Future Hall of Fame ballplayers get to decide when they want to retire. They announce it ahead of time and are feted on the occasion of their final game.
Mere star ballplayers often experience a decline and, ultimately, failure, but they get often get several shots with various teams even after they’re unable to contribute. Their careers end gradually in that way. They’ve earned those extra shots other players may not get.
Ordinary ballplayers either call it a career after the end of a season, having made a personal decision not to play anymore. Or, if not then, after a season begins and they remain unsigned for an extended period. It’s not a notable thing to the general public and, often, the general public just says “oh, Shlabotnik isn’t playing anymore?”
With all due respect to Jeremy Guthrie, he’s probably in the “ordinary player” category. He had double digit wins a few times and pitched in a World Series, but he’s the sort of guy who we’d expect to simply fade away after failing to latch on. Most of us would not necessarily notice when his major league career ended unless we were super big fans of his or one of the teams he played for.
Except we do know that Guthrie’s career ended. And when. And how. It ended ignominiously, on April 8 of this season, when, while pitching for the Washington Nationals, he allowed ten runs on six hits and four walks in only two-thirds of an inning against the Phillies. He went home after that, asked for his release from the Nats and, at age 38, is almost certainly never going to pitch again.
Today Mark Zuckerman has a story about Guthrie and how he’s been doing since that start. How he feels about it and how odd a role it has proven to play in his life and career. It’s a pretty fascinating story because we don’t usually hear about when guys burn out — or when they fade away — unless there’s some other element to it like an improbable comeback or a dramatic injury or something. Here it’s just about Guthrie taking one more shot at at the bigs and missing. And moving on.
It’s not a depressing read or anything — Guthrie sounds like he’s in a good place with all of it — and I think it’s cool to hear about an aspect of a big league career that we don’t often know much about.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.