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Even at 38 years old, David Ortiz is still among MLB’s most feared hitters
Everyone knows that Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and others are the future of baseball, but that doesn’t mean three aren’t any All-Star-caliber “old” guys still getting the job done on the diamond. Even with Mariano Rivera retired, one could put together a pretty competitive team of MLB players who are at least 35 years old.
Here is Athlon Sports’ list of the top players in the game who are or will be at least 35 years old as of Opening Day (March 31). After all, age is just a number.
Age as of Opening Day (March 31) listed in parentheses
1. David Ortiz, DH/1B, Boston (38)
He doesn’t really need to even bring a glove to the ballpark any more, but as long as Big Papi hits like he did last season, he will head up this list. Ortiz hit .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs for the Red Sox, earning his ninth All-Star invite, sixth Silver Slugger award (at DH) and helping Boston win its third World Series title in 10 seasons. He finished 10th in the AL MVP voting and as long as Ortiz stays healthy, he should have several more productive seasons left in that bat of his.
2. Cliff Lee, P, Philadelphia (35)
One of the best lefties in the game, Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA for the Phillies last season. He struck out as many batters (222) as innings pitched (222 2/3) and earned his fourth All-Star Game invite in the process. He has pitched 200 or more innings in six straight seasons, while compiling a collective ERA of 2.89 during this span. The last time he gave up more hits than innings pitched was in 2009 and he’s issued a total of 163 walks over the past five seasons combined.
3. Carlos Beltran, OF, St. Louis (36)
After two productive seasons in St. Louis, Beltran signed a three-year contract to join the Yankees. A return to the American League and the opportunity to DH on occasion should only help extend Beltran’s career, not that there’s any concern when he’s manning right field either. Beltran’s run production decreased last season compared to 2012, but he still hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 while batting .296 for the NL champion Cardinals.
4. Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees (39)
Granted Jeter played a grand total of 17 games last year and batted a woeful .190 in them, but I’m willing to give the Yankee captain a break due to injuries. Jeter has already announced that this, his 20th season, will be his last in pinstripes and there’s nothing he can do to hurt his Hall of Fame legacy. Don’t forget that two seasons ago, Jeter batted .316 with an MLB-best 216 hits and 99 runs scored, as he finished seventh in the AL MVP voting.
5. Alfonso Soriano, OF, New York Yankees (38)
All Soriano has done the past two seasons is post consecutive 30-100 campaigns, which is pretty good for any player, let alone a guy who is closer to his 40s than 30s. Now in the last year of his much-discussed and equally criticized contract, Soriano appears to be making a push for one more payday, as he hit 17 home runs with 50 RBIs in just 58 games for the Yankees last season after being traded from the Cubs in late July.
Although it probably won’t happen, Soriano is just 12 stolen bases away from posting 2,000 hits, 1,100 runs, 400 home runs and 300 steals in his career. The only others one to accomplish this feat in baseball history are Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.
6. Koji Uehara, P, Boston (38)
Uehara went from a set-up guy to closer after injuries shook up the Red Sox’ bullpen last season. The Japanese reliever thrived in his new role, saving 21 games in the regular season and seven more in October to help his team win the World Series. Uehara was practically unhittable, giving up just 35 knocks in 79 total innings pitched with 104 strikeouts and a total of nine walks. He also didn’t allow a single run in 10 appearances (10 2/3 IP) in the ALCS and World Series combined.
7. Torii Hunter, OF, Detroit (38)
Maybe we should start calling Hunter “Bat-Man” instead of “Spider-Man.” The nine-time Gold Glove recipient has been a hitting machine in recent seasons, including a .304 average for the Tigers in 2013. Still a valuable defender in the outfield, Hunter won his second Silver Slugger award and received his fifth All-Star Game invite in his first season in Detroit. He also eclipsed the 300-home run plateau last season, while scoring 90 runs and driving in 84 for the AL Central champs.
8. Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia (35)
After missing significant parts of each of the previous three seasons due to knee issues and other injuries, Utley rebounded nicely in 2013. Playing in 131 games, his most since 2009, the former perennial All-Star batted .284 with 18 home runs and 69 RBIs. The power (217 career home runs, 298 doubles) is still there, it’s just a matter of Utley being able to stay in the lineup and on the field on a consistent basis.
9. R.A. Dickey, P, Toronto (39)
The 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner’s first season north of the border wasn’t near as successful, but Dickey still won 14 games and a Gold Glove with the Blue Jays. He was more effective after the All-Star break, going 6-3 with a 3.56 ERA in the second half, as the knuckleballer got a little more acclimated to his new league and pitching environments. While he may not get back to his 2012 form, expect Dickey to continue to confound hitters with his array of unpredictable pitches.
10. Joe Nathan, P, Detroit (39)
Nathan has moved on from Texas, where he saved 80 games in two seasons and was an All-Star both times. Now with the Tigers, Nathan should benefit from both Detroit’s offense and the more pitcher-friendly dimensions of Comerica Park, compared to the bandbox that is the newly minted Globe Life Pak in Arlington, Texas. Then again, if Nathan comes close to matching his 1.39 ERA from last season, it won’t matter what stadium he’s pitching in.
11. Michael Cuddyer, 1B/OF, Colorado (35)
Cuddyer will turn 35 a few days before Opening Day, and if last season was any indication, he appears set to age gracefully. The NL batting champion with a .331 average, Cuddyer posted his best numbers in four seasons with 20 home runs, 31 doubles, 84 RBIs, while also contributing 10 stolen bases. He earned his second All-Star Game invite and also won his first Silver Slugger award. Not bad for a guy who was in his 13th season in the majors.
12. Jason Grilli, P, Pittsburgh (37)
Grilli fared quite well in his first shot as a closer, saving 33 games and helping his Pirates get to the postseason for the first time in 20 years. A first-time All-Star, the only negative aspect to his 2013 campaign was a forearm issue that caused him to miss some time. Grilli made it back before the playoffs, however, and was his usual effective self; pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings before Pittsburgh was eliminated by St. Louis in the NLDS.
13. Hiroki Kuroda, P, New York Yankees (39)
Fellow countryman Masahiro Tanaka is getting all of the attention, but all Kuroda has done for the Yankees these past two seasons is take the mound when it’s his turn and keep his team in the game. Even though he went 11-13 last season, Kuroda posted a 3.31 ERA in 201 1/3 innings. He has good control (43 BB, 150 SO) and provided a quality start 19 of the 32 times he got the ball.
14. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee (35)
A knee injury limited Ramirez to just 92 games and sapped his power (12 HR) last season, but when healthy this is still a guy capable of hitting more than 25 homers and driving in 90 runs. He did have surgery in December to remove a non-cancerous polyp from his colon, which will probably result in him missing the first few games of Cactus League action in spring training, but he should be batting cleanup for the Brewers by Opening Day.
15. Victor Martinez, DH, Detroit (35)
After missing all of the 2012 season, Martinez returned to the Tigers’ lineup last year and batted .301 as their primary DH. Still capable enough of filling in behind the plate or at first on occasion, Martinez’ main job is to hit. And as a .303 career hitter who is basically a lock for double-digit home runs and 80-plus RBIs when he plays a full season, it’s a task he has handled very well.
16. A.J. Burnett, P, Philadelphia (37)
His divorce from Pittsburgh may have been messy, but Burnett won’t have to travel far for his new home. More importantly, the hope is that his performance on the mound, which included a career-best 3.30 ERA and 209 strikeouts for the NL Wild Card-winning Pirates, makes the trip from the Steel City to the City of Brotherly Love as well. While the wins may not have been there (10-11 last season), Burnett has been pretty reliable, making at least 30 starts and pitching 186 innings or more in each of the past six seasons.
