Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jeff Bagwell recently became the latest inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, joining a celebrated collection of drunks, drug-users, gamblers, racists, and otherwise decent men who excelled at our country’s national pastime. History has shown that at any one time, more than 30 such men are playing each season, future immortals plying their craft each summer’s night before tens of thousands of adoring fans. At this very moment there are almost certainly 35 Hall of Famers playing the great game of baseball, let’s see if we can tease out who they are.
Group 1 – Could Die Tomorrow and Get In
Albert Pujols: The game’s all-time double-play king has the finest resume of any hitter today, with more than 600 homers, 1,800 RBI, 1,700 runs scored, and 2,900 hits, a .952 career OPS over nearly 11,000 plate appearances, and 100 WAR. Toss in 3 MVP awards, a RoY, 10 All Star Games, 2 Gold Gloves and a couple of World Series titles, and you’ve got a first-ballot inductee.
Adrian Beltre: One of the five best 3B’s in the game’s history, despite being criminally underappreciated, member of the 3000-hit Club, and 11th all-time in defensive WAR. Also, one of the most fun guys ever to play the game.
Miguel Cabrera: Currently enduring the worst season of his career, but the man’s got hardware for days: 2 MVPs, 11 All Star Games, 7 Silver Sluggers, 4 batting titles, a World Series ring, and the only Triple Crown in the last 49 years.
Robinson Cano: Arguably the best 2B of his generation, 8 All-Star appearances, 5 Silver Sluggers, a pair of Gold Gloves, MVP votes in 8 seasons, has a shot at the most HR by a 2B, and an outside shot at 3,000 hits.
Ichiro Suzuki: The game’s all-time Hit King, only the second man to win the MVP and RoY in the same year, 10 Gold Gloves thanks to a rocket arm, and more than 500 stolen bases.
Mike Trout: His career is still 3 years short of eligibility for the Hall, but if god forbid he were hit by a bus, they’d change the rules to get him in – he’s that good. No player has ever accomplished more by age 24, winning a RoY, 2 MVPs, and finishing 2nd 3 other times, making 5 All Star Games, 5 Silver Sluggers, and a Defensive Player of the Year Award. No player has been this dominant since the days of Willie Mays.
Clayton Kershaw: Currently has the 6th-highest WAR of any pitcher through age 29, but will likely pass Tom Seaver and possibly Bert Blyleven by season’s end. At the same age, Pedro Martinez had fewer strikeouts, WAR, innings pitched, and wins.
Group 2 – Have Done Enough, But Somehow on the Fence
Chase Utley: The Bobby Grich of his generation, a 2B who does everything well, but nothing amazingly well. JAWS has him 11th among second basemen all time, he’s got 65 WAR, 6 All Star appearances, 4 Silver Sluggers… What’s a brother gotta do?
Carlos Beltran: One of the 10 best CF’s ever (even when you consider Trout ahead of him), 70+ WAR, 400+ HR, 1500+ runs and RBI, 300+ SB, RoY, 9-time All Star, 3-time Gold Glover, among the greatest postseason hitters of all time (16 HR, 1.078 OPS in 235 PA). But he’s played for 7 teams, only twice cracked the top 10 in MVP voting, and was frozen by one of the biggest called third strikes in playoff history.
CC Sabathia: Another guy who once seemed like a lock, he’s crossed the magical 60 WAR line this season. He’s got a CY Young, 6 All Star appearances, and a World Series ring, and was once the game’s premiere workhorse. Well liked, and highly respected for his decision to walk away from the game one day before the 2015 playoffs to address his drinking problem.
Group 3: Safe Bets, But Still Some Work to Do
Zack Greinke: What a bizarre career. Once a phenom, nearly walked away from the game due to depression, came roaring back to post some brilliant seasons, and has also won Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers. At 33 has more than 55 WAR, a couple more seasons like this one and he’s in.
Dustin Pedroia: Laser Show! RoY, MVP, 4-time All Star, 4 Gold Gloves, 2 World Series titles, and appears on track to finish his career with one team. JAWS has him as just the 19th best 2B of all time, and his career WAR of 52.6 is a bit light for the Hall, but his got 4 more years to pad his resume which has a great narrative to bolster impressive stats.
Joey Votto: Despite a late start to his career, and a couple of big injuries, he’s managed to post 51.5 WAR and is still going strong at 33. His .425 OBP is 12th all time, and he’s still playing at a 4+ WAR level, meaning he should finish well north of 60 WAR. He’s also a 5-time All Star with an MVP award and MVP votes in six other seasons.
Felix Hernandez: Looked to be a lock with 49.8 WAR through age 29, with 6 All Star appearances and a Cy Young, but he’s stumbled badly the past two seasons. If he can just get it together for a few more decent – not great – seasons, he should be OK.
Justin Verlander: He’s got a Cy Young and MVP, a RoY, Triple Crown, 6 All Star Games, and Kate Upton, but he tailed off in 2014 and 2015 before roaring back last season. He’s regressed, however, and now has 52.5 WAR at the age of 34. Needs at least 2, probably 3 more seasons as good as this one.
Cole Hamels: Has very quietly amassed 52.9 WAR at age 33, but has made just 4 All Star teams, and gotten CY Young votes in just 4 seasons, never finishing higher than 5th. His cause will be bolstered by the fact that he throw the 2008 Phillies on his back during the LCS and World Series, winning the MVP of both rounds by going a combined 4-0 over 5 starts, pitching 35 innings with a 1.80 ERA.
Group 4 – Catchers
Buster Posey: RoY, MVP, batting title, 5 All Star Games, 3 Silver Sluggers, Gold Glove, and the face of a Giants dynasty that won 3 World Series in 5 years. He’s got 37.6 WAR at age 30, if he can get to 50 WAR, he should get in.
