For fans of America's pastime, debating whether today's active stars are worthy of entrance into one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, the Baseball Hall of Fame, has become, well, one of their favorite pastimes.
Perhaps they aren't debates but rather "heated conversations." Whatever you want to call it, conversations as to whether "Player X" has done enough to have his career celebrated amongst the best the game has ever seen, from Hank Aaron to Robin Yount, is always a contentious and emotionally-charged affair.
Some of today's stars, like Albert Pujols and Mariano Rivera need no discussion, for their path to enshrinement was cleared of hurdles and other roadblocks long ago.
For others, the path is wrought with obstacles that they may or may not be able to navigate their way through.
Not all of the players we are about to look at are future members of the Hall of Fame, but they are certainly worthy of—or at least on the path to—having their candidacy seriously considered once their careers come to an end.
Let the games begin.
Notable by their absence on this list are Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, two immensely-talented players who will have Hall of Fame-caliber numbers at the end of their careers.
Unfortunately, the incredibly dark cloud of steroids and PED use (part admission, part speculation) that hangs low over their heads makes it impossible to think that either one has a real chance of being enshrined in the Hall of Fame on any of the first few ballots that they appear on.
See Bonds, Barry for the sort of treatment I expect the pair to receive when they become eligible for enshrinement.
Career Stats: .282/.359/.497, 344 HR, 1,270 RBI, 2,109 H, 1,285 R, 306 SB
Carlos Beltran isn't a player many think about in terms of the Hall of Fame, but perhaps we need to change our train of thought.
One of eight players in baseball history with at least 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases for their careers, Beltran's career numbers through his age-35 season hold up against the numbers posted by a pair of Hall of Fame outfielders:
|Carlos Beltran (1998-2012)||1,919||.282||.856||334||1,243||306|
|Andre Dawson (1976-1990)||2,018||.283||.818||346||1,231||300|
|Dave Winfield (1973-1987)||2,120||.285||.832||332||1,331||200|
If Beltran can remain a productive player for a few more seasons, his case for the Hall of Fame will be that much stronger.
Career Stats: .280/.331/.476, 355 HR, 1,243 RBI, 2,278 H, 1,116 R
Like a fine wine, Adrian Beltre seems to be getting better with age.
Each of the past three seasons has been an All-Star campaign for Beltre, who has posted a .314/.353/.558 slash line with 96 home runs and 309 RBI during that span.
Yes, his five years in Seattle, which should have been the peak of his career, were disappointing, with a .266/.317/.442 slash line, but Beltre is quickly making those matter less with his current level of pay for the Texas Rangers.
Under contract through the 2016 season, Beltre is likely to be approaching 450 home runs and 1,500 RBI by the time he's eligible for free agency. Should he still be performing at a high level, 500 home runs isn't out of the question.
Considering the relative dearth of third basemen in the Hall of Fame (not counting players from the Negro Leagues or Paul Molitor and Cal Ripken, who played the bulk of their careers at another position), there are 11 handlers of the hot corner currently enshrined in Cooperstown.
Beltre's career numbers make him a viable candidate to be the 12th.
Career Stats: .296/.409/.542, 363 HR, 1,225 RBI, 1,885 H, 1,139 R
Lance Berkman is most definitely a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and missing nearly all of the 2012 season with injury did nothing to help his chances.
Yet he sits within shouting distance of 400 home runs and 2,000 hits for his career, numbers that, were he to achieve, would surely land him in a more favorable light with Hall of Fame voters than he would be without them.
That said, Berkman's career numbers through last season are on par with a handful of Hall of Fame players:
|Lance Berkman (1999-2012)||1,806||.296||.953||360||1,200|
|Chuck Klein (1928-1941)||1,723||.321||.926||300||1,198|
|Willie McCovey (1959-1974)||1,970||.277||.931||435||1,228|
|Willie Stargell (1962-1976)||1,870||.282||.888||388||1,262|
Playing in a hitter-friendly park with the Texas Rangers isn't going to negatively impact his Hall of Fame chances, and if Berkman can stay healthy enough to put together a few more productive seasons, he'd certainly have a strong case for enshrinement.
Career Stats: .320/.396/.564, 332 HR, 1,170 RBI, 1,869 H, 995 R
Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball, of that there's little doubt.
