With the conclusion of the uneventful Hall of Fame ceremonies a couple weekends ago, I thought it was important to discuss the current players who will one day partake in those festivities. That is, if the sportswriters decide to be something other than annoying gatekeepers. I combed through the ranks of current MLB rosters and determined who could eventually find themselves immortalized forever in a giant baseball museum. In wax, right? I don't really know how that part works.
Of course, there are a few players who are absolute locks for enshrinement and do not need to be discussed at all. I identify four players: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro and Albert Pujols. The second two might be considered less locked in, but Ichiro has billions of hits and cultural relevance, while Pujols was the best "clean" player of this generation.
Speaking of cleanliness, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez might be considered locks based on statistics. However, both have that dirty cheater cloud hanging over their heads, so they may not get in despite being two of the best players of their time. I mean, why would a baseball museum want an accurate and complete record of the best players in baseball history? How would I explain that type of thoroughness to my daughter? She's just one month old; I can't get her to understand that the bottle contains the milk that she needs to grow. Help me out, MLB!
Before we discuss the nine most likely Hall of Famers, I wanted to very briefly discuss a few players who just missed the cut. I call this part of the article: Just missed the cut.
Just Missed The Cut
- Jason Giambi: Steroid cloud, once had long hair, totally faded after a dominant early career.
- Matt Holliday: Great career, seems to be older than he is, always looks confused.
- Mark Buehrle: Lots of wins, great fielder, never really dominant, great career.
- Tim Hudson: Consistently and shockingly great, also never really dominant.
- Andy Pettitte: Also very consistent, but not consistently great, just good.
- Joe Nathan: Absolutely zero chance, but a much better case than it may seem, especially considering how well he compares to other closers already in the HOF.
- Johan Santana: Sigh. Absolutely dominant, best pitcher after Pedro Martinez's reign ended, end of career derailed by injuries, Hall of Fame peak, Hall of Fame changeup.
For what it's worth, I'd vote for Santana because I am not objective and I love Johan Santana.
I feel it important to point out that I do not necessarily think that each of the next nine players will be entering the Hall of Fame one day or that they have particularly good or bad Hall of Fame resumes. I simply present these players in order of how likely I think their future involves being hugged on a stage by Bert Blyleven in front of thousands of people while a giant plaque with their face on it sits creepily in the background.
He's a DH, so this is a hard sell. He has offered no defensive value his entire career and his offensive value isn't so outrageously outstanding that he should be able to overcome that. I get it. I just can't get the 2004 playoffs out of my head. Ortiz was such an important and famous part of that historical run that it clouds my otherwise solid judgment. I seem to give him far more credit as a baseball player than I should, based solely on a span of eight games. Ultimately, Ortiz has a weaker case than some of the guys I addressed above. However, that 2004 playoff experience is very memorable and makes for a great story. You know who likes to write stories?
Absolute Hall of Fame peak. Monster offensive player, great defender at an up-the-middle position, smart baserunner. He was a perfect all-around player. Although, he was somewhat overshadowed by Ryan Howard's giant home run and RBI totals. Also unfortunate is the fact that he is made of florescent light bulbs. His career numbers aren't impressive enough to get the requisite number of votes. I do feel that there will be future "Why isn't Chase Utley getting more Hall of Fame love" columns written by very intelligent people with excellent cases in Utley's favor. I'd say short of a late-career resurrection, he's probably not going to make it.
Berkman already has a Hall of Fame nickname (Big Puma) and he was a premier offensive player during the 2000s. He's 37 going on 75, so his career is certainly in the twilight stage. Between 2000 and 2011, Berkman had an OPS+ of 147, eclipsing 160 in five of those seasons. It's a shame that his career kind of tanked after the 2009 season, save for a renaissance with the Cardinals in 2011. He doesn't have gaudy counting stats and he wasn't a good enough defender for a full saber embrace. However, he has a career .294/.407/.538 triple slash. Only 15 MLB players since 1916 have had careers as good or better than Berkman in those three areas. Check it out, I'm not lying.
Todd Helton played in Colorado, so all of his accomplishments mean nothing. Nothing! Or so some may lead you to believe. I know that Colorado helped him, as I am able to read split stats, but it seems that he should still receive credit for what he did as a player. That being said, his case isn't spectacular. He had a Hall of Fame peak, but since 2005, he's had two great seasons, two good seasons, one average season and three below-average seasons. Plus, he's not as good as Larry Walker. Until Walker gets his due, I can't support Helton too strongly.
If slow and steady truly wins the race, then Beltran will be in the Hall of Fame one day. Young Beltran was a power/speed centerfielder who didn't seem to be carrying his team, but was carrying his team. As he's aged, he isn't the great defender and baserunner that he used to be, but he isn't terrible either. He had that ridiculous 2004 playoff run with the Astros as well. He seems to get penalized for his time with the Mets, but look at his freaking 2006 season, will you? .275/.388/.594, 150 OPS+, 38 doubles, 41 homers, 18 steals, 8.2 rWAR. I'd say that qualifies as "not disappointing." He's also one of only eight players with 300 home runs and 300 steals. So if you make your decisions based entirely on round numbers, he's got to get your vote. I might have him too high on this list, but he's aging better than the other old guys above him. He could still produce another 10-12 WAR in his career. He'd be near 80 WAR, if that were to happen. Not a lot of guys produce 80 WAR in a career, especially not as a primary centerfielder.
This may be slightly premature, but have you seen this guy hit? He's basically Pujols minus three years of age and he has been for almost a decade. He's not going to get any defense points, but simply being a third baseman has to help his case slightly. Really, it all comes down to the fact that he is a generational talent as a hitter. He hits for average and power and he gets on base. Unless something changes, he's going to plow past traditional counting milestones and he might reach crazy numbers like 600 home runs, 3500 hits, 2000 RBI. He's the best hitter in baseball, has been for a few years and probably will continue to be for a few more.
I'm not great at valuing pitchers. If you compare Sabathia's career to this point with Tim Hudson's, it's not really that much different. The wins, innings and ERA are pretty close. However, Sabathia has far more strikeouts and is five years younger. So, yeah, that's significant. Sabathia could be the last pitcher to ever approach 300 wins. There's no way that number can be used as any sort of attainable milestone in this era, but that's a completely different set of words. Of course, his 2013 season has been a disaster, so maybe he won't last long enough to solidify his case. Even so, Sabathia will probably be considered the best left-handed starter of this generation (Johan Santana was better, don't forget that). That type of distinction helps with player Hall of Fame cases.
Prior to last season, I would have had Halladay in the "locks" category. He is arguably the best pitcher of this post-Pedro generation. However, his drop-off these past two seasons is hard to get out of my head. I'm hoping that injury is the problem and not age. I enjoy watching him pitch. It would be great if he could come back and have a couple more quality seasons. If he doesn't, his case might get weaker and weaker. That would be unfortunate, as he was certainly a dominant pitcher for a long period of time.
Honestly, I'm ready to throw Beltre into the "locks" category. He's one of the best defenders at third base in MLB history. He's been a great power hitter if you ignore his time with Seattle. His OBP isn't great but his counting stats are starting to look very impressive. As much as some may dislike the emphasis on counting stats, it does factor in. Only 34, Beltre has a decent shot at 3000 hits and 500 home runs. He will hit 500 doubles and might get to 600. I wish there was some way to see what Beltre's numbers would look like if he hadn't spent five seasons in Seattle. He did, so those years count, but he seems to be building his case in spite of those seasons. I want to touch his head.
That seems like an appropriate way to finish up. Tomorrow, I'm going to look at the young players on Hall of Fame paths. This requires more projection and more stones. I'm excited.