019. Last offseason, Ryu accepted a one-year qualifying offer from L.A., rather than test free agency. That won’t be an option this time around, although the two sides still could work out a deal. First, Ryu will start Saturday against the Giants and then prepare to take the ball at some point in the NL Division Series.

Zack Wheeler, RHP, Mets
Originally a Giants prospect, Wheeler was acquired for Carlos Beltran in 2011, and in recent years, he has teamed with the likes of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in the Mets’ talented rotation. Unfortunately for Wheeler, Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the team’s 2015 run to the World Series. Wheeler should draw plenty of interest as a free agent this winter, making his potential future in Queens murky following his final start of the season on Thursday.

Kyle Gibson, RHP, Twins
Things have not always gone smoothly for the 2009 first-round pick. Yet Gibson has made more starts for the Twins than all but six pitchers since the franchise moved to Minnesota, including at least 25 in each of the past six seasons. Now in his contract year, he's had to battle ulcerative colitis, which may lead to Gibson's first trip to the postseason being in a bullpen role.