While most baseball fans (well, most of the ones who pay attention to early spring training games) probably saw 33-year-old Félix Hernández’s start in the Atlanta Braves’ Grapefruit League opener last weekend as a veteran getting a chance to extend his career and play the game he loves a little while longer, it was undoubtedly bittersweet and unsettling for most Seattle Mariners fans.
After all, King Félix is a franchise icon in Seattle — one of those guys you just assume will spend his entire career with one team, ride off into the sunset with a picture-perfect retirement ceremony, and show up for big team functions until he’s old and gray. He grew up in the Mariners organization, making his major-league debut at age 19 in 2005, and he ended up spending 15 seasons in Seattle, making six All-Star appearances and winning the 2010 AL Cy Young Award along the way. Mariners fans watched him grow from a wide-eyed teenager to one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history, are there are surely fans who feel like they played a part in raising him, even if from afar.
That’s why it’s so weird to see him in a Braves uniform this spring. While it’s rather common for a starting pitcher to still be in his prime at 33 years old, King Félix has basically fallen off a cliff since he turned 30, dealing with a multitude of injuries and a significant decrease in velocity. He hasn’t reached the 30-start mark since 2015 and has had an ERA over 4.00 for the last three seasons — culminating in a career-worst 6.40 ERA in 2019 — so the Mariners made the decision to let him walk. When Hernández made his final start at T-Mobile Park on Sept. 26, exiting to hugs from teammates and a massive standing ovation and then saluting his “King’s Court” fan section after the final out, plenty of fans assumed that would be his storybook ending. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. He signed a minor-league deal with the Braves in late January and is now competing for a spot at the back of their rotation. And while there’s nothing wrong with trying to stick around as long as possible, there’s also something to be said for finishing your career in front of the fans who have been supporting you for so long. Just ask Hernández’s former teammates, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki, who came back and retired in Seattle after bouncing around the majors late in their respective careers.
If Hernández looks washed up this spring and doesn’t win a spot in Atlanta’s rotation, he might still end up being a career-long Mariner, at least as far as his Baseball-Reference page is concerned. But truthfully, this image has already been burned into every King’s Court member’s brain forever more:
With Félix’s move in mind, we thought it’d be fun to look back on some of the weirdest late-career team changes in the history of the sport. We’ll get things started with Hammerin’ Hank:
Hank Aaron, Brewers
Aaron spent his first 21 major-league seasons in the Braves organization, moving with the team from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966 and along the way racking up 24 All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, two batting titles, and a World Series victory and NL MVP award in 1957. But with Aaron having broken the major-league home run record in 1974, his outfield defense sharply declining, and his power having dropped off significantly (at least by his standards; he went from 40 homers in ‘73 to 20 in ‘74), the Braves were ready to move on at the end of that season.
To the Braves organization’s credit, they placed Aaron in an ideal situation, trading him to the Brewers and giving him a chance to return to the city where he began his big-league career. Aaron served almost exclusively as a DH for the Brewers (who were then in the American League), and though he made the AL All-Star team for seemingly nostalgic reasons in 1975, he was mostly unimpressive over two seasons with Milwaukee, hitting .234/.332/.355 with 12 homers in 137 games as a 41-year-old in ‘75, then hitting .229/.315/.369 with 10 home runs in 85 contests during his final major-league season in ‘76.
You could make an argument that Bautista was never really a guy you would’ve thought of as a “Blue Jay for life” to begin with. After all, he played for the Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals, and Pirates before arriving in Toronto at the age of 27. But he shaped the entirety of his superstar legacy with the Blue Jays, becoming a six-time All-Star and two-time home-run champ, and according to Baseball-Reference he’s the fourth-most valuable player in franchise history, having accumulated 37.3 WAR during his time north of the border. Of course, he was also the star of a moment that was probably second only to Joe Carter’s World Series-winning homer among the best in Blue Jays history.
