Last year, we knew on Opening Day that we’d be seeing Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour (and what a tour it was), and Todd Helton’s, too.
This year, it will be the Derek Jeter farewell tour, and there will be one — on a much lesser scale — for Paul Konerko.
What we didn’t know (for sure) last year was that we’d also be seeing the last of Roy Halladay, Barry Zito, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Contreras, Jason Bay, Derek Lowe, Travis Hafner, Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Vernon Wells, and quite possibly Alex Rodriguez. Along with a host of other longtime major leaguers. Wouldn’t it be great if we’d known beforehand, so we could really appreciate those last few appearances? Alas, players rarely go when they choose, but rather when they must.
So this time let’s be ready. Below, 10 players we should enjoy while we still can, which might mean right now . . .
1. Ichiro Suzuki, New York Yankees (40 on Opening Day)
Yes, he played in 150 games just last year. No, he says he’s got absolutely no plans to retire. But then they usually don’t. Ichiro’s contract expires after this season and he was actually pretty awful last season, posting the first sub-.300 on-base percentage of his glorious career . . . and you know he didn’t compensate with power. Basically, he needs to hit .300 this season or nobody’s going to give him a chance in 2015.
2. Jason Giambi, Cleveland Indians (43)
Yeah, 43 and he’s still plugging away. How old is 43? Stunts aside, only five 43-year-old hitters in major-league history have actually played. Including Andres Galarraga’s 11 plate appearances. Has Giambi earned another campaign? Last season he hit nine homers and drove in 31 runs in only 216 plate appearances, which was impressive. Not so impressive: everything else. At least statistically. Giambi is considered a genuinely valuable clubhouse presence . . .
3. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox (34)
Dunn’s bounced back nicely from his 2011 campaign, in which he threatened all sorts of records by batting just .159 in 122 games. OK, maybe not so nicely. He bounced back relatively. He’s still a .200 hitter with no defensive value, and while the home runs and walks might keep him around as a platoon DH — hey, it’s worked for Giambi — then again they might not. Dunn’s a free agent after this season, and unless he hits 35-40 homers this season, it’s hard to imagine much interest next winter.
4. Raul Ibañez, Los Angeles Angels (41)
Ibañez isn’t quite in same boat as Giambi, because he was fairly productive last season. Still, he does turn 42 in June and the minute those home runs become long fly balls, Ibañez is out of work. Especially in these days of 12-man pitching staffs that leave little room for professional pinch-hitters.
Henry Blanco! Over the last two seasons, the catcher’s batted .157 with four homers in 71 games. And he’s probably going to make the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day roster. This is a thrilling testimony to . . . well, to something. When you figure it out, please let me know.
6. Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants (36)
OK, so this probably won’t be Vogelsong’s last season. But he did pitch terribly (4-6, 5.73) last season, and he’s got a bloated ERA in this exhibition season (9.00 through Thursday). Vogelsong might not get a great deal of time to right himself, so let’s watch him this spring and remember the improbability of a 33-year-old pitcher with a 5.86 career ERA suddenly becoming an All-Star. Which is exactly what Vogelsong did just three years ago.
7. Brendan Ryan, New York Yankees (32)
Yes, he’s signed for two years with the Yankees and might actually play quite a bit this season, especially if Jeter can’t. But don’t let that two-year deal fool you; Ryan’s numbers over the last two seasons include a .196/.268/.275 batting line, and if he doesn’t hit at least a little his contract won’t save his roster spot. In the meantime, be sure to enjoy one of the slickest-fielding shortstops we’ve seen since Ozzie Smith.
8. Alex Gonzalez, Detroit Tigers (37)
Gonzalez batted .177 in 41 games with the Brewers last season, but that hardly seems representative of his true abilities. Before that, he’d always been a .250-hitting shortstop with zero plate discipline but uncommon pop for his position. And now he’s in just the right spot, as the Tigers recently found themselves looking for an experienced shortstop. But this might be the end, as he’s not really done anything well in either of the last two seasons, including staying healthy enough to play regularly.
9. LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies (41)
Granted, Hawkins pitched brilliantly last season and he’s under team control at a very reasonable price in 2015. So there good reasons to think this won’t be his last season. On the other hand, he’s now the oldest pitcher in the majors and he’s pitching for the Rockies, so we can hardly count on seeing him for much longer.
10. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (30)
Just kidding. He’ll play for at least three more seasons. He has to. The money’s too good to quit.