Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Ranking the best active single-team MLB players: Where do Clayton Kershaw, Jose Altuve land after new deals?

Though the news in Major League Baseball has remained a bit slow this week, there were two notable transactions that happened regarding players who have never switched teams. Jose Altuve signed an extension with the Astros that could well take him to retirement while Clayton Kershaw re-upped with the Dodgers for another year. 

It is obviously much more rare in this day and age than it was decades ago for players to spend their entire career with a single MLB team, but it happens. We just saw two lifers inducted into the Hall of Fame in Joe Mauer (Twins) and Todd Helton (Rockies). The next crop is spearheaded by Kershaw and Altuve. 

In fact, let’s run through the top 10 one-team veterans right now. The stipulation is a player has to have logged at least six years of service time in the majors. That’s six full years, not parts of six seasons. Why? This means a player has gotten past the free agency threshold and has still remained with his original MLB team.

Someone we won’t find here that needs to be mentioned is Joey Votto. He’s played 17 seasons, all for the Reds. He seems determined to play this season, yet remains a free agent and we know the Reds aren’t going to bring him back. Basically, he won’t work on this list for 2024, as he’ll either retire or play for a different team. 

Oddity: The Rockies have five of these players in Charlie Blackmon, Ryan McMahon, Kyle Freeland, Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela.

We’ll mostly rank these based upon careers to date mixed with some future promise, as if it were a ranking of chances to make the Hall of Fame.

Honorable mention: Brandon Nimmo, Mets; Byron Buxton, Twins; Kyle Hendricks, Cubs; Ian Happ, Cubs; Max Kepler, Twins  

10. Rafael Devers, Red Sox

The 10-year, $313.5 million deal for Devers runs through the 2033 season, when he’ll be 36. It seems possible he’ll be closer to Dustin Pedroia, then, in finishing his career with the Red Sox as opposed to the route of other stars like Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts, who ended up elsewhere.

Devers won a ring at age 21. Will he win another? That’ll be the plan for the new front office as it looks to build around its mid-prime superstar. 

9. Ozzie Albies, Braves

The absurdly club-friendly deal Albies has — seven years, $35 million — runs through 2025, but it’s very likely through 2027, because there are team options for $7 million per season in 2026 and 2027. Hopefully he’s “overpaid” in his 30s to make up some ground. The three-time All-Star who won a ring in 2021 hit .280/.336/.513 (124 OPS+) with 30 doubles, five triples, 33 homers, 109 RBI, 96 runs, 13 steals and 4.7 WAR last season. 

8. Salvador Pérez, Royals

A major part of the backbone for the back-to-back pennant-winning Royals, who took the 2015 World Series title, Pérez has signed multiple extensions while the rest of that core has departed. He’s locked up through 2025 with a $13.5 million team option for 2026, which will be Pérez’s age-36 season. As a backstop with a rebuilt elbow, it’s hard to see him wanting to play much beyond that, so the chances he finishes his career without ever playing for another team seem pretty solid. Right now, he’s the owner of eight All-Star berths, five Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers. 

7. Aaron Nola, Phillies

The Phillies selected Nola seventh overall out of LSU in the 2014 draft. The seven-year deal to remain in Philly this past offseason means he’s now locked up through 2030, so it’s entirely possible he’s a career Phillie. He’s now gone over 200 strikeouts five straight full seasons (as in, not counting 2020) and is regularly a workhorse.

6. Alex Bregman, Astros

A mainstay in the dugout and on the infield with Altuve, Bregman debuted in 2016. He’s already signed one extension with the team, but it only runs through 2024. It’s possible he’ll be hitting free agency, but there’s also a chance the Astros look to lock him up for the rest of his career as they’ve done with Altuve. Bregman has been an integral part of the four pennant winners and two World Series champions in Houston, making two All-Star teams and finishing in the top five of MVP voting twice. 

5. Aaron Judge, Yankees

Judge was the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Yankees and he’s surely not going anywhere else now. He’s signed through 2031, which will be his age-39 season. He’s already won an MVP, gone over 50 homers twice and over 60 once. Of course, the only way to truly cement yourself into Yankees lore is win a ring and that has eluded Judge so far. He’s been to the ALCS three times, but the Yankees are 0-3 in those series.

4. José Ramírez, Guardians

A switch-hitting, power-speed stud, Ramírez debuted in 2013. He’s danced around an MVP win, finishing second, third, third, fourth and sixth in his top five seasons. The five-time All-Star has won four Silver Sluggers and an AL pennant. His relatively team-friendly extension runs through 2028 and he doesn’t seem to want to be traded, so he might well end up retiring in Cleveland. We’ll see how things shake out once the end of the deal is close. 

3. Jose Altuve, Astros

In 2007, the Astros signed a 17-year-old Altuve out of Venezuela. He debuted in 2011 and has since collected 2,047 hits, three batting titles, six Silver Sluggers, two World Series rings and an MVP, among other accolades. His recent extension runs through the 2029 season and gives Astros fans a chance to see him reach 3,000 hits (he’ll need to average almost 159 per season) and finish his career with the only club he’s ever known. 

2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

A three-time Cy Young winner and MVP, Kershaw has won five ERA titles and a World Series ring. He’s done it all with the Dodgers and now is headed toward his age-36 season. He’ll go down as one of the greatest pitchers in history. 

Fun fact: Kershaw is 20th in pitcher JAWS. The only pitchers above him to play for just one team are Walter Johnson (1st, Senators) and Bob Gibson (13th, Cardinals). 

1. Mike Trout, Angels

The three-time MVP has an extension with the Angels that runs through 2030. It’s always possible he’ll be traded before then, but as things stand, it seems like most people who want Trout traded a) aren’t Trout and b) aren’t in the Angels’ front office. 

Fun fact: He only trails four center fielders in career WAR (Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Mickey Mantle). 

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