In the prime of his 11-year career, Cabrera's first 10 years in the league stand up against some of the biggest and best sluggers that baseball has to offer. Take a a look at Cabrera's numbers compared to a current Hall of Fame slugger and someone who will be enshrined in Cooperstown in the near future:
|Miguel Cabrera (2003-2012)||1,512||.318||.956||321||1,123|
|Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-1998)||1,375||.300||.947||350||1,018|
|Frank Robinson (1956-1965)||1,502||.303||.943||324||1,009|
That's pretty impressive company.
Off to another phenomenal start in 2013, the reigning AL MVP and only the 13th batter since 1900 to win the Triple Crown has a real chance to duplicate those achievements again this season.
Whether he can pull it off or not, with a number of productive years yet to come, Cabrera is well on his way to being enshrined in Cooperstown when his career comes to an end.
Career Stats: .308/.351/.506, 190 HR, 747 RBI, 1,512 H, 744 R
The best second baseman in baseball, 30-year-old Robinson Cano continues to perform at a MVP-caliber level, both at the plate and in the field for the New York Yankees.
A free agent at the end of the season, Cano is going to get a lucrative, long-term deal to stay in the Bronx, ensuring that he'll be surrounded by quality players for the bulk of his career, putting him in the best possible position to continue the success he's had in the first half of his career.
What a first-half of a career it's been. Take a look at how Cano's career before the age of 30 stacks up against some Hall of Fame second basemen:
|Robinson Cano (2005-2012)||1,214||.308||.854||177||715|
|Bobby Doerr (1937-1947)||1,331||.285||.800||138||834|
|Tony Lazzeri (1926-1933)||1,130||.304||.869||114||828|
|Ryne Sandberg (1981-1989)||1,234||.285||.780||139||549|
By the time his career is over, Cano could be talked about as one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game, not just of his generation.
Career Stats: .238/.368/.498, 417 HR, 1,043 RBI, 1,447 H, 1,006 R
It seems like Adam Dunn has been around forever, but the slugger is only 33 years old—there's plenty of baseball yet to be played before his career comes to an end.
He will likely have to play past the end of his contract in 2014 to break the 500-home run mark, but that seems like an inevitability at this point, with Dunn averaging 34 home runs a season throughout his career.
Dunn has hit at least 40 home runs and driven in at least 100 RBI six times, accomplishing both in the same season four times. While his career batting average is atrocious and would be the lowest of any position player in the Hall, you can't ignore 500 home runs in a career.
Especially when, unlike some of his contemporaries, Dunn will have hit the magical 500-home run mark without the specter of steroids and PEDs hanging over his head.
Career Stats: .286/.393/.538, 269 HR, 801 RBI, 1,221 H, 675 R
One of the preeminent run producers in the game, Prince Fielder has gotten his career off to a terrific start, with three top-five finishes in MVP voting and four All-Star Games under his rather sizable belt.
Fielder's girth is something that many believe will lead to injury and far less productive seasons later in his career than a less physically imposing player would enjoy, but so far, the 29-year-old first baseman has been as reliable a player as there is in the game, missing a total of 13 games since 2006.
Through his age-28 season, Fielder's numbers were as impressive—if not more so—than some Hall of Fame players (and one who, by his own doing, will be waiting a long time before he gets in):
|Barry Bonds (1986-1993)||1,169||.283||.917||222||679|
|Orlando Cepeda (1958-1966)||1,237||.307||.882||243||825|
|Prince Fielder (2005-2012)||1,160||.287||.931||260||764|
|Eddie Murray (1977-1984)||1,206||.298||.879||227||807|
|Jim Rice (1974-1981)||1,034||.305||.887||213||731|
As long as Fielder remains healthy, 500 home runs and 1,500 RBI are achievable goals, numbers that would all but guarantee him safe passage into Cooperstown's hallowed halls.
Career Stats: 410 G, 201-104, 3.37 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, 6.9 K/9
Injuries have clouded Roy Halladay's future, but there's no disputing that for nearly a decade, Roy Halladay was one of, if not the premier starting pitcher in baseball.
From 2002 through 2011, no pitcher in baseball won more games than Halladay (170), who posted a 2.97 ERA , a number surpassed by only Johan Santana (2.90) over that 10-year period.
While Halladay trails all but 18 Hall of Fame pitchers in wins, only five have a higher winning percentage than Doc's .659 mark. One of five pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in each league, Halladay has finished in the top five of the voting on five more occasions.