Group 5 – A Ways to Go
Max Scherzer: After a good but not great start to his career, in 2013 he blossomed into one of the game’s best, with his first of 5 straight 6-WAR seasons, during which time he’s won 2 Cy Young Awards, made 5 All Star teams, tied the record with 20 strikeouts in a 9-inning game, and threw 2 no-hitters. He’s only got 44 WAR, but he’s pitching so well at age 32 that he’s got a real shot.
Chris Sale: The best pitcher in the AL since 2012, and it’s not close. At 28 he’s already got 35.9 WAR, and has made 6 All Star games, while finishing in the top 6 in the CY Young voting the previous 5 years, and is the favorite to finally win his first this season.
Group 6 – Lots of Work to Be Done
Andrew McCutchen: Following the 2015 season he looked like a sure thing, but in 2016 everything went sideways for him, as he hit career lows in all his rate stats, and even saw his defense tank, leaving him with -.7 WAR for the year. He seems to have found some, if not all, of his mojo, and needs to get at least 25 WAR in his 30’s, including an MVP-type season or two.
Giancarlo Stanton: The premier slugger of his generation, with 241 home runs at age 27, more than all but 7 guys in the Hall at that age. He’s already at 30.9 WAR and appears fully recovered from the beanball that cost him half of 2015 and left him looking for his swing for all of 2016.
Jose Altuve: Raise your hand if you had your doubts about this 5-foot-7 raking machine… At 27 he’s already made 5 All Star appearances, won 3 Silver Sluggers, 2 batting titles, a Gold Glove, and is on pace to lead the league in hits for a 4th year in a row and his 3rd batting title. His 27.3 WAR is more than Joe Morgan or Rod Carew had at this stage in their careers.
Manny Machado: 3 years younger than Altuve and only .7 WAR behind him, Machado is the second coming of Adrian Beltre, an otherworldly defender at 3rd and an even better hitter. His 26.5 WAR at age 24 is the second-most all time, behind only Eddie Matthews.
Bryce Harper: Just 24 and already a RoY, MVP, 5-time All Star, and currently leading the league in slugging and OPS. But for all his talent, he’s got 2 seasons of 100+ games and a WAR below 2. He’s good enough to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle, but potentially fragile and stubborn enough to be the second coming of Fred Lynn.
Madison Bumgarner: By age 24 he’d established himself as one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, as he went 11-3 with a 2.14 ERA during the Giants’ three title drive in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Despite missing 2 months to injury this year, he’s got 31.4 WAR at age 27, putting him on a pace ahead of the likes of Nolan Ryan, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Bob Gibson. Also, a heck of a hitter, with 16 dingers in 541 plate appearances.
Mookie Betts: His 20.4 WAR since 2015 is tops in all of baseball (thanks to Mike Trout’s wonky thumb), and he should finish the season in the top 30 all time for WAR by age 24. Despite being a top 10 player in 2015, it was 2016 that was his breakout, as he made his first All Star team, won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, a Defensive Player of the Year Award, and finished 2nd in the MVP race. Has a chance to be a 300/300 guy.
Group 7 – Like, a LOT of Work to Be Done
Carlos Correa: Only SS in MLB history with 3 4+ WAR season by age 22, and just the second with 3 20+ home runs seasons. Along with Altuve, has the chance to be part of a historically great double play combo.
Francisco Lindor: Finished 2nd behind Correa in the 2015 AL RoY race, was 9th in MVP balloting in 2016 while making his 1st ASG, and winning a Gold Glove.
Aaron Sanchez: Had a monster season in 2016, but has been on the shelf for much of 2017, but has still managed 8.1 WAR through his first 353 innings.
Noah Syndergaard: When he’s healthy he’s one of the very best in the game. Sadly, he doesn’t stay healthy for long stretches. Just 24, has 9 WAR and 416 strikeouts through his first 361 innings.
Corey Seager: Final leg of his generation’s triumvirate of great SS’s, in just two full seasons, already has a RoY, 2 All Star appearances, a Silver Slugger, and a top-3 finish in MVP balloting.
Carlos Martinez: Has taken a small step back this season, as his home run rate jumped more than 50%, but still very good. Made his 2nd All Star game this season, and had 12.2 WAR at age 25. He needs to step, but he’s got time.
Addison Russell: Throughout most of baseball history, he’d be the best sub-23 SS in the game, but in 2017 he’s just the 4th best. A brilliant glove, good enough for 7 dWAR in just 385 games, if his bat matures, he will be a force to be reckoned with, and if it doesn’t, he can still be the second coming of Ozzie Smith.
Trea Turner: Already has 5.9 WAR and 70 SB in his first 168 games. Could join the above mentioned to form the greatest generation of SS’s the game has ever seen, but first he has to settle on a position, having played 73 games at short, 45 in CF, and 42 at 2B. Needs to get healthy.
Cody Bellinger: Has hit 32 homers in his first 91 games, can play 1B of LF, and has already made an All-Star roster, and would be in the MVP hunt if he had come north with the team in April.
Aaron Judge: Through 106 games this year he led the AL with 35 HR, 85 runs, 79 BB, .424 OBP, .627 SLG, and 1.051 OPS, has all but locked up the RoY, and is in the thick of the MVP race.
Here’s this week’s lineup of Major League Baseball on Sling:
Chicago Cubs vs San Francisco Giants
10:08pm ET on ESPN
St. Louis Cardinals vs Kansas City Royals
8:15pm ET on FS1
Boston Red Sox vs Tampa Bay Rays
7:10pm ET on ESPN (out-of-market only)
Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees
4:05pm ET on FS1
Cleveland Indians vs Tampa Bay Rays
1:10pm ET on on TBS
Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees
8:05pm ET on ESPN