Other than induction into the Hall of Fame itself, there is perhaps no bigger honor in baseball than having your jersey retired by a team. Some teams do not differentiate between those honors: The Cardinals, for example, only retire numbers of players in the Hall of Fame. (Which is why they retired Ted Simmons’ jersey last week.) Other teams don’t so much retire numbers as they do induct players into their team Hall of Fame, which doesn’t require making it to Cooperstown. It can be a way just to honor big parts of your team’s history.
However you want to define “retired numbers,” every team looks at its history and wants to preserve it. With that in mind, let’s look at the active player for every MLB team with the best chance to have their jersey retired someday. Note the wording there: The player does have to be active, but he does not have to be actively playing at this specific moment for the team that will retire his number. Some of these teams have that rule that they won’t retire anyone’s number who wasn’t elected to the Hall of Fame. In this case, if there is no obvious Hall of Fame candidate, when necessary, we’ll pick the player most likely to be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. We did this two years ago. Here’s how the list looks now.
Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., No. 27
2019 pick: Guerrero
He looks like he will compete for multiple MVPs and could end up on a Hall of Fame track. And if he ends up signing an extension with the Jays at any point, he could become their signature superstar.
Orioles: Trey Mancini, No. 16
2019 pick: Adam Jones, No. 10
It’s tempting to go with top prospect Adley Rutschman here, but Mancini didn’t go anywhere at the Deadline and sure looks like the sort of player this franchise will keep around even when it makes the inevitable full-youth-pivot. If he keeps hitting, and the Orioles start winning, he’ll be seen as the guy who stuck with them through it all … both on and off the field. Him overcoming a cancer diagnosis makes him a sentimental franchise favorite.
Rays: Evan Longoria, No. 3
2019 pick: Longoria
He’s still the best player in Rays history in just about every major category, and he’s not likely to be caught anytime soon. The only other player to have his number retired by the Rays is Wade Boggs. Whenever Longoria retires, it might be time to bestow him the honor. Wander Franco could easily be the answer the next time we do this.
Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts, No. 2
2019 pick: Mookie Betts, No. 50
Mookie Betts is actually the Red Sox’s 13th-best player in franchise history by WAR, but the way his time in Boston ended — not to mention how long he’ll be playing in Los Angeles — may eliminate him here. Bogaerts or Rafael Devers is the pick.
Yankees: Aaron Judge, No. 99
2019 pick: CC Sabathia, No. 52
He’ll have to re-sign with the team, and he’ll surely have to win a World Series at some point, but he’s the first person you think of when you think of this era — really, the post-Derek Jeter era — of the Yankees.
Cleveland: José Ramírez, No. 11
2019 pick: Corey Kluber, No. 28
He’ll have to hang on with the team for a while, which is always difficult when you’re talking about Cleveland. But they’re about to get a new name, and maybe a new era? Either way: Ramírez, really, is the one guy left.
Royals: Salvador Perez, No. 13
2019 pick: Perez
He’s the one guy who has been there before they were great, when they were great and after they were great. And maybe they’ll be great once more before his career is over.
Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, No. 24
2019 pick: Cabrera
This assumes, of course, he ever actually retires. At least two more years to go in Detroit for Miggy. Note: Because of that fact, the answer here could be Justin Verlander, too.
Twins: Byron Buxton, No. 25
2019 pick: Buxton
This assumes they re-sign him, and that he stays healthy — those are a couple of big ifs, obviously — but one of the disappointing aspects of the last decade of Twins baseball is that there really isn’t anyone else who’s a possibility here.
White Sox: José Abreu, No. 79
2019 pick: Chris Sale, No. 49
If the White Sox are able to win a World Series with their veteran leader the year after he wins an MVP, it’d have to make him a South Side legend … if he isn’t already.
Angels: Mike Trout, No. 27
2019 pick: Trout
They very well might do it while he’s still playing, no?
Astros: Jose Altuve, No. 27
2019 pick: Altuve
They loved him from the beginning, they loved him during the hardest part, they love him now and they’ll love him forever.
Athletics: Matt Olson, No. 28
2019 pick: Matt Chapman, No. 26
This is probably going to require the A’s finally busting though to a World Series as some point, but he has taken the mantle as Best A’s Matt at this point.
Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, No. 85 in Minors
2019 pick: Félix Hernández, No. 34
There’s no real better pick here, unless you want to go with Jarred Kelenic, but the hope is the Mariners will have plenty of options over the next two decades.
Rangers: Josh Jung, No. 18 in Minors
2019 pick: Elvis Andrus, No. 1
Yeah, there’s no obvious choice here, so we’ll go with their top prospect. Maybe if they had extended Joey Gallo …
Braves: Freddie Freeman, No. 5
2019 pick: Freeman
Actually, quite a few players to choose from here, and while Ronald Acuña Jr. may have the stratospheric talent, Freeman has the MVP and a decade with the team. But will he finish his career with them?
Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton, No. 27
2019 pick: Stanton
Still the career leader in many of their categories, and it turns out that his Marlins career is going to dwarf his Yankees one by quite a bit.
Mets: Jacob deGrom, No. 48
2019 pick: deGrom
No matter what happens the rest of his career. But let’s make sure there’s a lot of the rest of his career, anyway.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, No. 37
2019 pick: Max Scherzer, No. 31
This is a tough one. Obviously, the current injury issues are substantial, and there are plenty of guys to choose from, from Scherzer to Juan Soto to even Ryan Zimmerman. But how do they not go with the great prospect hope who ended up being their World Series MVP?
Phillies: Bryce Harper, No. 3
2019 pick: Harper
The next, oh, 10 years of his contract should give him more than enough time to compile all the stats he needs.
Brewers: Christian Yelich, No. 22
2019 pick: Yelich
He’s obviously going to have to start returning to his MVP form, but one or two clutch October hits would go a long way as well.
Cardinals: Albert Pujols, No. 5
2019 pick: Yadier Molina, No. 4
There are certainly two active players who will have their numbers retired by the Cardinals: Pujols and Molina. And Adam Wainwright might well join them.
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, No. 44
2019 pick: Rizzo
There won’t be any Hall of Famers from that 2016 team, it doesn’t look like, but the face of that team, and this era, will almost certainly be Rizzo.
Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, No. 22
2019 pick: McCutchen
The injuries after he left Pittsburgh have hurt his ultimate legacy, but there was a time you thought there’d be a statue of him outside PNC Park someday.
Reds: Joey Votto, No. 19
2019 pick: Votto
Votto may play until he’s 50, and he somehow gets a little bit more lovable every year.
D-backs: Paul Goldschmidt, No. 44
2019 pick: Goldschmidt
The D-backs have basically had two great eras in their history: The Johnson/Schilling/Gonzalez era, and the Goldschmidt era.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, No. 22
2019 pick: Kershaw
Even for a team as stacked as the Dodgers, this is one of the easier calls on the board.
Giants: Buster Posey, No. 28
2019 pick: Madison Bumgarner, No. 40
There was a time when Bumgarner might have been the pick here, and they’ll probably end up retiring both. But Posey’s resurgence after a year off, for a fantastic Giants team, pushes him ahead. Heck, maybe he’ll get another World Series ring.
Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr., No. 23
2019 pick: Tatis
Even more than Manny Machado, he’ll forever represent the Padres’ pivot into what they do this year, and moving forward.