Earlier this month, the Cardinals signed catcher Yadier Molina to a one-year, $9 million deal, assuring the nine-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove Award winner will play his 18th season in St. Louis. Molina’s offensive numbers have slipped the past few seasons, but he remains the heart and soul of the Cardinals, both on and off the field. And let’s not forget how key he was in the Cardinals’ last postseason series victory, against Atlanta in the 2019 National League Division Series.
The move keeps Molina with his longtime batterymate Adam Wainwright, who also re-signed with the Cardinals on Jan. 29. They are the sort of veteran teammates who just don’t stick together over multiple decades anymore. But let’s pause there. Because … it’s hard to find any players this old anymore.
How hard? Yes, it’s that time again: It’s time for our annual look at the 10 oldest players in baseball.
We all know we are getting older — becoming a real grown-up — when there start to be Major League Baseball players who are our age. Then, we know we are getting even older when the manager starts to be our age. And then, we know we are officially old when the players our age are all retired. Young kids, don’t laugh: It’ll happen to you, too. Baseball is a game people fall in love with in our youth, but alas, youth doesn’t last forever. Eventually, you hit the point when you’re older than everybody.
Baseball is, and always will be, a young man’s game. As it stands now, no one born in the 1970s — or who played in the 1990s — will be on a roster this season.
Life, however, just keeps going. So here’s a look at the 10 oldest players in baseball heading into the 2021 season. To qualify for this list, players must:
• Have played in 2020 (or elected not to play in ’20 due to the pandemic)
• Be on a Major League roster, have a Minor League contract or have received a non-roster invite to Spring Training (and not been released yet)
There are some guys still searching: Not-yet-retired-but-not-currently-on-a-roster older folks include Shin-Soo Choo, Ronald Belisario, Edinson Vólquez and Edwin Encarnación. Robinson Canó would be on this list had he not been banned for the season after testing positive for a second time for a PED. (He might be on it next year, though.) And a shout out to a player who was on
If you are younger than everyone on this list, congratulations. But time is coming for you, too.
1) Albert Pujols, DH, Angels (age 41)
Born: Jan. 16, 1980 … First season: 2001
Yep, Albert just keeps on going. This is the final year of that massive contract he signed with the Angels after winning the 2011 World Series with St. Louis, and his numbers continue to slip. Pujols is 38 homers shy of 700, and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll reach that plateau. But you never know: He had 40 homers just six years ago, and 23 in ’19. Either way, it’s an open question whether there will be a team for him if he decides to play after his contract expires — or if he’ll even want to.
2) Rich Hill, LHP, Rays (age 40)
Born: March 11, 1980 … First season: 2005
Hill continues to have one of the strangest careers in MLB history. He entered the majors at 25, struggled as a starter into his 30s, converted to a reliever in 2010 with Boston, was a middling LOOGY before leaving Boston and becoming, absurdly, one of the best starting pitchers in baseball in ’16. He moved to the Dodgers and he was excellent for three years, and when he’s able to pitch, he remains effective. But counting on more than, say, 15 starts a year is pushing it. The Rays seem to be an absolutely perfect fit in every way.
3) Nelson Cruz, DH, Twins (age 40)
Born: July 1, 1980 … First season: 2005
Would you believe that Cruz had the highest OPS+ of his career in 2020? For the first half of the season, he was the best hitter in baseball! He’s back with the Twins, but only on a one-year deal. But if he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think someone wouldn’t want him in 2022, especially if there’s a designated hitter in the National League. Can he get to 500 homers? He’s 83 short, and he had 41 in his last full season. Pretty good for a guy who had only hit 15 career homers by his 28th birthday.
4) Oliver Pérez, LHP, Indians (age 39)
Born: Aug. 15, 1981 … First season: 2002
I know you’re never going to believe this, but there was a time when some of us thought Pérez was going to be the next Randy Johnson. At 22, he was a tall, flamethrowing lefty who led the Majors in strikeouts per nine innings. He fell off the table the very next year, but his potential led the Mets to sign him to an extremely ill-fated contract. After that, Pérez stopped starting and became a fantastic lefty reliever for … well, jeez, a whole decade now. He has played more seasons in the Majors than any Mexican-born player.
5) Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (age 39)
Born: Aug. 30, 1981 … First season: 2005
In 2018, Wainwright looked like he might be done with baseball: Injuries had just worn him down to a nub. He came back at the end of that season almost just to say goodbye, but he felt good, so he came back for ’19 and provided 171 2/3 valuable innings (and was terrific in the playoffs). Then, in ’20, he was the Cardinals’ best pitcher. He’s back in the rotation, ready for another go-around with Molina and the gang. Oh, and he just won the Roberto Clemente Award.
6) Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals (age 38)
Born: July 13, 1982 … First season: 2004
When Molina was on the free-agent market this offseason, there was some thought that he might become a roaming catcher-for-hire like Ivan Rodriguez was deep into his career. Yadi is only one year younger than Pudge was when he retired, but for all the talk of Yadi’s bat slipping, he’s a better hitter than Pudge was in his mid-to-late 30s, by a rather large margin. Molina has now outlasted two Cardinals catching prospects who were supposed to take over for him. Don’t be surprised if that keeps happening.
7) J.A. Happ, LHP, Twins (age 38)
Born: Oct. 19, 1982 … First season: 2007
Happ has been surprisingly durable during the back end of his career, and he was perfectly decent in nine starts for the Yankees in 2020, an improvement over his frustrating ’19. He’s got a steady situation for himself with the Twins, a team that will contend all year but one that just needs to get over that postseason hump. And hey, Happ does have a World Series ring. It was 13 years ago in Philadelphia, and who could possibly remember that, but he does!
8) Darren O’Day, RHP, Yankees (age 38)
Born: Oct. 22, 1982 … First season: 2008
O’Day is thought of as a soft-tossing sidearmer, and to some extent that’s true, but his strikeout rate keeps rising: He had a higher K/9 rate than, say, Gerrit Cole did last year. Cole is his new teammate in New York, and O’Day is basically the pitcher they were hoping Adam Ottavino was going to be. Also, in 604 big league appearances, O’Day has never started a game. But perhaps the Yankees will throw him a bone and try him as an opener sometime.
9) Ervin Santana, RHP, Royals (age 38)
Born: Dec. 12, 1982 … First season: 2005
OK, so technically, Santana is not currently on a big league roster. He didn’t pitch in the Majors in 2020, and his ERAs in ’18 and ’19 were 8.03 and 9.45, respectively. But the Royals did sign him to a Minor League deal, and he has a chance to make the squad with a big spring. And the world of baseball is always better with Big Erv in it. Plus, he’s coming up on the 10-year anniversary of his no-hitter with the Angels … and nine years since he was last with the Royals.
10) Justin Verlander, RHP, Astros (age 37)
Born: Feb. 20, 1983 … First season: 2005
Verlander is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and he is unlikely to pitch in 2021. But it’s possible, one supposes, and Verlander has earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt. And he’ll be back in ’22, regardless. Remember that he had 300 strikeouts just in ’19. However he comes back, he will be formidable. He’ll also be a free agent following this season. What team will he be pitching for when he next takes the mound?