So it was very weird to see a 37-year-old Bautista embark on a tour of the NL East during the 2018 season. After he went unsigned throughout the offseason, he joined the Braves — reuniting with his former GM, Alex Anthopoulos, in the process — on April 18, 2018. But that experiment was short lived; after he posted a .143/.250/.343 slash line and struggled to reacclimate to his former position of third base, he was released on May 20.
While many people thought that’d be the end of Joey Bats’ big-league career, he quickly found a new gig, landing with the Mets two days later and actually putting up some respectable on-base and power numbers, hitting .204/.351/.367 with nine homers. He remained in Queens before being dealt to the Phillies in an August 28 waiver deal. He ended that season with an unceremonious 27-game stint in Philadelphia, hitting .244/.404/.467 over 57 PAs as the Phils cratered to an 8-20 record in September, blowing their chance at a playoff berth.
While Bautista sat out the entire 2019 season and is currently unsigned, Jeff Passan reported this week that he’s working out as a pitcher, so perhaps there’s a chance we’ll see him again and there will be even more interesting twists to his already fascinating career.
Yogi Berra, Mets
Berra wrapped up an 18-year playing career, the entirety of which had been spent with the Yankees, following the 1963 season and was immediately named the Bronx Bombers’ manager for the ‘64 campaign. But in a bizarre turn of events, he was fired after the Yankees lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals that season. He quickly caught on as a player-coach with the Mets, working under his longtime former Yankees manager Casey Stengel, for the 1965 season. Berra caught in four games in May of that year, starting two and serving as a late-game defensive replacement in two others, before transitioning from player-coach to just coach. The Hall of Famer stayed in Queens through 1975, serving under Stengel, Wes Westrum, and Gil Hodges before becoming the Mets’ skipper in 1972.
Hank Greenberg, Pirates
After 12 fantastic seasons with the Tigers that included five All-Star appearances, two AL MVP awards, and two World Series victories, Greenberg was sold to the Pirates in January 1947. The Hall of Famer considered retiring, feeling that he was past his prime from a physical standpoint, but the Pirates convinced him to continue playing by moving in the fences at Forbes Field and awarding him the first six-figure salary in MLB history. Especially if you’re judging by modern evaluation standards, he had a fantastic season in Pittsburgh (particularly for a guy who was 36 years old and had spent 47 months serving in World War II), hitting .249/.408/.478 with 25 homers. But Greenberg quickly grew tired of playing for a terrible Pirates team and retired after one season in Pittsburgh to become the Indians’ farm director.
Keith Hernandez, Indians
Hernandez, regarded by many as the best defensive first baseman of all time, clearly wasn’t his old self as he finished his seventh season with the Mets in 1989. Injuries were beginning to take a toll on him, and he was coming off a season where he hit .233/.324/.326 with four homers over 244 PAs, so the Mets let the 11-time Gold Glove winner, five-time All-Star, two-time World Series champ, and 1979 NL MVP walk in free agency. Hernandez, who had become an icon with both the Cardinals (with whom he spent 10 seasons) and the Mets, followed the money and signed a two-year, $3.5 million deal with the Indians for the 1990 campaign. Unfortunately, injuries limited the 36-year-old to 43 games and a .200/.283/.238 slash line with one homer, so he retired after the first season of the contract.
Trevor Hoffman, Brewers
While Hoffman technically wasn’t a one-team player prior to his final stop — he was drafted by the Reds, selected by the Marlins in the 1993 expansion draft, and pitched 28 games for Florida’s inaugural squad — he might as well have been, as he was traded to San Diego halfway through that season and remained there for the next 15-and-a-half years. Over that stretch, he turned himself into a Hall of Famer, making six All-Star appearances and recording 552 saves over 902 games. And while Hoffman openly expressed a desire to finish his career with the Padres, he was clearly still very good following the 2008 season, when Padres owner John Moores ordered the front office to reduce the payroll by more than $30 million. The Padres lowballed him, and contract talks abruptly broke down.
