In an era of more power through better chemistry, Albert Pujols stands out as a glaring exception to what was rapidly becoming a depressing rule. He is one of the few remaining big bats who has not been linked to steroid use.
While names like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez will forevermore be associated with PEDs, Prince Albert has somehow kept his reputation intact. For the most part, he's even avoided the whispers that swirled around guys who were never actually accused, sluggers like Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell and now the late-blooming Jose Bautista.
This is important because, barring something unforeseen, Pujols will be the next member of the 500 home run club.
One of baseball's greatest milestones has been stained by inflated totals. One of the game's more exclusive achievements has suffered the indignity of cheating. But when Pujols hits the mark, he can bring some integrity back to this prodigious accomplishment.
Assuming, of course, that he can continue to fend off the rumors.
Beginning with Albert, I'll take a look at 10 mashers who have a shot at surpassing the 500-home run plateau.
Age: 31 years, four months
Current HR Total: 417
Average HR per season*: 40.8
Current HR pace**: every 13.3 at-bats
*does not include 2011 or seasons with fewer than 50 games played
**pace is the average number of at-bats per home run over the past three seasons, not including 2011
Pujols is a virtual lock to blow past the 500-home run mark. Only 31 years of age, he appears to have plenty of productive seasons ahead of him yet needs only 83 more round-trippers. Based on his existing numbers, that should take him a little more than two seasons, which means that Albert could well be the second-youngest player to reach 500. Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th homer just days after his 32nd birthday.
Assuming Albert shakes off his slow start to 2011 and gets back to raking, he'll probably have something near 450 home runs heading into the 2012 season. The most likely scenario is that he'll tag his 500th sometime in 2013.
Age: 31 years, seven months
Current HR Total: 359
Average HR per season: 35.4
Current HR pace: every 13.7 at-bats
With the exception of Albert Pujols, Dunn is the game's premier home run hitter. You may not think of his name first, but he's one of only eight players in baseball history to string together five consecutive 40-home run seasons. He was two dingers shy of making that six straight and a total of four shy of making it seven straight after tallying 38 in both 2009 and 2010.
Dunn has reached 359 homers despite frequently being the only real power threat in the lineup. At age 31, he will almost certainly join the 500-homer club relatively soon.
The Big Donkey is having a bad start to 2011, but don't be fooled. He's got plenty of long balls left to crush. He needs another 141 to make the grade, and at his current pace that's only four more years or so.
Age: 31 years, two months
Current HR Total: 291
Average HR per season: 34.4
Current HR pace: every 17.0 at-bats
Teixeira is in a fabulous situation right now. He hits third in a monster lineup. He plays in a new Yankee Stadium that appears to be tailor-made for home runs. He's also nearly 60 percent of the way to 500 dingers at age 31. Unless his career jumps off the rails, Tex is going to be a member of the 500-homer club, and it's probably not too far off.
Odds are that he will need another six years or so to reach the mark. Given his consistency over the years, there's really nothing to suggest that that won't happen. Depending on whom the Yankees put around him in the lineup, Teixeira's totals could get him there even faster.
All he has to do is keep himself in good enough shape to play to age 37 or so.
Age: 31 years, six months
Current HR Total: 265
Average HR per season: 41.8
Current HR pace: every 14.3 at-bats
For pure, unadulterated home run-hitting prowess, Ryan Howard is probably the best in baseball. This guy is a proven 50-homer type monster playing in a great stadium for offensive numbers, and he's more than halfway to 500 despite being shy of his 32nd birthday.
At his current rate, Howard will need roughly six more seasons to get to 500. But because he's capable of busting out 45 to 50 taters in any given year, we could be talking about even fewer. All the big man has to do is stay in shape and avoid injury. Like Pujols, Dunn and Tex, he's a near lock to reach 500 home runs.
At the same time, Howard got a late start relative to some other names on this list. He didn't play his first full season until he was 26 years old. Thus, he really will have to keep up the pace if he wants to make this happen.
Age: 28 years, two months
Current HR Total: 258
Average HR per season: 30.9
Current HR pace: every 16.3 at-bats
Cabrera is perhaps one of the game's most underrated sluggers. He's rarely the first to come to mind when one thinks about power hitters, but the numbers don't lie. Miggy is in elite company. He's probably never going to be a 50-homer per year type of guy, but his consistency gives him a real shot at 500.
