This week, Mike Trout signed an extension which looks set to keep him an Angel in the outfield until the end of his career. Also this week, rubbing salt into the wound of his trade earlier this winter, Paul Goldschmidt, signed a five-year extension with his new team in St, Louis. Every fanbase wants to have a “face of the franchise”, a player who spends his entire career with the team. But in these days of free agency, it’s harder than it looks, with most players following the money, understandably. Still, you might be surprised to learn that 55 players - 32 pitchers and 23 position players - have spent their entire major-league careers to this point with the Diamondbacks.
Now, there are admittedly several huge caveats to that statement. First off, twenty of them appeared for us in the 2018 season (and you can really add Yasmany Tomas to that list), so still have their careers ongoing. Indeed, quite a few of those twenty will be crossed off the list once Opening Day rolls around, now being on rosters elsewhere. More on that shortly. Most of the rest had relatively short careers. The median number of MLB games of all fifty-five “franchise” players is only 43. with just fifteen having reached three digits. At the other end, are Mike Schultz and Vincente Campos, both of whose careers consisted of a single game [If you’d forgotten Campos was part of the 2016 D-backs, you’re not alone!]
But let’s look at the leaders in various categories, among players who through the end of the 2018 season had played only for Arizona.
- Paul Goldschmidt: 1,092 games
- A.J. Pollock: 637 games
- Chris Owings: 580 games
Well, that’s depressing. All three of these left the team over the winter, and will begin 2019 on the rosters of the Cardinals, Dodgers and Royals respectively. When they eliminate themselves by appearing for their new teams, who will that leave at the top of the list?
- David Peralta: 571 games
- Jake Lamb: 500 games
- Nick Ahmed: 455 games
Three more members of the 2018 Diamondbacks follow suit on the current list, and unlike the top trio, all should be adding to their tally for a bit. Peralta might be the best bet to be a lifetime D-back, in part because of his relatively advanced age. Having to go back to Venezuela and re-invent himself as an outfielder, meant he did not make his MLB debut until he was almost 27. He is still under team control through the end of 2020, by which point the Freight Train will be 33 years old. That’s considerably older than most players reaching free-agency for the first time. For example, both Lamb and Ahmed will also become free agents at the same point, but will be just thirty then.
This list only includes those who have hung up their cleats, so we can be assured they are indeed “Diamondbacks for life.”
- Brandon Webb: 199 games
- Robby Hammock: 182 games
- Alex Romero: 144 games
- Rusty Ryal: 134 games
There’s a drop-off after those four, with the next being Leo Rosales and his 76 major-league games. Obviously, the sad story of Webb is well known, and if he only played for Arizona, it wasn’t for want of trying. After his last appearance for us in April 2009, he spent close to four years trying to get back to the majors, probably coming closest with the Texas Rangers. He made four minor-league starts for them in May/June 2011, before eventually calling it a day in February 2013, without ever returning to the big leagues. We shouldn’t count those minor-league outings against him: it’s even rarer for a player to spend their entire major AND minor-league career in the D-backs’ organization.
Indeed, by that standard, no player among those with completed careers and even 20 games at the MLB level has been a true “D-back for life.” The leader is one of the “Three Amigos” from the 2003 draft, Jamie D’Antona. He came up through the farm system, played 18 times for the D-backs in 2008 and then spent two years in Japan. In January 2011, he signed with the Marlins, but was released before spring-training and apparently retired. But if you want to exclude overseas leagues too, that #1 spot belongs to Geraldo Guzman. He made 17 appearances for the Diamondbacks in 2000-01, including our best debut as a starting pitcher ever, then vanished entirely at the end of 2001.
Pitchers are a different breed, especially starters, and it’s a bit unfair to judge them by straight appearances. So if we use innings pitched as a guide instead, who are those who never pitched for anyone else? No prizes for guessing who the leader is...
- Brandon Webb, 1319.2 IP
- Patrick Corbin, 945.2 IP
- Zack Godley, 444.2 IP
- Archie Bradley, 322.0 IP
- Andrew Chafin, 212.3 IP
Like Pollock, Goldy and Owings, Corbin will be crossed off this list in not much more than a week. The other three below Webb will accumulate further innings, but even Godley would probably need to pitch into the 2023 campaign to have a chance of catching Brandon. Zack is currently scheduled to hit free-agency at the end of 2022, so an extension with Arizona would be necessary. [He’d be 32 at the end of current team control] Chafin has already surpassed Webb in terms of appearances, with 234. Another year like last, and Andrew will move above Yasmany Tomas on the list, if the Tank Engine remains stuck in the Reno sidings for another season.
It’s entirely possible none of these current players end up qualifying by the end of their careers. There’s a legitimate case to argue that “Players for life” are a luxury which a small- or mid-market team should avoid. Very few players retire when still providing good value for money, for obvious reasons [if you’re still good value, there will be ongoing demand for your services]. So it’s almost inevitable that a team will be paying heavily over the odds for a player in the last season or seasons. It’s a cold, hard fact that the Rockies missed the playoffs in Todd Helton’s last four seasons, over which time he was worth 2.2 bWAR, and cost $49 million. Not including interest, since Colorado will still be paying him until 2023...