Hoffman signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Brewers, and the contract actually ended up being a steal for Milwaukee. The 41-year-old Hoffman made a seventh All-Star team, posting a 1.83 ERA (his best since 1998) and a 0.91 WHIP over 55 games. That offseason, he re-signed with the Brewers on a one-year, $8 million deal with a mutual option for 2011, but he wasn’t able to achieve the same success, losing his closer role to John Axford while posting a career-worst 5.89 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP over 50 games. Milwaukee declined the option and he retired after the 2010 season.
Ryan Howard, Braves/Rockies
He never played in the MLB, but Ryan Howard on the Braves wasn't right. Nor was Ryan Howard on the Rockies. pic.twitter.com/mTyunlZT5v— Daniel (@DKeri_) February 17, 2019
Howard was an extremely important figure on the dominant Phillies teams of the late 2000s and early 2010s, helping them to five straight playoff appearances from 2007-11 and a World Series victory in 2009 while leading the majors in RBI three times and home runs twice, making three All-Star teams, and winning the 2005 Rookie of the Year Award and the ‘06 MVP. But he began to decline shortly after signing a massive contract extension in 2010, and though he clearly was still a capable hitter by the last season of the deal — he hit 25 homers, slugged .453, and posted a .932 second-half OPS in 2016 — the Phillies were ready to move on, giving him an emotional send-off at the end of the season and buying him out for $10 million rather than picking up his $23 million option for 2017.
With the 37-year-old Howard clearly interested in trying to extend his career, he signed a minor-league deal with the Braves as the 2017 regular season began. Many expected that he’d quickly be called up to serve as a pinch-hitting option, but he had a miserable 11-game stint at Triple-A Gwinnett, hitting .184/.238/.263 with one homer in 42 PAs, and he was released on May 8. Later that summer, the Rockies took a similar flyer on Howard in hopes that he could be an impactful pinch-hitter in September as they embarked on a playoff push, but he posted a disappointing .192/.185/.442 slash line with three homers in 16 games at Triple-A Albuquerque, so the Rockies did not purchase his contract as the minor-league season came to a close.
Harmon Killebrew, Royals
Killebrew was arguably the most iconic player in Minnesota Twins history, debuting with the Washington Senators at the age of 17 in 1954, moving to the Twin Cities with the team in 1961 and remaining there until he was 38 years old in 1974. During that span, he hit .258/.378/.514 with 559 homers, making 13 All-Star teams and winning the 1969 AL MVP. But by the mid-1970s, Killebrew’s skills had begun to deteriorate, and following the 1974 season the Twins effectively tried to pressure him into retiring, offering him a choice between becoming a major-league hitting coach or a manager at Triple-A Tacoma. Killebrew rejected that offer, choosing to depart the Twins organization in stunning fashion after 21 seasons.
Killebrew signed a one-year deal to serve as the Royals’ designated hitter, and while his power remained, he looked like a hitter who was very much past his prime, hitting .199/.317/.375 with 14 homers in 106 games. He retired after one season in Kansas City.
Lincecum is perhaps the player most similar to Hernández on this list in that he enjoyed a long run of success with one team but faded at a relatively early age. After debuting with the Giants in 2007, he ended up winning two straight NL Cy Young awards, making four straight NL All-Star teams, and putting together one of the most dominant starting pitching stretches in the history of baseball with San Francisco during the late 2000s and early 2010s, winning three World Series rings along the way. He had fallen off significantly by 2012, though, and the Giants decided to let him walk after he had major hip surgery in 2015.
After completing his recovery — he said so, at least — he signed a one-year deal with the Angels in late May of 2016. He had a disastrous nine-start tenure with the Halos, posting a 9.16 ERA over 38.1 innings, and he was designated for assignment in early August. He sat out the entire 2017 season and seemed to be finished with baseball, but he re-emerged during the 2017-18 offseason, seemingly having rediscovered his elite velocity at Driveline Baseball. He signed a major-league deal with the Rangers in March 2018, but he sustained a blister in spring training and embarked on a nightmarish minor-league rehab assignment, so he ultimately was released on June 5 without ever appearing in a big-league game with Texas.
