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    Thursday, November 11, 2021

    Buster Posey's Retirement Accentuates the Fast-Shrinking Number of 2000s Players

    I knew there were going to be a lot of shocking moves this winter, but I certainly didn’t predict Buster Posey retiring on the first official day of the offseason. The former MVP was set to start his thirteenth season next year just after his 35th birthday, but the longtime Giants catcher instead decided to turn down the option year on his contract, even after San Francisco picked it up. It’s especially surprising given how strong his 2021 season was (particularly after sitting out the 2020 campaign) but there’s something to be said for going out on a high note.

    But perhaps the most surprising aspect, for me at least, was realizing that Posey was part of a dying breed: players who debuted in the 2000s.* Technically, Posey only played in seven games in the 2009 season, but it counts, and we need all the help we can get in this category. It doesn’t feel like it should be that rare quite yet; it wasn’t that long ago.

    *“2000s” here refers to the first decade after 2000, which doesn’t have as clear a name as the 2010s or 2020s. Thus, I’ll just be sticking with “2000s” or “‘00s” for this piece.

    And yet, as of 2021, MLB is already down in the double digits when it comes to players from the ‘00s who received any playing time. That feels a little shocking, right? I’m not alone here? We aren’t that far into the following decade yet, it’s still only 2021. This seemed like it was something worth looking into. After all, I have experience here; I wrote something a few years ago looking at who would be the final player from the 1990s (that answer ended up being a tie between Adrian Beltre and Bartolo Colon, by the way; both of them made it to 2018 in the Majors, although Colon continues playing internationally). How does the situation now compare to what I saw then?

    I’ll need to do some adjusting, of course, since my last piece was in 2014, closer to the middle of the decade. But our 2021 total still feels abnormally low; going by a search on Baseball-Reference, there are only 75 active players who debuted in the 2000s. And even that feels like a generous ruling, given that the search turns up players who didn’t play in 2021 for a variety of reasons (including injuries like Justin Verlander and Cole Hamels, players who sat out like Homer Bailey and Chris Davis, as well as the suspended Robinson Cano). Even if you expand the search to include players who retired during the 2021 season but were active at some point, you pick up Jordan Zimmermann (2 games with the Brewers) and Jay Bruce (10 games with the Yankees), but that still only brings us to 77 ‘00s players in the 2021 season.

    In comparison, there were still over 100 players from the 1990s still active for the 2011 season: 105 just counting players who debuted in 1990 or later, plus 1980s debuts Jamie Moyer and Omar Vizquel, who both lasted until the 2012 season. So it’s not just my memory, we do appear to be losing 2000s players faster than we did 1990s players (and 1980s ones, apparently?).

    And of course, that 75 total looks like it will be falling fairly rapidly as well. We’ve already had a few players announce they would be retiring prior to the end of the season (Davis and Alex Avila, most notably). Now Posey is joining them, and the offseason has barely started. And none of this is even accounting for the looming potential of a lockout chasing out or pushing away a few more on the edge (the Winter Meetings have already been cancelled in anticipation of such an event).

    But even leaving those unique factors aside, just skimming that list, it’s still not hard to imagine that we lose another twenty or so players next year, if not more. I don’t particularly want to go through all 75 players one-by-one and write a blurb for each, since that’s probably more intensive than this piece demands. If you want to do that on your own, here’s a list of all of the 2021 stats for the hitters and pitchers. About a dozen players appeared in fewer than 10 games last season. You could also probably make up some stat cutoffs and find another dozen or so players whose 2022 status is in question.

    Edit: Shortly after posting this, Ken Rosenthal confirmed that Joakim Soria was retiring as well, our second confirmation from this list of the offseason.

    Of course, I’m sure some of those players will be back next year anyway, just as I’m also sure that some players who fall above those thresholds will follow Posey’s lead and go out on their own terms anyway. That’s something that many players don’t get to do. Either way, if we lose 20 or so players, that would put our count for 2000s players still active in 2022 at around 50, which is coincidentally where the count of ‘90s players was in 2013. Once again, we appear to be a year ahead of where we were a decade ago.

    And trying to put a hard number on 2023 at this point is probably a bit of a fool’s errand, but we know at least some players have already talked about hanging it up after next season (Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Albert Pujols all have, off the top of my head; maybe there are some others that I’ve missed). The count of ‘90s players in 2014 was just 27; at the very least, that certainly doesn’t seem out-of-line for a guess at where we’ll be heading next year at this time.

