Yadier Molina agreed to a three-year extension with St. Louis this weekend, a deal that just might keep the franchise’s greatest catcher in a Cardinals uniform for his entire career.
It’s a win-win for both sides. Molina is still an All-Star level catcher, both with the glove and with his bat, even though he’s in his Age 35 season. And, sure, he’ll probably be a little overpaid during the latter part of this contract extension — he’ll be 38 at the end of the 2020 season — but it’s not like the Cardinals are hurting for money. And the Cardinals get to keep a franchise icon aroundfor far less than it would have cost to keep franchise icon Albert Pujols a couple of years ago.
That got me wondering: What other players could realistically play their entire careers with a single franchise? I mean, sure, Nationals fans would love to see Bryce Harper play in D.C. his entire career, and Orioles fans would love for Manny Machado to stay in Baltimore, but both guys seem destined to wear another uniform at some point (maybe when both are free agents after the 2018 season). And for young superstars such as Francisco Lindor in Cleveland, Kris Bryant in Chicago and Carlos Correa in Houston, it’s just way too early in their careers to put forward a reasonable guess.
So we’re trying to stick with realistic scenarios, based on a couple of basic guidelines. For the primary list, we’re only looking at guys who have only played in the big leagues with one team (if they were traded as a minor-leaguer, that doesn't count), are at least 30 years old and have deals that keep them under contract for at least another couple of seasons. Then, we’ll look long shots, guys who have an obviousroad block in their pathto the one-franchise career. And then we’ll look at a handful of under-30 types who already have long-term deals in hand.
All contract numbers are courtesy of the indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
The likely candidates …
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Age: 33. Contract status: Signed through 2021
Need to know: It’s hard to overstate what Pedroia has meant to this tradition-rich franchise. He’s been part of two World Series teams — he’s the only connection to that 2007 squad — and a rookie of the year and MVP winner. His current contract takes him through his Age 37 season, for very reasonable salaries (peaking at $16 million in 2018 and tapering down to $12 million in 2021). Barring some unforeseen developments, there will be no reason for the Red Sox to want to trade him (and he already has full 10/5 no-trade rights). Here’s the thing, though: With as intense of a competitor as Pedroia is, there’s almost zero chance he’ll be ready to retire before his Age 38 season. Will there be another two- or three-year contract offer from Boston to finish out the career?
Justin Verlander, Tigers
34. Contract status: Signed through 2019, with a vesting option for 2020
Need to know: For the first time in his career, Verlander was the subject of legitimate trade rumors in 2016, and he responded with one of the best performances of his career — he led the AL in strikeouts, finished second in ERA, posted his career-best K/9 ratio (4.46-to-1) and finished second in the Cy Young vote. He’s under contract through his Age 36 season, with a vesting option (triggered with a top-five finish in the 2019 Cy Young vote) for his Age 37 season. As for the trade rumors, Verlander is making a ton of money ($28 million each year through 2019), so if the Tigers decide to rebuild, trading him would accomplish the one-two punch of bringing back significant talent and freeing up lots of money. Verlander, of course, has full 10/5 no-trade veto power, so he’s not going anywhere unless he really wants to.But if the Tigers decide to rebuild, that might happen.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
35. Contract status: Signed through 2018
Need to know: Wainwright is the oldest guy on this list — he’ll be 36 in August — which is a big reason why he makes the top tier. Both the club and the pitcher will have an interesting decision to make. Clearly, Wainwright has been a franchise stalwart for quite a while now (he has four top-three NL Cy Young finishes) and he loves being a Cardinal. The affection is mutual. But what type of pitcher will he be when his contract ends after the 2018 season? Wainwright struggled through his worst full season in 2016, and it’s fair to wonder whether that was an aberration or his new reality. That’s why 2017 is such a big season for him, individually. Will the club still view him as a starter for the 2019 season? Would Wainwright be willing to take a bullpen role to stay with the franchise instead of starting for another club? We’ll find out.
Joey Votto, Reds
33. Contract status: Signed through 2023, with club option for 2024
Need to know: Let’s start with this: Votto isn’t going anywhere unless he wants to (he was given full no-trade protection as part of the 10-year, $225 million deal he signed in April 2012), and he’s given no indication that he wants to leave Cincinnati. The Reds have traded away their other star players through this rebuilding process (Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier, to name a few), but Votto remains with the club. And now there are signs of coming out of the process, so it’s even less likely he’d want to leave. He’ll be 38 by the end of the guaranteed portion of the deal, and the Reds have that club option for his Age 39 season, too.