Marichal was right up there with Bob Gibson as one of the most consistent starting pitchers of the 1960s. But he began to fade as the decade turned and he reached his thirties, posting an ERA below 3.00 just once in the ‘70s (a 2.94 in 1971) after doing so for seven straight seasons from 1963-69. Amid concerns about his chronic back issues and his 17-31 record during the 1972-73 seasons, the Giants sold Marichal to the Red Sox on December 7, 1973, bringing an end to a 14-year tenure in San Francisco during which Marichal made 10 All-Star teams, threw a no-hitter, and posted a 2.84 ERA.
Marichal missed significant time due to injuries during his lone season with the Red Sox, appearing in just 11 games and making nine starts while posting a 4.87 ERA. He was released after the season and made the boldest move any Giants legend can make — he signed with the archrival Dodgers. It was also a bold move from the Dodgers’ standpoint, as Marichal had beat Los Angeles catcher John Roseboro over the head with a bat back in 1965, starting a massive brawl that drew the ire of many Dodgers fans.
All the fuss didn’t really end up being worth it, as Marichal was lit up over two starts with LA, allowing nine runs on 11 hits and five walks through six innings before retiring in mid-April.
Willie Mays, Mets
While he may have technically been “past his prime” at 41 years old, it’s virtually impossible to argue that Willie Mays wasn’t still great in 1972 — after all, he was coming off a ‘71 season where he posted a 158 OPS+ and a 6.3 bWAR at 40 years old. And there was plenty of reason for the Giants to make sure he finished his career in orange and black — after all, he was the best player in franchise history, spending 21 seasons with the team between New York and San Francisco, making 22 All-Star appearances (there were several years where MLB had two All-Star Games and Mays played in both of them) and winning 12 Gold Gloves, the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year, and the 1954 and ‘65 NL MVP Awards.
But Mays was making $160,000 a year and desired a contract that would keep him on the team’s payroll beyond retirement, and the Giants — owned by the cash-strapped Stoneham family — were struggling to stay afloat financially. With the chance to send Mays back to New York, the Giants gave in on May 11, 1972, dealing him to the Mets, who promptly gave him a raise to $175,000 per year and guaranteed him a coaching role that paid $50,000 a year in retirement. After getting off to a slow start while playing his first 18 games of the season in San Francisco, Mays was fantastic in a part-time role for the Metropolitans, hitting .267/.402/.446 with eight homers in 242 plate appearances following the trade.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sustain that same level of success in 1973, having the only bad season of his career while hitting .211/.303/.344 over 66 games. The Mets reached the World Series that October, but Mays had an embarrassing night as he misplayed two balls in Game 2 of the Fall Classic. He retired after the season, and while he remained in his coaching role with the Mets for a while, he eventually made his way back to the Giants organization as a special assistant to the president.
Mike Piazza, Padres/Athletics
Sure, you could argue that Piazza didn’t really have extraordinary ties to any one team since he ended up playing for five different organizations. But the vast majority of fans remember him as a member of the Dodgers, with whom he established himself and made five All-Star teams from 1992-98, or the Mets, who he played for from 1998-2005, helping the Amazins to the 2000 World Series and making another seven All-Star appearances. He’s wearing a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, for what it’s worth.
With Piazza wrapping up his seven-year, $91 million contract at the end of the 2005 season and both sides apparently seeking a fresh start — the Mets gave him a send-off on the last day of the season — he became a free agent for the first time in his career and opted to return to the NL West, signing a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Padres. He actually had a pretty memorable season in San Diego, hitting .283/.342/.501 with 22 homers in 126 games and helping the Friars to an NL West title. He created one of the greatest moments of his career on July 21st of that year, picking up his 2,000th major-league hit.
The 38-year-old Piazza hit the free-agent market again that offseason with substantially more value, and he earned a one-year, $8.5 million deal from the Athletics to serve as a DH. He struggled to acclimate to that role, though, posting a .275/.313/.414 slash line — adding up to a .727 OPS, his worst since his rookie season — with eight homers over 83 games. He had hopes of playing another season but went unsigned and announced his retirement in May 2008.