    And if our general long-term trend of “one year ahead of last decade” does continue to hold up, that means we’re probably looking at sometime in 2027 for our final 2000s player. Except looking back at those lists that I posted… honestly, that feels somewhat optimistic? Our list of players who will be under 40 in six years is: Justin Upton, Elvis Andrus, Madison Bumgarner (all three of whom have looked below-average the last few years), Neftali Feliz (pitched 4 innings in 2021, then got hurt), Trevor Cahill (6.57 ERA in 9 games last year), Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson (both fine in 2021, albeit in reduced roles), and Clayton Kershaw (also fine, but has missed chunks of time due to injuries every year for over half a decade at this point). It’s not a confidence-inspiring bunch.

    Maybe one of them will make it until then, but I almost feel just as comfortable gambling on, say, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander just hanging on forever. It makes for a stark contrast with 2011, when we had Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez all coming off All-Star years in their early-to-mid-30s (plus longer shots like David Ortiz, Lance Berkman, Scott Rolen, Paul Konerko, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco, and Mariano Rivera)*.

    *For full comparison, the complete list of “2021 All-Stars who Played in the 2000s” is: Max Scherzer, Justin Turner, Yadier Molina, Nelson Cruz, Buster Posey, Michael Brantley, and Mark Melancon. So while there were fewer of them and they were on average a little older than their 2011/1990s counterparts, they did still exist.

    Posey was really the only player that fit that description in 2021. Evan Longoria was having a good year until injuries caught up to him. Andrew McCutchen had a resurgent year, although not quite at an all-star level. Scherzer, Justin Turner, and Joey Votto were all really good, but they’ll also be multiple years into their 40s by 2027. Maybe like with 3000 hits or 500 homers, our goal at this point is to just cast a wide net and hope that one makes it, but somehow all of these bets feel like longer shots to me than those do.

    Of course, it’s also worth remembering that Beltre was actually tied for last player of the ‘90s, with Bartolo Colon of all people. Colon wasn’t at his lowest point or anything in 2011 (it was his first year back after missing all of the 2010 season from injury and he only went 8-10, but he did still throw 160+ innings of above-average baseball), but predicting him to last seven more seasons at that point probably seemed extreme. I suppose that also applies to Jamie Moyer as well; he looked a lot better in 2001 than Colon did a decade later (in fact, Moyer finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting that year!), but I still don’t think anyone predicted an at-the-time 38-year-old pitcher lasting another eleven seasons in the majors.

    So yeah, maybe Brett Anderson or Carlos Carrasco or Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander (relevant), or heck, even Adam Wainwright finds it in themselves to last until 2027. Maybe Andrew McCutchen or Joey Votto or even Nelson Cruz somehow stays a productive player until then. In looking at long-lasting players, we’re betting on unlikely events, by their definition extreme outliers, so technically nothing is totally out of the question. There are still a decent number of options here, even if none of them seems to be as strong of a frontrunner as “a 32-year-old Future Hall of Famer in the middle of a run of MVP-esque seasons”.

    Of course, even with that optimism, I still would be pretty shocked if any 2000s players lasted longer into the 2020s than Beltre and Colon did the decade before (let alone as long as Moyer and Viquel did). After deeper examination, I don’t think we’re going to see this entire group disappear before the end of 2025 or anything, but they definitely look to be an older set that’s dropping off quickly. And I have no idea how much of that difference is just random chance, versus the result of actual changes within the sport (for example, maybe a greater focus on youth in player evaluation), which would do a lot to inform our final prediction. But either way, I wouldn’t be shocked if we had a good idea of our list of finalists for the title of “Last Player of the 2000s” by sometime next offseason.

    Post-Script: I was curious the day after posting, so I looked at past decades to see if they looked more like the 1980s or 1990s/2000s. So in case you were wondering, the last active players of these decades were: 
    1970s: Rickey Henderson and Jesse Orsoco (2003)
    1960s: Carlton Fisk and Nolan Ryan (1993)
    1950s: Jim Kaat (1983)
    1940s: Minnie Miñoso , if you count his 1976 and 1980 comebacks; otherwise, Willie Mays (1973) 
    1930s: Early Wynn (1963)


    1. Wow, Hard to believe that active players from the 00's are dropping so fast.

      On this veterans day it is reminiscent of how quickly we are losing our WWII veterans. Soon we will no longer have any of those vets left to celebrate in life.

    2. Great piece! I just wanted to point out that the link to hitters who debuted in the 2000's is broken.

      Also looks like we lost another as Joakim Soria (2007 debut) just announced his retirement too!

      1. Ah, thanks for the notice on the link. Blogger has been breaking links when I go to post for a while, and sometimes I miss one.

        And I saw the Soria headline this morning. I spent the entire time I was writing this keeping an eye on retirement news so I could update it if needed, and of course news breaks while I'm in the process of posting.

    3. Ironic that all those were 33 years until the last player retired!! Coincident????