Buster Posey, Giants
30. Contract status: Signed through 2021, with club option for 2022
Need to know: Posey has already done enough for the Giants that he’s probably worthy of a statue outside the stadium before he even finishes playing. He’s been the anchor of three World Series-winning Giants teams, been an All-Star regular, won an MVP and the rookie of the year award. He might not be a full-time catcher by the end of this current contract, which runs through his Age 34 season (and a club option for his Age 35 season), but he’s good at first base, too. It actually makes sense that he could get a contract similar to the one Molina got from the Cardinals — shorter term, but high AAV.
Corey Kluber, Indians
31 (on April 10). Contract status: Signed through 2019, club options for 2020-21
Need to know: He’s an interesting case because he didn’t become a regular part of the Cleveland rotation until his Age 27 seasonin 2013. Assuming he stays healthy, Cleveland will certainly exercise the two club options (they’re a total of $27.5 million), which means the club has him around until his Age 35 season. Then, they’re looking at what would probably be a short-term, high AAV contract that is a realistic win-win for both sides.
The long-shots …
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
31 (on April 8). Contract status: Signed through 2019
The road block: The Mariners have already given Hernandez one massive contract — his seven-year, $175 million deal was the largest ever for a pitcher when it was signed in February 2013 — but because he was a star in the big leagues by the time he was 19, Seattle is going to face another expensive decision with King Felix. He’ll only be 33 when his current contract ends, and he’s still an elite starting pitcher, though last year was the first since he was 19 that he didn’t throw at least 190 innings. If he’s healthy when the deal ends, he’ll have more than one suitor willing to make him a lucrative offer. Will the Mariners be willing to match/beat for a second time?
Evan Longoria, Rays
31. Contract status: Signed through 2022, club option for 2023
The road block: At some point, the Rays will trade him, right? Right? Worth noting that Longoria gets his 10/5 no-trade protection after the 2017 season.
Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
32. Contract status: Signed through 2019, with club option for 2020
The road block: His production hasn’t matched his salary for a couple ofyears now. Hard to see that happening another three seasons, too, if he doesn’t improve.
Alex Gordon, Royals
33. Contract status: Signed through 2019, with mutual option for 2020
Need to know: Gordon’s deep connection with the franchise was apparent when he signed a below-market four-year, $72 million deal after the 2015 season. But even though he’s signed through his Age 35 season and has 10/5 trade veto powers, if the Royals have to rebuild, it wouldn’t be stunning to see him agree to be traded to a contender before the end of the 2019 season.
Ryan Braun, Brewers
33. Contract status: Signed through 2020, with mutual option for 2021
Need to know: He’ll almost certainly be traded, probably this year. After all the steroid embarrassment, Brewers fans won’t really miss him.
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
30.Contract status:Signed through 2017, with club option for 2018
The road block:Just thinking about McCutchen wearing a different uniform feels so very wrong, but he was almost traded this offseason, and an eventual trade seems like an inevitability. That’s sadbecause McCutchen is the face of this franchise’s recent revival.
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
31. Contract status: Signed through 2019, with club option for 2020
The road block: He’ll only be 34 by the end of his current deal, which means he’ll probably be able to land a three- or four-year deal for a nice chunk of cash. Will the Cardinals give that to him?
Brandon Crawford, Giants
30. Contract status: Signed through 2021
The road block: Crawford is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball right now and a tireless worker to maintain that excellence, but there’s probably more of a chance that he bounces around a bit in the final few years of his career (think Jimmy Rollins or Omar Vizquel).
The look-aheads (under 30) …
Kyle Seager, Mariners
29. Contract status: Signed through 2021, with club option for 2022
Need to know: The Seager-in-Seattle pairing has worked out very well, what with his solid defense and five consecutive seasons with at least 20 homers. Corey’s older brother will be 34 at the end of that club option, though, so he’ll still be in position to score a decent contract, if he’s still healthy.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
29. Contract status: Signed through 2020
Need to know: He has an opt-out after 2018, and he will break the bank. Will it be smart/realistic for the Dodgers to keep him?
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
27. Contract status: Signed through 2027, with club option for 2028
Need to know: He has an opt-out after 2020, and he might break the bank (if he’s healthy at the time). Will it be smart/realistic for the Marlins to keep him?
Freddie Freeman, Braves
27. Contract status: Signed through 2021
Need to know: He’ll only be 31 when he hits free agency at the end of his current eight-year, $135 million contract; will the Braves give him another big deal?
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
29. Contract status: Signed through 2018, with club option for 2019
Need to know: He’s going to make sooooooooo much money on the free-agent market. Will the Diamondbacks be the highest bidder?