Jimmy Rollins, Dodgers/White Sox/Giants
Rollins may be the player whose career ended in the most cringeworthy fashion after a long, successful stint with one team. He came up with the Phillies in September 2000 and remained there through the end of the 2014 season, making three All-Star teams and winning four Gold Gloves, the 2007 NL MVP, and the 2008 World Series. But with the Phillies taking a deep dive into a youth movement in the mid-2010s and the 36-year-old Rollins looking to play for a contender in the late stages of his career, Philadelphia traded him to the Dodgers for a pair of minor-league pitchers in December 2014.
Rollins failed to live up to the production he’d consistently put up in Philadelphia, and while the Dodgers won the NL West in 2015, the veteran shortstop wasn’t much help, hitting .224/.285/.358 with 13 homers and a 0.0 bWAR. He wanted to keep playing for his age-37 season, but he had to settle for a minor-league deal with the White Sox. He ended up making the team and was Chicago’s Opening Day starting shortstop, but after posting a .624 OPS with a -0.1 bWAR over 41 games, he was designated for assignment in early June.
When Rollins joined TBS’ studio crew for the 2016 postseason, many assumed that his playing days were over. But the Bay Area native gave it one more shot, signing a minor-league deal with the Giants for the 2017 season, with many believing he was penciled into a utility role in San Francisco. But after he struggled to a miserable .125/.222/.250 line in spring training, he was released prior to Opening Day and never played professional baseball again.
Babe Ruth, Boston Braves
Ruth didn’t have the same exclusive ties to one organization that many other players on this list did, as he was a well-known member of both the Red Sox and Yankees. But he may be the most famous example of a player who had a random late-career team change.
While he was still one of the best hitters in baseball in the mid-1930s, posting a 1.023 OPS in ‘33 and a .985 in ‘34, the Yankees had concerns about his conditioning and defensive ability. Growing impatient, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert gave Ruth a massive pay cut for the ‘34 season and didn’t balk as Ruth pressured him to fire manager Joe McCarthy and make him the new skipper. By the end of that season, Ruppert was itching to get rid of the player widely regarded as the best in baseball history, and in late February 1935 he swung a deal to send Ruth to the Boston Braves under the condition that they’d give The Sultan of Swat the titles of assistant manager and vice president. Ruth was excited about that possibility and got on board with the deal, though he became discouraged soon after joining the team when he found that those off-field roles were strictly ceremonial. He hit .181/.359/.431 with six homers in 28 games with the Braves, and as his struggles mounted and his relationship with owner Emil Fuchs deteriorated, he played his final major-league game on May 30 and officially retired shortly thereafter.
John Smoltz, Red Sox/Cardinals
Smoltz became one of the most revered pitchers in Braves history over 20 seasons in Atlanta, showing himself to be elite as both a starter and closer. But with the 41-year-old coming off major shoulder surgery following the 2008 season, the Braves were concerned about his health and offered him a “prove it” deal for the ‘09 campaign. An offended Smoltz rejected the offer and ended negotiations with the only team he’d ever pitched for in the big leagues. Chipper Jones was among those who publicly criticized the franchise for not doing enough to keep one of its all-time greats.
Smoltz ended up signing a one-year, incentive-laden $5.5 million deal with the Red Sox, knowing that he wouldn’t be ready to pitch until well after the season had started. He made his Boston debut on June 25, allowing five runs over five innings against the Nationals, and though he had a pair of starts in which he allowed just one run, he gave up at least five runs in each of his five other starts with Boston. He was designated for assignment on August 7 after giving up eight runs in 3.1 innings to the Yankees the night before, and he was officially released on August 17.