Career Stats: .319/.418/.544, 357 HR, 1,361 RBI, 2,438 H, 1,367 R
Yes, Todd Helton has put up a lot of his numbers in Coors Field, but like suspected steroid cheats, sooner or later, a player who spent the bulk of his career in Colorado is going to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
It might as well be Helton, who enjoyed an eight-year stretch from 1998 through 2005 where an average season was a .338 batting average, 1.045 OPS, 33 home runs and 113 RBI.
While Helton obviously has better career numbers at Coors Field than he does elsewhere, his road numbers are quite good:
It may take awhile—ultimately, it may be up to the Veterans Committee—but Helton, who has no steroid allegations attached to his name, will eventually make his way into the Hall of Fame.
Career Stats: 248 G, 103-79, 3.17 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
It's amazing when you think about it, but Felix Hernandez is only 27 years old.
There's a lot of baseball yet to come for the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner—and that includes his peak years, which he's currently in the midst of.
From the time he arrived on the scene as a 19-year-old phenom in 2005, Felix has been a dominant force in the major leagues, making batters look foolish and putting up some impressive career numbers—numbers that are similar to one of the all-time greats:
|Felix Hernandez (2005-2012)||98-76||3.22||1.21||1620.1||480||1,487|
|Greg Maddux (1986-1992)||95-75||3.35||1.25||1442.0||455||937|
Felix hasn't had much in the way of arm trouble to worry about, and it goes without saying that if he played on a more successful team, King Felix would be more than halfway to 300 career victories at this point in his career.
That said, if he can stay healthy, Hernandez certainly has an outside shot at joining that exclusive club—though I don't believe he needs to in order to join another exclusive club, one based in Cooperstown, NY.
As long as he's able to perform at a high level into his 30s, there's no reason to think that he won't end up in the Hall of Fame.
Career Stats: 415 G, 201-107, 3.45 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 6.1 K/9
I don't think that Tim Hudson is a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher.
But with 300-game winners seemingly a thing of the past, 200 career victories may become more significant a milestone when voters fill out their ballots.
Hudson has never been considered one of the best pitchers in baseball and has only four top-10 finishes in the Cy Young voting and three All-Star Games to his credit.
Yet his career numbers are very similar to those of the man we just looked at, Roy Halladay:
Like Halladay, Hudson's career winning percentage (.653) would rank sixth among Hall of Fame pitchers.
It's hard to make the argument that Halladay is deserving of enshrinement while Hudson is not.
Career Stats: .313/.382/.448, 255 HR, 1,254 RBI, 348 SB
It's actually pretty fitting that Derek Jeter doesn't have a regular season MVP award on his resume, as the Yankees shortstop has spent his entire career putting team success ahead of individual accolades.
Not that he doesn't have his fair share of impressive accomplishments: Jeter ranks 11th all-time in hits (3,304), 13th in runs scored (1,868) and 39th in doubles (524).
A 13-time All-Star who has finished in the Top 10 of the AL MVP voting eight times, the five-time World Series champion holds multiple postseason records including most games (158), hits (200) and doubles (32).
It would be a travesty of epic proportions were Jeter to not be elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
Career Stats: .282/.358/.496, 426 HR, 1,353 RBI, 2,216 H, 1,120 R
Don't think Paul Konerko is a Hall of Famer?
Neither did I, until I looked deeper into his numbers.
Take a look at how Konerko, through his age-36 season, stacks up against three other Hall of Famers:
|Orlando Cepeda (1958-1974)||2,124||.297||.849||379||1,365|
|Reggie Jackson (1967-1982)||2,171||.272||.875||464||1,386|
|Paul Konerko (1997-2012)||2,142||.283||.858||422||1,336|
|Jim Rice (1974-1989)||2,089||.298||.854||382||1,451|
A six-time All-Star who hit .300 or better five times, Konerko has seemingly hit the end of the road in 2013, struggling to hit for average or power and looking like a shell of the player that he once was.
Yet the numbers don't lie, and Konerko's career is certainly worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration.
Career Stats: .323/.405/.468, 96 HR, 600 RBI, 1,323 H, 651 R
Had the Minnesota Twins handled Joe Mauer like the Houston Astros handled Craig Biggio, moving him out from behind home plate early in his career, the five-time All-Star and three-time AL batting champion might have a real shot at approaching 3,000 hits.
But with a spotty injury history and nearly 900 games caught, Mauer's career is unlikely to last long enough for that to happen.