At the rate he's going, Cabrera would need only seven or eight more seasons to reach the milestone, and that is entirely doable. He would only be in his mid-thirties and still within his prime as a power hitter. In fact, if he stays healthy Cabrera has a legitimate chance to club 600 homers.
The concern with Miggy is his conditioning. Weight has been an issue in the past, and the slugger has had some alcohol-related trouble as well. But the odds favor him joining the club and doing so with relative ease.
Age: 27 years, one month
Current HR Total: 203
Average HR per season: 38.0
Current HR pace: every 15.7 at-bats
Fielder is the youngest player on this list, yet already has more than 200 homers. That bodes well for his future. However, it's also balanced out a bit by his girth. It's easy to imagine how a player of Fielder's carriage could have trouble keeping himself in shape as the years roll by. The Big Veggie might be hard pressed to play into his late thirties.
Still, the numbers themselves look good. He's already had a 50-home run campaign and hit 46 two years ago. The way he's going now, Prince would need about eight more seasons to reach 500 home runs. Even factoring in time lost to injuries, he has an excellent shot of reaching the milestone.
Age: 29 years, one month
Current HR Total: 178
Average HR per season: 32.2
Current HR pace: every 16.4 at-bats
Despite playing most of his career in the offensive wasteland of Petco Park, Gonzalez has emerged as an elite slugger. Now that he'll be in Fenway Park for the foreseeable future, his totals should only improve.
Based on his career numbers, Gonzalez would need about 10 more seasons to reach 500 home runs, which would make him near 39 years old. But if being in a stronger lineup and a more hitter-friendly environment helps him out, he might get there sooner.
It's difficult to predict anything so far into the future, but Gonzalez projects to be a 40-home-run-type hitter, at least during his prime. If he averages even 35 per year for the next several seasons, he could be around 425 by age 35.
Age: 27 years, six months
Current HR Total: 140
Average HR per season: 32.0
Current HR pace: every 19.8 at-bats
The second-youngest player on this list and one of the best young power hitters in the game, Braun is less of a sure thing simply because he has so many years ahead of him. A lot can happen over the next decade, but he's certainly off to a convincing start. Even after last year's 25-homer campaign, Braun's ability to mash is unquestionable.
If he avoids major injuries and continues at his current pace, Braun would break the 500-homer mark in roughly 11 seasons. That would make him 38 years old, putting the accomplishment well within the realm of possibility. Circle 2022 on your calendars now to save time.
Age: 36 years, four months
Current HR Total: 441
Average HR per season: 31.1
Current HR pace: every 21.4 at-bats
Not too long ago, Vlad was one of the game's most fearsome hitters. He could get his bat on virtually any pitch, no matter how far outside of the strike zone it was. Age is beginning to erode his skills, but the slugger isn't quite done yet. With 441 homers to his credit, he has to be thinking about that magical 500 number.
Guerrero's power stroke has definitely suffered in recent years, and injuries are always a concern. Even though he's DHing, it's not a stretch to imagine Vlad missing time here and there as his career winds down, so mashing another 60 homers won't be easy. Still, he's only 36, and in the AL he could extend his career for several more seasons.
Guerrero will probably finish with something like 475 home runs. But if he manages to stay productive as he nears 40, he could join the club.
If it does happen, expect it in 2014.
Age: 34 years, one month
Current HR Total: 411
Average HR per season: 28.7
Current HR pace: every 19.9 at-bats
Now in his mid thirties, Jones is no longer the rising star many of us remember from his Atlanta Braves days. His relegation to a backup role will also make getting to 500 homers pretty difficult. But the fact remains that he only needs 89 more dingers, and in today's game, a player like Jones can have value even at age 40.
Last season, Jones smashed 19 home runs in 278 at-bats. His power may be diminished, but it hasn't left him entirely. His challenge will be getting enough playing time. He's no longer an everyday player, so for Andruw to join the club, he'll probably need to find a team that will let him play a steady platoon.
Still, it's not out of the question. He could have around 425 homers by age 35, putting 500 within reach. It's not particularly likely; odds are he'll finish around 450. But if he does play until he's 40 years old...