In Major League Baseball, careers can span over 15 years if you’re talented enough and can sustain reasonable health over that time period. Sometimes, players can remain at an elite level for well over half of that span, while others fall off the market.
We have seen incredible falls from grace from players such as Tim Lincecum, who went from winning back-to-back CY Young awards by the age of 24 and secured three World Series championships. He was out of the league by the age of 32, and lost himself a few years before then.
It happens in every sport, but every now and then, we get a career revival. Recent notables are Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose from the NBA, who have reinvented and re-established themselves as worthy contributors. This past offseason, we’ve seen multiple former All-Stars ink minor league deals in hopes of reviving their own careers.
9. Trevor Rosenthal (RHP) Kansas City Royals
It may not be easy to remember at this point in his career, but Trevor Rosenthal was arguably the most dominant relief pitcher for back-to-back seasons during the 2014-15 stretch. He successfully closed a total of 93 games over that time span. In addition, he was the third-youngest player to record 21 1/3 innings of scoreless ball to begin his debut into the playoffs.
In 2018, however, he found himself wrapped up by the injury bug, missing the entire season. He returned in 2019, but ran into struggles. He gave up 23 runs over just 15.1 innings across 22 games. That includes giving up 16 runs over 6.1 innings with the Washington Nationals.
After a horrific season, it made it only possible for him to secure a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals. However, the 29-year old has a legit shot at being a solid contributor.
8. Jonathon Lucroy (C) Boston Red Sox
In the MLB, the catching position is always one of the weakest for select franchises. Catchers get beat up behind the plate and seem to have shorter primes than stars from other positions. Nevertheless, they are one of the most important positions in baseball. One of the better catchers in the parts of the past few seasons has been Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy was two-time All-Star in both 2014 and 2016. In 2014, he finished the season with a .301 batting average across 173 hits. Two seasons later, he put together 24 home runs. While Lucroy isn’t elite, he can still be serviceable.
After posting a .232 batting average across 101 games, including a .189 batting average on his last 27 games after being acquired by the Chicago Cubs, Lucroy was only able to secure a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox have struggled to find a real catching presence in recent years, but may have found their solution in Christian Vasquez. He had some success in 2019 after smacking 23 homers and netting a .276 average across 138 games.
Lucroy could become a trade piece if he’s able to play as a backup to Vasquez or even take the reigns at the position. Lucroy may never be an All-Star again, but could gain some respect by the 2021 offseason.
7. Josh Harrison (IF) Philadelphia Phillies
Josh Harrison has never been considered an elite player, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a solid contributor. He was an All-Star in 2014 and 2017, but had an underwhelming 2019 campaign. He played in just 36 games, but hit for a .176 batting average before being released by the Detroit Tigers after a strained hamstring.
His days as a starter may be over, but Harrison has the drive to be a solid contributor off the bench. He won the Heart and Hustle award in 2014 for the right reason.
While Harrison may never make another All-Star game, he could reinvent himself and contribute similarly to how Howie Kendrick has contributed to the Washington Nationals.
6. Jason Kipnis (2B/CF) Chicago Cubs
Kipnis had years where he could fool fans into thinking he was one of the top second basemen in the league. In 2013 and 2015, he had All-Star caliber seasons and was able to secure a few MVP votes as well. It hasn’t quite worked out that way since, after multiple injury riddled seasons.
He was only able to secure a minor league contract with his childhood favorite team, Chicago Cubs. That being said, he’s a potential candidate for Comeback Player of the Year if he is able to sneak some playing time and remain healthy. He has struggled during what many believed would be his prime years, but he wouldn’t be the first guy to breakout at age 32.
Even if Kipnis doesn’t quite amount to his potential, similarly to Josh Harrison, he can be a quality contributor coming off the bench for the Cubs this season.
5. Greg Holland (RP) Kansas City Royals
Holland has had a complicated past few seasons, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016. He did come back the following season en route to earning the NL Comeback Player of the Year. He topped 40 saves for the third time in his career. He has struggled to find success since then and has been tuning over a 4.00 ERA each season.
The 34-year old is going to return to the team he had the most success with, the Kansas City Royals, on a minor league deal. Holland barely missed Kansas City’s World Series run in 2016 after spending the previous five seasons there. He pitched to a 2.42 ERA and tallied 145 saves.