That said, the 10-year veteran is the only catcher in history to win three batting titles. His .324 career batting average is the highest of any catcher—ever—while his .874 OPS ranks third all-time, behind Mike Piazza (.922), who should be in the Hall of Fame, and Mickey Cochrane (.897), who is.
He probably needs another few years of Mauer-esque production to bolster his other numbers, but you have to like his chances of enshrinement once he hangs up the spikes for the last time.
Career Stats: .286/.380/.549, 408 HR, 1,355 RBI, 1,899 H, 1,140 R
No full-time designated hitter has ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame—Edgar Martinez, a career .312 hitter, has never finished higher than seventh on any of the four ballots that he's been on—and Martinez doesn't have a cloud of steroid speculation hanging over his head.
That said, Ortiz has been one of the game's preeminent sluggers for over a decade, was a central figure in one of the game's legendary rivalries and a huge part of Boston ending its World Series drought in 2004.
A free agent at the end of the 2013 season, it's fair to wonder if Ortiz, 37, will play long enough to hit one of the "automatic qualifiers" for induction into the Hall of Fame, 500 home runs. He likely needs both 500 home runs and 1,500 RBI for voters to give him serious consideration.
Sooner or later, a player who has been suspected of using steroids or other PEDs is going to be elected into the Hall of Fame. Ultimately, Ortiz' biggest roadblock to the hall may be that he never plays the field.
Career Stats: .304/.372/.460, 92 HR, 430 RBI, 1,084 H, 592 R, 110 SB
Dustin Pedroia has a ways to go before we can seriously begin mentioning his name and Hall of Fame in the same sentence, but Boston's 29-year-old second baseman's career thus far proves that the thought isn't so outrageous as some may think.
Consider Pedroia's numbers through his age-28 season against a pair of Hall of Fame second basemen:
|Charlie Gehringer (1924-1931)||833||.318||.852||44||441||101|
|Tony Lazzeri (1926-1932)||991||.305||.869||96||724||95|
|Dustin Pedroia (2006-2012)||856||.303||.830||90||409||102|
Among second basemen with at least 4,000 career plate appearances, Pedroia's .832 OPS ranks 11th, and is higher than Hall of Fame second basemen like Rod Carew, Bobby Doerr and Joe Gordon.
If Pedroia, the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP, can maintain his current level of play for another six or seven seasons, he's going to have a real shot at being inducted.
Career Stats: 509 G, 249-145, 3.85 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 6.7 K/9
Since debuting with the New York Yankees in 1995, no pitcher in baseball has won as many games as Andy Pettitte, whose 249 wins rank 47th all-time—and are a total that only 33 of the 70 pitchers in the Hall of Fame have beat.
His 19 postseason victories are a MLB record, he has a pair of 20-win seasons and Pettitte, in his 18-year career, has never finished a season with a record below .500.
Pettitte's ERA and WHIP are significantly higher than the average marks for a Hall of Fame pitcher—2.96 and 1.19, respectively—and, coupled with his admission of steroid use, will be held against him when his candidacy is debated.
That said, few pitchers over the past 20 years have been as successful as Andy Pettitte.
Career Stats: .323/.412/.603, 482 HR, 1,459 RBI, 2,287 H, 1,398 R
The best player in baseball for a decade and a three-time NL MVP, Albert Pujols could retire today and be a lock for the Hall of Fame.
A few months from now, the nine-time All-Star will reach two impressive milestones in his his Hall of Fame career: 500 home runs and 1,500 RBI. Shortly after the start of the 2014 regular season, Pujols will cross another benchmark off his list—1,500 runs scored.
Only 18 players have accomplished all three.
Career Stats: 1,070 G, 76-58, 2.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.0 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, 625 SV
The greatest relief pitcher of all-time and, in my humble opinion, one of the 10 greatest pitchers in the history of the game, Mariano Rivera should garner 100 percent of the vote when his name shows up on the voting ballots for the Hall of Fame class of 2018.
He won't be, of course, as voters will point to—or hide behind, if you prefer—the egregious errors made by their predecessors, who somehow believed that the likes of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams weren't worthy of mention on every ballot cast, to justify not voting for Rivera.
But that foolish train of thought will do nothing to derail his first-ballot enshrinement.
Baseball's all-time leader in saves, games finished (910) and ERA+ (206)—not to mention multiple postseason records—Mo's a lock for Cooperstown.