17. Grant Balfour, P, Tampa Bay (36)
A failed physical negated a potential free-agent deal with Baltimore, so instead Balfour will re-join the Rays’ bullpen. More of a set-up guy his previous stint in Tampa (2007-10), the Australian moved on to Oakland where he eventually ascended to the closer role. A first-time All-Star last season after registering 38 saves for the AL West champs, Balfour has posted an ERA of 2.59 or lower in each of his past four campaigns.
18. Fernando Rodney, P, Seattle (37)
Another closer on the move this offseason, Rodney saved 85 games for Tampa Bay over the last two seasons. An All-Star and Cy Young candidate (finished 5th) in 2012, Rodney saw his ERA jump from 0.60 to 3.38 last season, although it was just 2.45 from June on. Still, with 172 career saves under his belt and nearly as many strikeouts (551) as innings pitched (571 1/3), Rodney should be a reliable late-game option for new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon.
19. A.J. Pierzynski, C, Boston (37)
The notably prickly, yet productive backstop is with his third team in as many seasons, joining the defending World Series champs after one season with Texas, A career .283 hitter, Pierzynski managed a .272 average with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs for the Rangers despite sharing the full-time catching duties. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia now with the Marlins, Pierzynski should get more than his share of at-bats for the Red Sox with Fenway Park (.322 career hitter there) being a nice fit for his left-handed swing.
20. Bronson Arroyo, P, Arizona (37)
There’s nothing flashy about him, but Arroyo is as consistent as they come. During his eight-year run in Cincinnati, Arroyo averaged 13 wins and 211 innings per season and posted a collective 4.05 ERA. He’s not going to strike out a ton of batters, but he’s the kind of reliable, innings-eater that will keep you in ball games more times than not while taking some of the strain off of your bullpen. All of these are reasons why the Diamondbacks signed the veteran to a two-year contract (with team option in 2016) in February rather than inking or trading for a younger arm.
Best of the rest (alphabetical order)
Marlon Byrd, OF, Philadelphia (36)
Byrd smashed a career-high 24 home runs and batted .291 while playing for both the Mets and Pirates last season. The free agent parlayed that success into a two-year deal (with vesting option in 2016) with the Phillies this offseason.
Bartolo Colon, P, New York Mets (40)
The seemingly ageless veteran won 18 games for Oakland last season, finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young voting. Now he returns to the NL for the first time since 2002, as Colon will try to help the Mets overcome the absence of Matt Harvey (Tommy John surgery) in their starting rotation this season.
John Lackey, P, Boston (35)
Lackey won 10 games in the regular season and three more in the playoffs for the World Series champs in 2013, his first year back after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Now the veteran will look to extend his run of double-digit-win seasons to 11 in a row.
Kyle Lohse, P, Milwaukee (35)
A late free-agent signee last March, Lohse ended up being one of the Brewers’ most consistent starters in 2013. He won 11 games, while posting a 3.35 ERA with fewer hits allowed (196) than innings pitched while giving up just 36 walks.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia (35)
His MVP days are long past him, but Rollins is still getting the job done at the plate (36 2B, 22 SB in 2013) and with the glove (just 11 errors) as the Phillies’ leadoff hitter and shortstop.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, New York Yankees (40)
Suzuki (above, right) needs just 258 hits to reach the 3,000 plateau in his Hall of Fame career, but he may be hard-pressed to get there. With the additions of the aforementioned Beltran and Ellsbury, along with the presence of Soriano and Brett Gardner, Suzuki is probably relegated to fifth outfielder status this season.
Josh Willingham, OF, Minnesota (35)
Knee surgery pretty much defined Willingham’s 2013 campaign, as he hit just 14 home runs and batted .208 in 389 at-bats. Before that, however, Willingham averaged 32 home runs the previous two seasons and, if healthy, should be able to produce around 30 in 2014.