In response to Fernando Tatís Jr.’s mega contract extension, Twitter user Jon Becker posed an interesting question: Which current major leaguers will still be active the next time Tatís is a free agent in 2035?
It’s a compelling thought exercise because it puts into perspective just how talented Tatís is. At 22, it’s conceivable that Tatís’s deal that keeps him in San Diego until the middle of the next decade might not even be his last contract.
The Padres evidently feel confident in Tatís’s ability to remain a high-level baseball player far into the future, but how many other players will stick around that long? Who’s good enough and young enough right now that they’ll still be suiting up in 2035? Here are five position players (and a couple of pitchers) who might be able to pull it off. This isn’t to say that these players will definitely still be in the big leagues by the time there are teams in Portland and Charlotte, but they have the best chances of anyone.
Ronald Acuña Jr. (23)
Like Tatís, Acuña made his debut at age 20. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2018 and finished fifth MVP voting in 2019. Speed is a major part of the 23-year-old center fielder’s game (he led the NL with 37 steals in 2019) but he also possesses the kind of skills that tend to age well, like a dangerous bat and strong throwing arm.
Juan Soto (22)
In the wake of Tatis’s lucrative extension, the biggest question is how much will Soto’s first big contract be worth? He’s done nothing but crush the ball since debuting as a 19-year-old in 2018. If not for Acuña, Soto would have won the Rookie of the Year easily. In 47 games during the shortened 2020 season, Soto batted an absurd .351/.490/.571, winning the NL batting title. He’s a left fielder without the defensive acumen of Acuña, but he could definitely stick around as a designated hitter at the end of his career if he’s no longer a productive fielder, especially with a universal DH.
Cody Bellinger (25)
Bellinger won an MVP just a few months after his 24th birthday and setting aside a pedestrian 2020 is one of the most complete hitters in the game. The biggest obstacle to him playing on the eve of his 40s is his balky left shoulder. First base would be a natural place to play a power-hitting lefty in his later years but the Dodgers decided in 2019 after he dislocated the shoulder in 2019 that playing first was too risky and moved him to the outfield full-time.
Eloy Jiménez (24)
Jiménez has literal light-tower power and has put up strong numbers at the plate in his first two seasons in the bigs (.276/.321/.527). He’s at the low end of the defensive spectrum but his talent at the plate is undeniable.
Trea Turner (27)
Will Trea Turner play until he’s 41? Maybe not! He’s definitely the longest shot on this list. But the first thing a player loses is speed, and Turner is so ridiculously fast that it’s not hard to imagine him retaining above-average speed for many years to come. Add that to the fact that he’s a solid contact hitter and has already shown the ability to play multiple positions, and it’s plausible that he could be a productive player with graying hair.
One or two of these pitchers
- Mike Soroka (23)
- Deivi Garcia (21)
- Dustin May (23)
- Sixto Sánchez (22)
Predicting a pitcher’s future is a risky gambit. Any pitcher, no matter how talented, can be undone by injuries. But some can adapt as they age and achieve unexpected longevity. Who could have ever guessed Fernando Rodney or Bartolo Colón would last as long as they did?
Someone you wouldn’t expect
It’s not just pitchers who hang on longer than anticipated. Was there anything about Matt Stairs’s early career that would suggest he’d play until age 43? Julio Franco was a three-time All-Star who won a batting title at age 32, but it would have been absurd to think then that he’d play until he was 49. Maybe some otherwise unremarkable youngster who appeared in 2020 will end up having a Stairs-like creer.
Andrés Giménez—a 21-year-old top Mets prospect whose stock suffered after an underwhelming offensive season in 2019 at Double A—made the parent club as a 21-year-old and hit pretty well (102 OPS+). He’s the type of versatile infielder who could stick around as a utilityman after his peak. Ke’Bryan Hayes’s major league résumé is limited (only 24 games) but impressive (.376/.442/.682). No one expects the 24-year-old to maintain that sort of production over the course of a full season but he’s a former first-round pick and highly touted prospect. Maybe he’ll be a bench bat for more than a decade. It’s impossible to say.