Career Stats: 392 G, 195-105, 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 7.8 K/9
If you're of the opinion that Roy Halladay is a Hall of Fame pitcher, then CC Sabathia is a Hall of Fame pitcher as well.
The two have almost identical career numbers at this point in their careers, and Sabathia, who will pick up his 200th career victory at some point this season, is likely to be nearing 250 wins by the time his contract expires with the New York Yankees at the end of the 2017 season, if he hasn't surpassed it.
One of the heftier starting pitchers of his era, there's no way of telling whether Sabathia's girth will affect him—if at all—as he nears his 40th birthday.
If he's still pitching at a fairly high level at the time his contract comes to an end, Sabathia could have a real shot at cracking the 300-win mark, essentially guaranteeing entrance into the hallowed halls in Cooperstown.
Career Stats: .321/.364/.417, 106 HR, 668 RBI, 2,640 H, 1,219 R, 457 SB
Had Ichiro played his entire career in the major leagues, chances are that he would be approaching Pete Rose's all-time hits record right about now.
Ichiro appeared in 10 consecutive All-Star Games, won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards and hit .300 with at least 200 hits in, you guessed it, 10 consecutive seasons, beginning with his MVP and Rookie of the Year-winning 2001 campaign in Seattle.
His 262 hits in 2004 remain a single-season record, and no player in the history of the game had as many consecutive 200-hit seasons as the man who needs only one name.
The greatest Japanese-born player in MLB history, Ichiro should be a lock for induction on his first ballot.
Career Stats: .287/.375/.499, 206 HR, 764 RBI, 1,318 H, 800 R, 126 SB
From 2005 through 2009, few second basemen could hold a candle to Chase Utley and the numbers he was putting up: a .301/.388/.535 slash line, averaging 29 home runs and 101 RBI per season, to be exact.
Then the injuries began, his knees betrayed him and a string of underwhelming performances entered into the conversation.
Seemingly healthy in 2013, Utley is back to putting up solid numbers and playing solid defense in Philadelphia. If he can put together another few seasons of strong play, Utley's chances for enshrinement will certainly improve.
At the very least, he's currently worthy of consideration for the honor, though I believe he falls short of making the cut.
Career Stats: 241 G, 128-69, 3.39 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.5 K/9
There's still work to be done if Justin Verlander is to land in the Hall of Fame, but Detroit's 30-year-old ace is quickly building a strong case for inclusion.
Widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball, Verlander is one of 10 players in baseball history to win both the MVP and Cy Young Award in the same season and one of only two players (Don Newcombe being the other) to win all three major individual awards (Cy Young, MVP and Rookie of the Year) in their careers.
If Verlander is able to average 15 victories a season through the end of his contract in 2020, he'll be approaching the 250-win mark, significantly improving his chances of induction. Considering the lineup that supports him in Detroit, Verlander is capable of padding his win total significantly over the next few seasons, while players like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder remain highly productive.
Career Stats: .319/.419/.551, 139 HR, 477 RBI, 882 H, 462 R
He's more of a doubles machine than your traditional slugger, and his lack of traditional power numbers is sure to hurt him in the eyes of some Hall of Fame voters.
But there's no denying that Votto is one of the premier hitters in the game, with three All-Star Games and the 2010 NL MVP award already on his resume at the age of 29.
Another MVP wouldn't hurt his Hall of Fame chances, but it's going to be hard to ignore a player with a career slash line as impressive as Votto's—an on-base machine who has led baseball in the category for three consecutive seasons (and is well on his way to making that four-in-a-row in 2013).
He's got a long way to go before he gets there, but Joey Votto is on a career track that takes him right to the front door of the Hall of Fame.
Career Stats: .301/.382/.506, 210 HR, 846 RBI, 1,472 H, 814 R, 176 SB
A six-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, David Wright has been one of the best third basemen in baseball over the past decade.
While Wright will never be a prolific slugger like Mike Schmidt or a defensive whiz like Brooks Robinson, his career through his age-29 season stacks up against another Hall of Famer at the hot corner:
|George Brett (1973-1982)||1,235||.316||.865||125||704||131|
|David Wright (2004-2012)||1,262||.301||.887||204||818||166|
If Wright can stay healthy and productive through the end of his current contract in 2020, putting up numbers similar to the first half of his career, it's going to be difficult to argue that he doesn't belong immortalized among the greats of the game.