A baseball player’s best years are widely believed to come between the ages of 26-32. That doesn’t mean, however, that a player can’t be productive if they fall on either side of that range. This is especially the case when you look at some of MLB’s top young stars, starting with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
But as the saying goes, “respect your elders,” and there are still plenty of grizzled old veterans having an impact on the diamond. Here is a list of the top 15 players who were 35 or older on Opening Day. Notice it’s headlined by one of the greatest pitchers to ever take the mound.
Age as of Opening Day (April 1) listed in parentheses
1. Mariano Rivera, P, New York Yankees (43)
Many believed we had seen the last of baseball’s career saves leader following the freak injury in which he tore his ACL last May. The future, first-ballot Hall of Fame closer had other ideas, however, as not only was he ready to go on Opening Day, he went right back to dominating opposing hitters.
Rivera is 19-for-20 in save opportunities thus far, giving him the most in the AL and trailing only Pittsburgh’s Jason Grilli (see below) for the major-league lead. Rivera has allowed just four earned runs in 20 1/3 innings (1.77 ERA) and just two walks to go along with 17 strikeouts. The career Yankee has already said this, his 19th season, will be his last one. When he does retire the only question left to answer is where does he rank among the greatest pitchers of all-time?
2. Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees (38)
Yes, the Yankee captain has yet to play a game this season, but last season he led the majors in hits, as he batted .316 and finished seventh in the AL MVP voting. Jeter’s Hall of Fame legacy is secure, and one of things he will be remembered for when he’s done playing is his remarkable consistency throughout his 19-year career.
3. Carlos Beltran, OF, St. Louis (35)
Beltran turned 36 in late April and has been a consistent heart-of-the-order run producer since 2011. Injuries dogged the talented Puerto Rican, switch-hitting outfielder in 2009 and ’10, but he averaged 27 home runs and 91 RBIs over this last two seasons. Through his first 51 games this season, Beltran is hitting .300 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs.
4. David Ortiz, DH/1B, Boston (37)
Even though Big Papi is primarily a DH these days, injuries have been an issue for him the past several seasons. When he is in the lineup, however, he remains one of baseball’s best hitters. He batted .318 in 90 games last season, producing 23 home runs and 60 RBIs in less than 300 at-bats. After starting 2013 on the DL, Ortiz has returned and is hitting .333 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs in 144 at-bats so far.
5. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Chicago Cubs (37)
Known more for his contract, which expires following the 2014 season, Soriano proved many doubters wrong last season when he posted a .262-32-108 line. He’s added six more home runs to his career totals already this season and still has a strong chance of joining both the 2,000-hit (currently has 1,948) and 400-home run clubs (378) before his playing days are over. He’s already eclipsed 1,000 runs, 400 doubles, 1,000 RBIs and 250 stolen bases in his 15-year career.
6. Torii Hunter, OF, Detroit (37)
It’s hard to believe that Hunter, the Gold Glove-winning center fielder known as “Spider-Man” made his debut with Minnesota way back in 1997. Sixteen seasons later, Hunter is still getting the job done with his glove and bat. He posted a career-high .313 batting average with the Angels last season and is currently at .312 this season with the Tigers. Not necessarily known as a power-hitter, Hunter needs just one more home run for 300 in his career.
7. Hiroki Kuroda, P, New York Yankees (38)
Kuroda didn’t come over to pitch in the states until he was 33, but has been an effective hurler since then. Unlike many pitchers, the righthander has actually gotten better since switching from the National to American League. In his first season with the Yankees, Kuroda posted career highs in wins (16), innings (219 2/3) and strikeouts (167) with a tidy 3.32 ERA. So far this season, he’s 6-4 with an even tidier 2.59 ERA through his first 12 starts.
8. Marco Scutaro, 2B, San Francisco (37)
There must be something in the San Francisco air because all Scutaro has done since getting traded to the Giants last July is hit like a man possessed. Before last season his highest batting average in any one campaign had been .299, which he accomplished in 2011 with Boston. After starting 2012 with Colorado, Scutaro joined the Giants for the postseason push and proceeded to hit .362 in 61 games.
He continued his torrid hitting in the postseason, batting .500 (14-for-28) in the NLCS against the St. Louis to capture MVP honors. He has picked things up to start this season, as he led the majors with a .420 average in May (42-for-100, 10 BB, 3 SO) and also put together a 19-game hitting streak from April 29-May 21.