Holland actually showed a flash of his ability in 2018, after pitching to a 0.84 ERA across 24 games with the Washington Nationals after displaying an ugly 7.92 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals in the previous 32 games. He struggled again in 2019 with a 4.54 ERA across 40 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
His best days may be behind him, but he seems to have the most potential of all former All-Stars turned minor league contracts in 2020 to return to his former self. It is still unlikely that will happen, but he could contribute out of the bullpen.
4. Pablo Sandoval (3B/1B) San Francisco Giants
Sandoval has never truly been an elite player in the big leagues. However, he was beloved in San Francisco during his best years. He was an All-Star twice and was apart of all three of the team’s World Series titles during the 2010’s. He broke the consecutive hit record for the National League postseason with 26 straight hits and tallied a total of 26 hits in 2014; also setting a record.
Outside of San Francisco, Sandoval will be mostly discussed on the worst MLB contract lists. He hit free agency in 2014 at the age of 27 and was able to quickly cash in. He signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
The Sox were banking on Sandoval’s prime to be a solid one, but he didn’t live up to their hopes in the slightest. They received just 14 home runs over 161 games from Sandoval across three seasons, before releasing him in 2017.
He has spent the past few seasons back home with the Giants, and has been able to resume his previous contributions. Last season, he smacked 14 home runs with a .268 batting average in 108 games.
3. Carlos Gonzalez (OF) Seattle Mariners
Gonzalez was one of the more dominant hitters at his best, as he was guaranteed to top 20 home runs each year. Granted, Gonzalez did play in Coors Field, which is widely regarded as a hitter-friendly ballpark.
He is a former MVP, three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger. He seemed to be headed towards Hall of Fame conversations if he would have kept it up, but it didn’t plan out that way.
Gonzalez has had injury troubles in recent years and was below average when he did find his way on the field. In 2019, he struggled to find consistent playing time, but totaled a .200 batting average and three home runs.
Gonzalez could potentially find his way on a lack-luster Mariners team if he can convince the organization he is still talented enough to receive consistent playing time. He has shown his ability in the past and wouldn’t be the first player to re-establish himself.
2. Felix Hernandez (SP) Atlanta Braves
As we begin Spring Training, many thought it was odd to see Hernandez in a uniform that wasn’t the Seattle Mariners. However, ‘King Felix’ signed a minor league contract with the Braves, despite critics believing he is incapable of holding a starting spot in a major league rotation.
Hernandez has a lot of mileage on his arms, despite being just 33-years old. He has been in the league since the age of 19, and has been elite. Hernandez is a former Cy Young winner and six-time All-Star and will likely receive a Hall of Fame nod.
However, his struggles dating back to 2017 may have dimmed, if not talked him out of the conversation. He has pitched to an 15-27 record since that time and hasn’t been able to get below a 4.00 ERA. He pitched to a 5.55 and 6.40 ERA in each of the past two seasons. It seemed like Hernandez was going to fade away into the sunset after the completion of his seven-year, $175 million contract with Seattle.
After a pay cut to play for the Braves, Hernandez will earn roughly $1 million and is ready to fight for a rotation spot. We have seen great pitchers re-invent themselves en route to becoming dominant again, and Hernandez could land in that category. With the run support Atlanta can provide, the ‘King’ could take back his presumed crown before calling it a career.
1. Matt Kemp (OF) Miami Marlins
Much like Hernandez, Kemp was an elite player for a period of time. Kemp should be a former MVP, as many believe he was robbed in 2011 by Ryan Braun. That belief was validated after it was revealed that Braun received some help from PEDs at the time.
During his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp was an All-Star. He eventually fell of the map drastically after being traded by the franchise twice. That included a comeback All-Star season for him in 2018, before he was ultimately traded to the Cincinnati Reds.
His time with the Reds was short-lived. He played in just 20 games and only smacked one home run to go with a .200 batting average last season. This could either be another comeback for the outfielder, or perhaps he is nearing the end of his career.
When he receives consistent playing time, Kemp has proven to be an above-average contributor. Even at the age of 35, he won’t have a hard time finding a spot to play on the Miami Marlins.