Staying with one team for an entire career is incredibly difficult, and one doesn’t have to look past the Hall of Fame for proof.
Last year, Yankees icon Derek Jeter became the 55th single-team Hall of Fame player, a group that makes up less than one-quarter of the player contingent enshrined in Cooperstown. Out of the 22 players elected by the BBWAA over the last eight years, six stayed with just one team across their big league careers. They're all revered in their respective teams' cities: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jeter, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez and Mariano Rivera.
Remaining a one-team player has grown increasingly difficult in this modern era of free agency, arbitration and industry movement toward younger talent. With that in mind, here are the 10 longest-tenured active players who have spent their entire Major League careers with just one team.
Players are listed in descending order of seniority, and we're only looking from a player’s MLB debut date onward -- regardless of whether they were traded before entering the Majors.
1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals *
Debut: June 3, 2004
Molina is a St. Louis icon, and it’s extremely hard to imagine Molina in any other uniform. Molina has represented the Cardinals at nine All-Star Games and in 11 postseason runs, captured nine Gold Glove Awards and four Platinum Gloves and helped the Redbirds claim four National League pennants and two World Series rings in 2006 and '11. (Molina batted a combined .366 in those Fall Classic triumphs.)
Molina has, incredibly, started 1,923 games behind the plate -- nearly every single game he's started in 17 big league seasons has been at catcher. Yadi ended 2020 in third place on the Cardinals' all-time games played list, passing none other than Ozzie Smith during the season.
*Molina is currently a free agent, but is widely expected to re-sign with the Cardinals
2. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
Debut: Sept. 1, 2005
"Mr. National" was the franchise's first Draft pick in 2005 after the Expos moved to Washington, and he was fittingly still a contributor to the Nationals' first World Series title in Year 15. He'll be back again in 2021 for a 16th season with the Nats after sitting out 2020.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo speculated that Zimmerman will get a statue at Nationals Park someday, and maybe it will evoke Zimmerman's home run off Gerrit Cole that helped give Washington its first World Series crown. It will be years before Juan Soto has a shot at knocking Zimmerman off the top of any of the Nats' major all-time lists.
3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Debut: Sept. 11, 2005
Wainwright debuted for St. Louis just one year after Molina, and within 13 months he had thrown one of the franchise’s most famous pitches: the signature curveball that froze Mets slugger Carlos Beltrán and sealed the Cardinals' 2006 NL pennant. Wainwright morphed from a shutdown reliever to a workhorse ace, earning four top-three finishes in NL Cy Young Award voting in a six-year span from 2009-14.
Wainwright has also defied the odds on several occasions, bouncing back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2011 and returning again after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in '15. He turned back the clock in 2019 and '20, winning 19 total games with a 3.91 ERA and pitching admirably in October. Waino is officially back for one more ride in 2021, and if Molina joins him, there's the possibility they could retire together as Cardinals.
4. Ryan Braun, Brewers *
Debut: May 25, 2007
Braun is a free agent for the first time since the Brewers drafted him over 15 years ago in 2005, and he might end up retiring -- but as of today he's still only played with Milwaukee, and he could still return in 2021. A California native and University of Miami grad, Braun has made himself a very comfortable home in the upper Midwest, residing at or near the top of nearly every Brewers career offensive leaderboard. Braun's Milwaukee tenure started off with a bang as he captured the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Award, signed an eight-year, $45 million extension soon afterward and went on to win the '11 NL MVP Award. He still has pop in his bat, reaching the 20-homer mark four times in five seasons from 2015-19 and hitting eight homers in 39 games in '20.
*Braun is currently a free agent but could still return to the Brewers
5. Joey Votto, Reds
Debut: Sept. 4, 2007
Votto will probably keep climbing this list, since his contract keeps him in Cincinnati through at least 2023. One of the best on-base machines of his generation, Votto had nine .400-plus OBP seasons in a 10-year span beginning in 2009, the year before he captured the NL MVP Award and led the Reds into the postseason. Votto returned to the playoffs for the first time in seven years in 2020, and the 37-year-old will be extra motivated in '21 after a couple of down seasons at the plate by his own lofty standards.
6. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Debut: May 25, 2008
Kershaw began as the consensus top high school pitcher in America and debuted in the Majors with a curveball that quickly earned the nickname "Public Enemy No. 1" from legendary broadcaster Vin Scully. What followed was a résumé that made Kershaw the most decorated pitcher of his era: five NL ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards, a pitching Triple Crown in 2011 and the ‘14 NL MVP Award. Kershaw's career 2.43 ERA entering 2021 is the lowest of any starter in the Live Ball Era (aka the last 100 years).
But the best part is: after 13 years in a Dodgers uniform, Kershaw finally won that elusive first World Series title. Not only that, he and Los Angeles are the favorites to repeat in 2021.
7. Brett Gardner, Yankees *
Debut: June 30, 2008
Gardner was surrounded by big-name veterans -- from Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu to Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi -- when he debuted in the Yankees' leadoff spot 13 years ago. But he's been the grizzled vet himself for several years now as the "Baby Bombers" around him matured into full-fledged stars. While Gardner's leadership is big for the Yankees, he’s also done his part to keep himself a viable lineup option, tallying career bests with 28 homers, 74 RBIs and an .829 OPS in 2019 and continuing to contribute for another playoff run in '20. If he can stick around for a little while longer, Gardner could become the 11th player to finish a 15-plus year career spent entirely in a Yankees uniform.
*Gardner is currently a free agent but appears likely to re-sign with the Yankees
8. Buster Posey, Giants
Debut: Sept. 11, 2009
The Giants' longtime star behind the plate will be back on the field in 2021 after sitting out the '20 season. It's Posey's 12th year as a Giant, and the last year of the nine-year, $167 million extension he signed back in 2013 (though the Giants have a club option for Posey for 2022). Posey might eventually pass the catcher torch to Joey Bart in San Francisco, but he's still the team leader. The 33-year-old is a six-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion with the Giants, as well as the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year and the 2012 NL MVP.
9. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Debut: June 8, 2010
Strasburg's debut was one of the most hyped and memorable in recent history -- and since that day over 10 years ago, when he struck out 14 in front of an electric crowd at Nationals Park, the 2009 No. 1 overall Draft pick hasn't pitched a game for any other franchise. Stras is set up to be in a Nationals uniform for a long time, too, after re-signing with Washington on a seven-year, $245 million deal before the 2020 season. That's how it should be -- Strasburg is beloved by Nationals fans after earning World Series MVP honors for the franchise's first championship in 2019.
10. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Debut: July 24, 2010
Like his longtime teammate Kershaw, Jansen finally won his first World Series ring in 2020. Over his many years as Dodgers closer, Jansen was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, with six consecutive 30-save seasons from 2014-19. He also reached the 40-save mark twice during that run, including leading the NL with 41 saves in 2017. Jansen is a three-time All-Star and two-time Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year with L.A. His time in Los Angeles could come to an end soon, as he's slated to become a free agent after the 2021 season, but even if he leaves, his 12 years as a Dodger are a great run.
NEXT IN LINE
Freddie Freeman, Braves (Debut: Sept. 1, 2010)
Note: Dustin Pedroia (retired), Alex Gordon (retired) and Elvis Andrus (traded) all exited the Top 10 of this list after the 2020 season