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Max Rosenfeld

On Active Hall of Famers, and Who Might Come Up Short

It’s never too early to look ahead to a future Hall of Fame class. Which active players have already cemented their cases for enshrinement and which ones still have to do more to be considered future Hall of Famers?

 

On January 24th, the Baseball Writers Association of America will reveal the results of its 2018 Hall of Fame voting. It’s a class filled with controversy, as the new and old schools have publicly clashed over the legitimacy of potential steroid-abusers’ careers. In the future, we will be having a different type of debate. Today’s game is filled with talented players that are constantly challenging the record books, but how many of these guys will be enshrined in Cooperstown?

The Locks

Albert Pujols .305 lifetime batting average, 614 home runs, 1918 RBIs, two-time World Series Champion, three-time MVP
Ichiro Suzuki 3,080 career hits, .312 lifetime batting average, ten-time Gold Glove Award winner, 2001 AL MVP
Miguel Cabrera .317 lifetime batting average, 462 home runs, two-time MVP, 2012 AL Triple Crown winner, 2003 World Series champion
David Ortiz 521 home runs, 1,768 RBIs, three-time World Series champion
Adrian Beltre 3,048, 462 home runs, 1,642 RBIs, five-time Gold Glove Award winner
Carlos Beltran 435 home runs, 1,587 RBIs, three-time Gold Glove winner, 2017 World Series champion
Clayton Kershaw 2.36 lifetime ERA, three-time Cy Young Award winner, five-time ERA champion, 2014 NL MVP, 2011 NL Triple Crown winner

 

Aside from Beltran and potentially Ichiro, the most impressive thing about this collection of players is that their numbers will continue to accumulate. For many, Pujols and Cabrera define a generation of hitting. The two have gone back and forth as the greatest hitters of their era, and their numbers reflect such amazing production. Had Pujols remained in St. Louis, it’s quite possible that he’d go down as the best player in the history of the Cardinals organization. His numbers have dwindled since coming to the Angels, but are still strong enough to bolster an incredible 11 year run with the Cards. Cabrera, still feared, was once the most feared hitter in the game. The Tigers star won a triple crown, will hit over 500 home runs when it’s all said and done, and even became a World Series champion in Miami.

Beltre and Beltran have won the war of attrition. They were so good, for so long that their resumes have become undeniable. And beyond their on-field performance, both players have become well respected as leaders and culture-setters. Their place in Cooperstown is cemented, the only question left is which cap they’ll be wearing on their plaques.

Ortiz will receive knocks for being a Designated Hitter and potential steroid-abuser, but his legacy has grown to such that it is hard to see him on the outside looking in. Big Papi, alongside Tom Brady and Larry Bird, is on the Mount Rushmore of Boston sports legends. He’ll find his place in Cooperstown, too.

Kershaw is the only active pitcher that will definitively get into the Hall. Despite his lack of success in the postseason, Kershaw could retire today as an all-time great. His dominance is unmatched. Kershaw could stand to put together a historic playoff run, but he doesn’t need it to get enshrined.

For these players, the heavy lifting is done. But which current players still have a little bit of work to do in order to ensure their place in the Hall of Fame?

The Borderline 

Joe Mauer .308 lifetime batting average, three-time batting champion, three-time Gold Glove Award winner, 2009 AL MVP
Robinson Cano .305 lifetime batting average, 301 home runs, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, 2009 World Series Champion
Chase Utley 258 home runs, 65.4 career WAR, 2008 World Series champion
Yadier Molina .284 lifetime batting average, eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, two-time World Series champion
CC Sabathia 3.70 ERA, 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner, 2009 World Series champion
Felix Hernandez 3.20 career ERA, two-time ERA champion, 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner
Justin Verlander 3.46 career ERA, 2011 AL ERA champion, 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner, 2011 AL MVP, 2011 AL Triple Crown winner, 2017 World Series champion

 

Each player provides an interesting case for future voters to consider. For Mauer and Sabathia, the argument is similar–each player was dominant for a stretch of time but has suffered from a lackluster second stretch to their careers. Will it be the best versions of these players that are remembered or the disappointing, older ones? Likely, it will be somewhere in between. If either player can summon a strong 2-3 years to cap off their careers, it will go a long way in terms of Hall of Fame voting.

For Molina, it’s a matter of value. The offensive statistics simply will not be there, but how much will voters factor in his elite defense, leadership qualities, and commitment to winning? Will it be enough? It appears to be a coin flip at the moment.

Hernandez has been the recipient of some pretty bad luck. The Seattle Mariners now have the longest postseason drought in North American sports, and Hernandez has spent his entire career with the club. His career win total will reflect this fact, but hopefully, King Felix’s overall numbers will be enough to supplement his case.

Verlander likely has the strongest case of this group, and there are no signs of slowing down. If he can continue proving his worth in the playoffs for the Houston Astros, it will provide a fantastic second leg to an already legendary career.

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Max is a student at Saint Joseph's University where he is a Communication Studies major. He is a contributing writer for Baseknock MLB and the host of the Payoff Pitch Podcast, which airs every Tuesday morning.

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