Every fan who ever has bought a jersey with a player’s name and number on it knows the danger involved. Because of free agency, trades, retirements, etc., that jersey has a limited shelf life. Try as they might, even the majors’ most successful and profitable franchises can’t keep the gang together every season.
Whether it’s a lone loss or a complete rebuild, every franchise enters the offseason with at least one roster void to fill. Unfortunately, that often results in a downgrade or even a disaster.
The toughest players to replace in 2017, with a look at how each team plans on doing so:
USA TODAY SportsGreg M. Cooper
Angels: Jered Weaver
Although his fastball velocity now registers somewhere between “Wiffle Ball” and “knuckleball,” Weaver made more starts (31) and pitched more innings (178) than anyone else in the Angels’ rotation last season. It wasn’t always pretty (see: 5.06 ERA, 5.62 FIP, 1.46 WHIP), but he could be counted on to take the hill. And the team still has rotation questions.
USA TODAY SportsJayne Kamin-Oncea
Astros: Pat Neshek
Perhaps no team has improved more this offseason, and Houston has done so without making too many subtractions. However, Neshek, who was traded to Philadelphia in early November, was a key cog in the Astros’ strong bullpen last season. In 60 appearances, the side-armer posted a 0.94 WHIP and 3.06 ERA while striking out 43 batters in 47 innings.
USA TODAY SportsSteven Bisig
Athletics: Danny Valencia
Although he played primarily at third base last season, Valencia also logged time in in right field and first base. He isn’t known for his glove, but he hit .287/.346/.446 with 22 doubles, 17 homers and 51 RBI last season – similar to his 2015 numbers (18 homers, 66 RBI, .290/.345/519). Oakland has agreed to a deal with Trevor Plouffe to play at the hot corner but will miss Valencia’s versatility.
USA TODAY SportsNeville E. Guard
Blue Jays: Edwin Encarnacion
Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce are nice additions, but they aren’t going to replace Encarnacion’s 40-homer, 115-RBI production that has become automatic over the past five seasons. Not to mention the fact that Toronto also must replace Jose Bautista.
USA TODAY SportsDavid Richard
Braves: A.J. Pierzynski
The boisterous backstop seemingly retired in mid-September, though there’s been no official announcement. His production dropped with his playing time last season, but Pierzynski was an asset to a young staff, which has since been infused with veterans (Bartolo Colon, R.A.Dickey, Jaime Garcia). Though it has been linked to free agent Matt Wieters, Atlanta will go with the catcher tandem of Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker as of now.
USA TODAY SportsShanna Lockwood
Brewers: Chris Carter
All Carter did was lead the National League with 41 homers last season, while leading Milwaukee with 94 RBI. That earned him a non-tender, and he is among the many free-agent sluggers still looking for a contract. Meanwhile, the Brewers inked Eric Thames to take over at first base.
USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
Cardinals: Brandon Moss
Moss' 28 long balls led St. Louis' homer-happy lineup last season, and he provided value at first base and both corner-outfield positions. But the arrival of Dexter Fowler and the Cardinals’ desire to play Matt Carpenter at first made Moss expendable.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Curry
Cubs: Dexter Fowler
Aside from his on-base ability and pop he provided from the leadoff spot, his baserunning and his defense in center field, Fowler was a huge presence in a closely-knit clubhouse. The combination of Albert Almora and Jon Jay can make up for some of that, but not nearly all.
USA TODAY SportsTommy Gilligan
Diamondbacks: Jean Segura
Arizona’s new regime flipped the National League’s hits leader (203) from last season to Seattle for a package that included righty Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte. The D-backs, who have plenty of infield depth, are hoping Segura’s bounce-back and Marte’s regression in 2016 weren’t the norms.
USA TODAY SportsJoshua Dahl
Dodgers: Chase Utley
Los Angeles brought back Justin Turner, Rich Hill and Kenley Jansen and might have no choice but to consider a reunion with Utley, who still was productive in 2016. The Dodgers’ offseason search for a second baseman has come up empty thus far, with a trade for Minnesota’s Brian Dozier now looking unlikely.
USA TODAY SportsGary A. Vasquez
Giants: Angel Pagan
It isn’t that Pagan was a superstar in his age-34 season in 2016, it’s that the Giants plan to replace him with two unproven options (Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker). In addition to a decent glove, Pagan still provided plenty at the plate last season (24 doubles, five triples, 12 homers, 15 steals).
USA TODAY SportsNeville E. Guard
Indians: Mike Napoli
Edwin Encarnacion will more than suffice at first base/DH, where Napoli thrived last season. However, Napoli also brought a ton of grit and winning experience for a team that desperately needed it, and he was a tremendous locker-room presence.
USA TODAY SportsTommy Gilligan
Marlins: Jose Fernandez
All these months later, it still is impossible to believe/accept that one of the game’s brightest young stars is gone. There’s no way Miami can replace Fernandez’s talent on the mound, his impact on the community or that smile.
USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Mariners: Taijuan Walker
Although Walker never fulfilled the monstrous expectations placed upon him in Seattle as a first-round pick in 2010, he showed flashes of greatness over the past couple seasons and still is only 24. The Mariners are hoping a change of scenery will benefit recently acquired Yovani Gallardo at the back end of the rotation, and also acquired Drew Smyly.
USA TODAY SportsJoe Nicholson
Mets: Bartolo Colon
Ignoring the impact Big Sexy made at the plate, the right-hander led the rotation with 15 wins last season while posting a 3.34 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. He went from an insurance policy to a savior after injuries decimated New York’s starting five, and Colon’s loss will be felt if Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom and/or Zach Wheeler experience any serious setbacks.
USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Nationals: Mark Melancon
The swings and misses continued for Washington this offseason when it failed to address its closer situation and/or acquire Andrew McCutchen or Chris Sale. Adam Eaton was a nice (but expensive) Plan B in center and Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen seemed like long shots as free agents, but Melancon proved to be a perfect fit (17 saves, 0.81 WHIP) after his trade from the Pirates to Nationals in late July. The team still hasn’t solved its ninth-inning situation.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Mills
Orioles: Mark Trumbo
Baltimore played hard ball with 2015 MLB home run leader Chris Davis before finally re-signing him late last January, so perhaps history will repeat itself with the 2016 MLB home run leader. Until then, there will be a Trumbo-sized hole on this roster. Recent pickup Seth Smith is a decent option but would be better in a corner outfield/DH platoon instead of as the starter in right.
USA TODAY SportsWinslow Townson
Padres: Tyson Ross
San Diego’s rotation, which is populated by a collection of No. 5 starters, has the potential to be the majors’ worst by far. But with Ross coming off thoracic outlet surgery after missing most of the 2016 season, the Padres didn’t want to risk arbitration with a pitcher they weren’t certain would be healthy. So instead of trading him at any point in the past two seasons when the demand was high, they let him walk without getting anything in return.
USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Phillies: David Hernandez
Hernandez was one of three relievers to make at least 70 appearances for Philadelphia last season, and he posted a 9.9 K/9 ratio in the process. However, he could be one-and-done with the Phillies now that they have signed fellow free agent Joaquin Benoit.
USA TODAY SportsJasen Vinlove
Pirates: Sean Rodriguez
The versatile Rodriguez did everything but pitch and catch for Pittsburgh last season, playing everywhere in the outfield and infield. All while establishing new highs in homers (18), RBI (56), batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.510). Young Adam Frazier will attempt to fill the many shoes of Rodriguez, who signed with Atlanta.
USA TODAY SportsCharles LeClaire
Rangers: Ian Desmond
Carlos Gomez returns to take over in center field and there are big questions at first base, DH and the rotation, but Desmond did it all in his lone season with Texas. Not only did he convert from shortstop to center field, he hit 22 homers, drove in 86 runs, stole 21 bags and scored a team-high 107 runs. If only the Rangers knew he’d be willing to move to first base, as is the plan (as of now) with Colorado.
USA TODAY SportsSean Pokorny
Rays: Drew Smyly
Tampa Bay hasn’t traded Chris Archer – yet – but it did just part with another veteran starter by dealing Drew Smyly to Seattle. The left-hander wasn’t great last season (4.88 ERA), but he struck out 167 batters in 175.1 innings and was 5-2 with a 4.08 ERA in 13 second-half starts. Over the past three seasons, Smyly posted a 3.95 ERA with the Rays, whose will turn to Matt Andriese as their full-time fifth starter.
USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Reds: Keyvius Sampson
In reality, Cincinnati probably won’t miss any of the several homer-happy relievers who became free agents after helping the relief corps set a new mark in futility (103 long balls allowed) in 2016. However, Sampson at least was useful for strikeouts (42 in 39.1 innings) when he wasn’t walking batters (27). And Reds will miss the free souvenirs Sampson provided.
USA TODAY SportsDavid Kohl
Red Sox: David Ortiz
It would be one thing to replace an aging slugger who was limited to DH duty, but it’s quite another to replace a franchise icon who has been the cornerstone of three World Series championships squads and who is coming off arguably the best season of his career. Although Big Papi seemingly has teased a return, he is retired for now (and probably for good), leaving Mitch Moreland, among others, to help replace a fraction of his production.
USA TODAY SportsBob DeChiara
Rockies: Nick Hundley
Colorado hasn’t had many notable defections this offseason and reportedly might be looking to extend – not trade – Carlos Gonzalez. However, the Rockies’ depth chart at catcher currently features the unproven duo of Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy. They likely can replicate Hundley’s offense, but not his experience behind the plate in a hellacious park for pitchers.
USA TODAY SportsAndy Marlin
Royals: Wade Davis
Since making the full transition from starter to reliever, Davis has a 1.18 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 11.53 K/99 ratio and 47 saves over the past three seasons. In that span, he has allowed three homers. Just as Davis replaced Greg Holland as closer, Kansas City will have reliever Kelvin Herrera take over for Davis. Herrera saved 12 games in 2016, but the setup crew loses another valuable piece in the process.
USA Today SportsPeter G. Aiken
Tigers: Cameron Maybin
Earlier this offseason when it appeared Detroit was going to tear down and rebuild, it dealt Maybin for the second time in his career – this time to the Angels. Maybin always has been more valuable for his glove and legs than his bat, but the Tigers will be taking a big risk if they enter the season with Tyler Collins/JaCoby Jones combo in center field.
USA TODAY SportsJesse Johnson
Twins: Trevor Plouffe
Sure, his release opens up third base for Miguel Sano, who had been attempting to convert to an outfielder. However, Plouffe, who was limited to just 84 games in 2016 because of injuries, is a season removed from a 22-homer, 86-RBI campaign. The youth movement is in full force at Target Field.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
White Sox: Chris Sale
You don’t replace a dominant left-handed ace who has finished in the top six in the AL Cy Young Award voting the past five seasons and is a near-lock for 250 strikeouts per season. To its credit, Chicago got a hefty return for Sale and obviously doesn’t expect free-agent addition Derek Holland to duplicate Sale’s production. And the dealing probably isn’t done.
USA TODAY SportsRick Osentoski
Yankees: Brian McCann
After watching him at and behind the plate during his remarkable late-season run as a rookie, New York clearly is confident in Gary Sanchez. McCann was too expensive to keep as the Yankees transition to a new-look roster, especially as a part-time catcher. Still, McCann’s familiarity with the pitching staff and experience behind the plate were big benefits.