9. Jason Grilli, P, Pittsburgh (36)
A relative unknown commodity prior to this season, Grilli has emerged as one of the best closers in baseball. He leads the majors with 22 saves and has given up just 12 hits in 24 2/3 innings along with 38 strikeouts. Pretty good for someone who didn’t have an ERA lower than 3.00 in eight major league seasons before landing with the Pirates in 2011.
10. Tim Hudson, P, Atlanta (37)
A 20-game winner with Oakland back in 2000, Hudson is still going strong more than a decade later. Over the past three seasons with Atlanta, Hudson averaged 16 wins and 207 innings pitched while posting a 3.19 ERA. He recorded his 200th win (and third career home run) on April 30 against Washington and has won 65 percent of his decisions (201-108) over his 15-year career.
11. Joe Nathan, P, Texas (38)
A dominant closer with Minnesota from 2004-09, during which he racked up 260 saves, Nathan missed all of '10 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He signed as a free agent with Texas prior to the 2012 season and saved 37 games and was named to the AL All-Star team. He’s 17-for-18 so far in save opportunities this season with a 2.01 ERA and just two home runs allowed in 22 1/3 innings.
12. Ryan Dempster, P, Boston (35)
The native Canadian turned 36 on May 3 and has won 126 games and saved 87 in his 16-year career. After pitching for the Cubs the past nine seasons, Dempster was traded to Texas last July and went 7-3 in 12 starts for the Rangers. Over the winter he signed with Boston as a free agent and the righthander is 2-6 with a 4.45 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings so far this season.
13. Lance Berkman, 1B/DH, Texas (37)
One of the NL’s most productive hitters during his years in Houston (1999-2010), Berkman has continued to produce with the bat when injuries haven’t kept him out of the lineup. He hit 31 home runs and drove in 94 for St. Louis in 2011, but was limited to just 32 games last season because of a torn meniscus and other issues related to his right knee. He signed with Texas as a free agent in January to be the Rangers’ primary DH. He’s hitting .287 so far with four home runs and 28 RBis for the AL West leaders.
14. Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox (37)
Second only to Frank Thomas in White Sox history in home runs (419) and RBIs (1,324), Konerko has been one of the AL’s most consistent run producers for over a decade. He averaged 33 home runs and 97 RBIs from 2009-11 and hit 26 dingers last season. He’s struggled at the plate (.240-5-21) to start 2013, but there’s no disputing his overall body of work over 17 major-league seasons.
15. Michael Young, 2B/3B, Philadelphia (36)
Following 13 seasons, 1,823 games and 2,230 hits in a Texas uniform, Young was traded to the Phillies over the winter. A career .300 hitter, Young is batting .258 so far for his new team and is just five RBIs away from 1,000.
Best of the Rest(alphabetical order)
Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, Seattle (40)
Left-handed slugger has hit 280 career home runs for Mariners, Phillies, Royals and Yankees.
Andy Pettitte, P, New York Yankees (40)
Lefty workhorse is scheduled to come off of the DL (strained left trapezius) to pitch against Cleveland on Monday night in hopes of earning career win No. 250.
Fernando Rodney, P, Tampa Bay (36)
Rodney was lights out (0.60 ERA, 48 saves) as the Rays’ closer last season, but has stumbled out of the gates (4.94 ERA, 5 blown saves already) to start 2013.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees (37)
Still recovering from offseason hip surgery, seems like a long shot for 700 home runs (647 in his career), let alone challenging Barry Bonds for the all-time mark.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, New York Yankees (39)
Hit machine (1,278 in Japan, 2,652 in U.S.) not getting on base near as much as he used to. Getting 3,000 hits in his MLB career is probably not going to happen, but when he does retire, he will have a strong case for Cooperstown (.321 career average, 1,221 runs, 2,652 hits, 457 stolen bases to this point).
Koji Uehara, P, Boston (37)
Japanese reliever turned 38 two days after Opening Day and has collected 45 holds going back to 2010 season with Baltimore. Now with the Red Sox, Uehara has 10 holds and a save so far with a 2.05 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.
Jose Valverde, P, Detroit (35)
Papa Grande is just 17 saves shy of 300 in his career and, provided he keeps the closer’s job with the Tigers, he should have a good shot of reaching that milestone this season. He has saved 44 or more games in a single season already for the Tigers, Diamondbacks and Astros and his career ERA currently sits at 3.12.