Loyal one-team wonders not extinct
Plenty of fixtures remain in place despite change this offseason
The days of players staying their entire careers with one team, many believe, have gone the way of the dodo bird and the Cardinals jersey with a No. 5 on the back and Pujols across the shoulders.
Like it or not, it's a thing of the past, right?
Well, yes and no. Nothing's restarting Albert Pujols' reign among Cardinals greats now that he's put on his halo with the Angels. But the one-team wonder, while increasingly rare, isn't extinct.
Certainly, players who play their whole Major League careers with one team aren't the rule like they were decades ago. They're the exception, and have been for some time. With Pujols' departure from St. Louis and Mark Buehrle leaving the White Sox, two of the 13 players who finished the 2011 season with more than a decade with just one club have moved elsewhere this offseason.
There remain several longtime club fixtures who never played anywhere else in the Majors, led by Atlanta's Chipper Jones with 18 years and 24 days of Major League service time solely with the club that drafted him as the No. 1 pick overall in 1990. The Yankees' Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, and the Rockies' Todd Helton join Jones at the top of the list.
But the futures of some iconic players still hang in the balance a week after the Winter Meetings.
Jason Varitek, who was acquired via the infamous trade with the Mariners but has only played in the Majors with Boston, would be the Red Sox's top man at 14 years/20 days, but he's a free agent. Jorge Posada would lead all but one other team in service time with 15/85, all logged with the Yankees, but is a free agent as well. Throw in Prince Fielder, who at 6/68 is just 63 days behind Rickie Weeks' current lead in Milwaukee, and that's a lot of one-team men possibly departing or already gone.
That being the case, here's a look at the 10 players under contract for 2012 with the most service time with the only team they've played for in the Majors:
Chipper Jones, Braves (18 years/24 days): By playing into a 19th season of service time, he joins on that rung of history Hall of Famers in the Pirates' Roberto Clemente, the Yankees' Mickey Mantle, the Phillies' Mike Schmidt, the Indians' Bob Feller and current candidate Edgar Martinez of the Mariners.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees (16/105): Now the all-time leader in saves and a wearer of five World Series rings, Rivera will enter 2012 at age 42, which happens to be the uniform number that likely will be retired someday.
Todd Helton, Rockies (16/82): Having spurned the Padres out of high school and gone instead to the University of Tennessee to play football and baseball, Helton signed with the Rockies in 1995. He never looked back, eventually helping the Rockies get to their only World Series.
ONE AND DONE
|AL East||Yankees||Mariano Rivera||16 years/105 days|
|Red Sox||Kevin Youkilis||7/93|
|Blue Jays||Dustin McGowan||5/113|
|AL Central||Tigers||Brandon Inge||10/95|
|White Sox||John Danks||5/0|
|AL West||Mariners||Ichiro Suzuki||11/0|
|NL East||Phillies||Chase Utley||8/27|
|NL Central||Cubs||Carlos Zambrano||10/22|
|NL West||Rockies||Todd Helton||16/82|
Derek Jeter, Yankees (16/43): The man who has worn No. 2 for the Yankees since first putting on the pinstripes in 1995 dangled in free agency a little longer than he'd have liked into last offseason. But he's signed through 2013 and has 3,000 hits in his rearview mirror now.
Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (11/0): In a unique sub-category as a signee from Japan, Suzuki burst onto the Major League scene as a dual American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. He has racked up remarkable numbers since then, although he for the first time fell short of 200 hits (184) and a .300 average (.282) this year.
Michael Young, Rangers (10/134): Another team fixture whose future was hanging in the balance last offseason, Young went to a second straight World Series and had his sixth 200-hit season in 2011. He made his debut in 2000 about two months after being traded from Toronto.
Brandon Inge, Tigers (10/95): Of these longest-tenured players, none have the winding road of Inge. Playing in the Minors in parts of five of 11 seasons since his debut in 2001 -- including just this past season -- Inge was the starter at third in the AL Championship Series and remains a popular Tiger.
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs (10/22): For all the bluster and problems that have emerged in recent years, Z is still a Cubs pitcher for life up to this point. Having survived being hit in the face by a line drive recently in winter ball, the talented right-hander is aiming for a rebound year in 2012.
Brian Roberts, Orioles (9/131): Coming off a couple of years in which concussions and back issues have kept him off the field a lot, Roberts is in the Orioles top 10 in games played, hits and extra-base hits.
Chase Utley, Phillies (8/58): Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11/15) trumps Utley once he officially re-signs. Still, Utley is well on his way to a decade in Philly. Incidentally, he has the exact same service time as Ryan Madson -- a free agent who's likely to leave Philadelphia.
Along those same lines, what'll happen if somehow Varitek moves on from Boston? Kevin Youkilis (7/93) would take over as the longest-tenured to have played only for the Red Sox.
Perhaps that's getting ahead of ourselves. What we do know now is that Pujols (11/0) and Buehrle (11/78) have moved on, and someone new slots up as the longest-tenured in their former clubhouses. In St. Louis, Yadier Molina (7/123) moves atop the career Cardinals in terms of service time, and while he's not going to match the powerful presence of Pujols, the All-Star catcher's certainly an established and popular star already. The White Sox went from having Buehrle to where John Danks (5/0) is now the longest-tenured White Sox-only player, albeit another who was acquired via trade while in the Minors, as opposed to being drafted.
While we're at it, let's not forget that Jose Reyes (8/111) leaving for Miami makes David Wright (7/75) the Mets' longest-tenured player.
With a few gone and a couple others unsigned as yet, it's clear the one-team wonder has taken some hits this winter.
It's not like the days before free agency, that's for sure. It's not even like more recent years when future Hall of Famers like Cal Ripken Jr. of the Orioles, Tony Gwynn of the Padres and on back to Robin Yount of the Brewers were with their clubs for a couple of decades, or even when candidate Barry Larkin spent all 19 of his seasons with the Reds.
But the one-team wonder still exists, not yet relegated to the stuff of legend.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.