Smoltz signed with the playoff-bound Cardinals on August 19, jumping at a chance to join the Redbirds’ rotation. He went on to pitch quite well for St. Louis, shutting out the Padres and striking out nine over five innings in his Cardinals debut, then allowing three or fewer runs in four of his six subsequent starts. He finished his major-league career with a two-inning relief appearance in Game 3 of the NLDS, striking out five and allowing one run.
Duke Snider, Mets/Giants
Snider had a spectacular 16-year career with the Dodgers, making seven All-Star teams, winning two World Series, and posting a .300/.384/.553 slash line with 389 homers between Brooklyn and Los Angeles. But by the early 1960s, Snider had fallen out of favor with manager Walter Alston as his power evaporated. He was clearly on the outs by the end of the 1962 season, as his batting average dropped to .278 and he was reduced to a part-time role (though he actually had a spectacular 148 OPS+ that likely would have been looked on much more favorably in the modern game). He was sold to the Mets just before Opening Day in 1964, and though he briefly considered retirement, he ended up reporting to New York and having a rather strong season, hitting .243/.345/.401 with 14 homers while making the NL All-Star team and getting 415 plate appearances, his most since 1959. While he clearly wasn’t the same player who had been one of the best hitters in baseball during the 1950s, he was warmly embraced by Mets fans who had watched him star in Brooklyn before the Dodgers moved across the country following the 1957 season.
Entering his age-37 season, Snider asked the Mets (who went 51-111 in ‘64) to deal him to a contender so he’d have a chance to win one more World Series. The Mets obliged, but with somewhat of a bittersweet twist — he was sold to the Dodgers’ rivals, the Giants, in April 1964. While Snider was happy to get back to California and be closer to his family, it was understandably an uncomfortable sight for Dodgers fans. He posted a .210/.302/.323 slash line — his worst since his rookie season — with four homers in 91 games with San Francisco, and though the Giants won 90 games, they finished fourth in the National League, keeping Snider from his goal of winning one more championship. He retired following the 1964 season and quickly accepted an off-the-field role in the Dodgers organization.
Sammy Sosa, Orioles/Rangers
While he had brief stints with the Rangers and White Sox to begin his career, Sosa became one of the most beloved players in franchise history over 13 seasons with the Cubs, hitting 545 homers, making seven All-Star teams, and playing a huge role in re-igniting baseball’s popularity after a disastrous season-ending strike in 1994. However, he had worn out his welcome in Chicago by the mid-2000s. With his reputation already hurt by rumors of PED usage, a corked bat incident, and an embarrassing sneeze-induced injury, the Cubs’ all-time leader in home runs skipped out on the final game of the 2004 season and publicly blamed the team’s failure to make the playoffs on manager Dusty Baker. The Cubs spent all offseason trying to trade him, and they finally found a fit in early February 2005, dealing him to the Orioles for utility players Jerry Hairston Jr. and Mike Fontenot and minor-league pitcher Dave Crouthers.
Sosa struggled over his lone season in Baltimore, hitting .221/.295/.376 with 14 homers in 102 games, and he was let go after the season. He rejected the Nationals’ offer of a minor-league contract and sat out the entire 2006 season, but he made a comeback for the ‘07 campaign, rejoining the Rangers (who he signed with as an amateur free agent and played 25 games with as a rookie in 1989) on a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training. He ended up making the team and sticking around for the entire season, enjoying a memorable moment in June when he became the fifth player in MLB history to join the 600-home-run club. He actually posted pretty solid numbers as a 38-year-old, hitting .252/.311/.468 with 21 homers in 114 games while serving almost exclusively as a DH, but he did not play again in the majors. He tried to make one more comeback prior to the 2009 season but was unsuccessful and officially retired in June of that year.
Warren Spahn, Mets/Giants
For whatever reason, there was apparently a trend during the early ‘60s of Hall of Famers having late-career stints with both the Mets and Giants AND posing for photos with Willie Mays whenever they arrived in San Francisco. Though he had spent 20 seasons with the Braves, winning the 1957 Cy Young and World Series, making 17 All-Star teams, and winning the NL ERA title three times while posting a 3.05 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 2,493 strikeouts in 714 starts, the organization was ready to part ways with the lefty following the 1964 season after he posted a 5.29 ERA — his worst since his rookie season — and tensions arose with manager Bobby Bragan. The Braves sold him to the Mets shortly after that season ended, and New York gave him an opportunity to both pitch and serve as the pitching coach under his former manager Casey Stengel.
