Age starting to show on some of MLB's big teams

Jun 5 2012 - 6:20pm

Eric Chavez looked around the New York clubhouse and saw he had more in common with his teammates than the pinstripes on his uniform.

There's a lot of salt and pepper to go with that Yankee blue these days. The 34-year-old Chavez is one of seven regulars in the lineup over the age of 30, and that's not even counting 40-year-old Andy Pettitte and 37-year-old Hiroki Kuroda in the starting rotation.

"We joke about it," Chavez said. "We're old. We know we're old and we're OK with that. We're experienced."

The Yankees aren't alone there. Some of the marquee clubs in the major leagues could serve blue-plate specials after a game, and age could be one reason teams like the Phillies, Red Sox and Angels got off to such slow starts. All four of the high-profile, big-spending franchises suffered through some costly injuries and quite simply looked a step slow in the early going.

The Yankees have the oldest roster in baseball, with an average age of 31.5 years. The Phillies (31.0) and Red Sox (30.0) are right behind them.

There are some wrinkles and bald spots creeping into some of the most recognizable faces in the game. The average age in baseball this season is 29 years, 78 days, according to STATS, LLC. That number has been steadily rising since 2008 and is the highest it's been since 2005.

Some players are aging more gracefully than others.

Indestructible Yankees closer Mariano Rivera blew out his right knee under crazy circumstances, when his foot caught on the warning track while shagging fly balls in batting practice. Alex Rodriguez will turn 37 in July and has seen his production drop sharply while dealing with injuries to his hip, thumb and knee over the last three seasons. Meanwhile, 35-year-old Phillies ace Roy Halladay just hit the disabled list with a shoulder strain that his manager fears may be the result of a work load that has been unmatched over the last six years.

"Look at Mariano. He's a trooper," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, no spring chicken at 36. "Mariano is this guy you see all the time. I don't remember Mariano being on the DL. He was chasing a fly ball like you normally do and 'Boom!' It's the weird things you can't stop from happening."

And as the saying goes, you can't stop time, either. Not even Jamie Moyer can. The 49-year-old Colorado Rockies pitcher was designated for assignment last week after becoming the oldest pitcher to win a game earlier this season.

The last-place Rockies couldn't wait any longer for Moyer to turn things around, and some pretty demanding fan bases were getting a little impatient with some underperforming stars around the big leagues as well.

With one homer in his first 36 games, superstar Albert Pujols was looking a lot older than 32. His plodding Angels dropped 14 of their first 20 games before he finally got the hang of American League pitching, and 20-year-old Mike Trout helped inject the team with some electricity during an eight-game winning streak that got them back into second place in the AL West.

At least A-Rod has proven durable through the first two months of this season, which in and of itself is cause for celebration.

His batting average climbed from .222 in the middle of April to .283 by the end of May. But he still managed to hit just three home runs last month and hasn't looked like the force who hit at least 30 home runs in 15 of his first 16 full seasons.

His World Series-or-bust Yanks were 21-21 and hovering near the bottom of the AL East on May 21, but still hanging within shouting distance of the division lead thanks in large part, oddly enough, to a brilliant start from their 38-year-old captain. Derek Jeter was hitting .336 as of Thursday and showing no signs of slowing down.

"As long as you can stay healthy I don't think you can replace experience," said Pettitte, who got off to a 2-2 start with a 3.49 ERA. "That's huge. We've got some age but we've also got some guys who are in the prime of their career. We have a good mixture."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn't about to give up on his veterans, and he figures the Yankees will reward that faith when it matters most -- this fall.

"You have to trust that track records are track records," Girardi said. "I know, eventually one day a track record isn't a track record; that's what happens. But I don't feel like a lot of our hitters are at the age where their track records should just be thrown out."

Age is nothing but a number to Ortiz, who is keeping the Red Sox afloat while he waits for younger guys like Adrian Gonzalez (four homers in the first two months), Jacoby Ellsbury (on the disabled list with an injured right shoulder) and Clay Buchholz (7.19 ERA) to get going. Carl Crawford has been out all season with wrist and elbow injuries and 33-year-old third baseman Kevin Youkilis has only played in 26 games because of a lower back strain.

"It seems like especially in our team there's been a lot injuries," Ortiz said. "It's part of the game. It's hard to keep them away. It seems like everybody has a little something going on this year and that makes it feel different for a lot of teams."

The Red Sox were 7 1/2 games behind just two weeks ago, but have crept back into the picture since.

The Phillies have somehow managed to hang around as well, despite playing without Ryan Howard (Achilles) and Chase Utley (knee) all season and getting only modest production out of 33-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins. But now they are really going to be tested.

Halladay was just 4-5 with a pedestrian 3.98 ERA in 11 starts this season and went on to the disabled list this week for six to eight weeks with a strained shoulder.

"He's thrown a lot of bullets over his career," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Halladay, who has led the league in innings pitched four times and topped 220 in each of the last six seasons.

Even the most optimistic estimates have Halladay getting back by the end of July, but will he be the same gunslinger he has been for so long? And even though the Phillies also have Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the rotation, can they stay in the hunt in the competitive NL East that long?

"You can probably more easily, normally absorb injuries to your everyday players as opposed to the starters," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We have some starting depth ... but to get really tested would be more difficult."

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AP Baseball Writers Janie McCauley in Oakland, Calif., and Ben Walker and Howie Rumberg in New York, and freelance writer Ken Powtak in Boston contributed to this report.

 

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