- There was no real reason for Kenny Lofton to retire after the 2007 season. He was 40 years old, but he was still good. He had just played a full season and hit .290 with a .367 on-base percentage for Texas and Cleveland, helping the Indians come within a game of the World Series.Lofton was not great on defense, but he was a useful and productive player, and he knew it. He had just made $6 million, part of the $60 million or so he’d made in his long career. When the suitable offers did not come his way as a free agent, he simply stopped playing.
According to baseballreference.com, the second most comparable player to Lofton in baseball history is Johnny Damon. Like Lofton in 2007, Damon has reached a career crossroads sooner than he expected. And now you have to wonder if Damon will play again.
Maybe Damon waits for a team to develop a need through an injury in spring training. This is what another Boras client, pitcher Kenny Rogers, did in 2003. Rogers was coming off a three-year, $22.5 million contract with the Rangers, and he rejected their two-year, $10 million offer. He signed with Minnesota in spring training for just $2 million after another lefty starter, Eric Milton, got hurt.
Did Rogers regret passing up the Rangers’ offer?
“Not for one second,” he told The Times that spring. “Most people won’t believe that, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I know what type of pitcher I am. I know what I meant to that club. I just couldn’t in my mind take that kind of a cut knowing the responsibilities I was going to have on that team if I stayed there.”
I don’t know how Damon’s future will play out. But I could easily picture him saying the same thing at another team’s camp in March.
For many years after free agency entered the game in the late 1970s, pundits routinely predicted that star players would retire prematurely, because they'd be financially set for life long before their talents gave out.
Forgetting, of course, two obvious aspects of human nature:
1. Nobody ever has enough money, and
2. Hitting and throwing and running is a great deal of fun, especially when you're good at it.
Sure, over the years a few players have just stopped playing because they'd had enough. Will Clark and Mike Mussina quit when they were still quite productive. More often, though, stars quit just before they're forced to. They do retire early, compared to the old-timers -- some of whom extended their careers in the minor leagues because they really did need the money -- but they typically play as long as they're playing reasonably well.
What nobody predicted, as near as I can recollect, was that productive older players would be stuck in January looking for jobs paying more than half what they're worth.