The 44-year-old Spahn struggled with an awful Mets club, going 4-12 with a 4.36 ERA over 20 games (19 starts), leaving New York in the awkward position of having to release its pitching coach at midseason. He signed with the Giants two days later, and while he wasn’t his old self, he was pretty solid over 16 games (11 starts) the rest of the way, posting a 3.39 ERA over 71.2 innings.
While Spahn — famous for saying, “I didn’t retire from baseball, baseball retired me” — never pitched in the majors again after the 1965 season, he stuck around professional baseball for a long while and continued to pitch on occasion for another couple years. He saw action in three games while coaching for the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League in 1966, then pitched in another three games while serving as the manager for the Tulsa Oilers, the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, in 1967 before officially ending his playing career and focusing on coaching.
Frank Thomas, Athletics/Blue Jays
Thomas remained an elite hitter when healthy during his final seasons with the White Sox, but injuries kept him off the field for large chunks of the 2004-05 seasons, and he didn’t play after July 20 during Chicago’s World Series run in 2005 due to a foot fracture. Despite the World Series victory, The Big Hurt’s 16-year career with the White Sox ended in controversial fashion, as owner Jerry Reinsdorf did not notify him in advance that the team was buying out the final year of his contract. (The ChiSox would go on to sign free agent Jim Thome, who also ended up in the Hall of Fame, to take over as their DH.)
The 38-year-old Thomas joined the Athletics on a one-year, $500,000 deal (with $2.6 million in incentives) just before spring training in 2006, and he went on to experience a resurgence, enjoying his first healthy season since 2003 and hitting .270/.381/.545 with 39 homers over 137 games, helping the A’s to an AL West title and finishing fourth in AL MVP voting.
He restored his free-agent value that offseason and signed a two-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays. During the first year of the deal, he played his most games (155) since the 2000 season, but his production dipped a bit in Toronto as he hit .277/.377/.480 with 26 homers. He hit his 500th home run in June of that year.
He got off to a horrid start in 2008, hitting .167/.306/.333 with three homers in 16 games, and the Blue Jays released him. He quickly went back to Oakland and finished his career with 55 games in an A’s uniform, posting a .751 OPS with five homers.
Larry Walker, Cardinals
After spending the first six years of his career with the Expos, Walker had entrenched himself with the Rockies, spending nearly a decade there from 1995-2004 and making four All-Star appearances, winning the 1997 MVP and four Gold Gloves. But with Colorado nowhere near playoff contention and the future Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career at 37 years old, Walker — who had never played in a World Series — asked to be traded as the deadline approached in ‘04. The Rockies worked out a deal to send him to the Rangers, but he exercised his no-trade clause and turned it down. (That deal, by the way, would have sent Ian Kinsler to Colorado and perhaps prevented Texas from making its only two World Series appearances in club history in the early 2010s.) The deadline passed without Walker being traded, but Colorado worked out a deal with the Cardinals on August 6 to send the slugger to St. Louis.
Walker, who had a ridiculous 166 OPS+ over 38 games at the time of the trade, continued to hit at a superhuman pace after being dealt to the first-place Cardinals, posting a .280/.393/.560 slash line with 11 homers in 178 plate appearances down the stretch. He was spectacular during the playoffs that fall as well, hitting .293/.379/.707 with six homers as the Cardinals advanced to their first World Series since 1987 before being swept by the Red Sox. He’d go on to play one full season in St. Louis, and though a herniated disc in his back held him back, he was still very good at the plate, hitting .289/.384/.502 with 15 homers in 100 games. Unfortunately for Walker, his health prevented him from sticking around one more season, because he may have had a chance to win his first ring as the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006.