No matter where free agency takes Albert Pujols, he will eventually go into the baseball Hall of Fame in a St. Louis Cardinals cap.
In his 11 years with St. Louis, he has never finished with an OPS shy of .900, never finished worse than ninth in MVP voting and has amassed more than 2,000 hits and 440-plus home runs.
Pujols is a first-ballot Hall of Famer at this moment. He need not take another swing. He will represent the Cardinals in the Hall sometime in the next 15 years.
Here's an interesting question, though—will Pujols be the next Cardinal to reach Cooperstown? For that matter, who will be the next man enshrined for each big-league franchise?
It's a fun little question, however tough to answer, so let's endeavor to find some answers.
Keep an eye out for the Cardinal who will beat Pujols to the Hall as you peruse these predictions of the next player who will merit that honor for every team in baseball.
For some reason, many people associate Johnson most closely with the Seattle Mariners.
Without a shred of doubt, though, the best years of the best career ever by a left-handed pitcher came in Phoenix.
Johnson won four of his five Cy Young awards with the D'Backs, struck out more than 2,000 batters in that uniform and won the 2001 World Series as part of that squad.
This one is a no-brainer.
Jones is a .305/.403/.533 career hitter, a rare top-overall draft pick who more than made good.
He has over 450 career homers, he has played a valuable position virtually his whole career, and he's won both an MVP award and a World Series ring.
Jones compares best, in terms of the timing of his emergence, his career arc and his overall credentials, to Frank Thomas, but Jones always provided some kind of defensive value above and beyond that which Thomas had.
If he is not a Hall of Famer within three years of becoming eligible, we should all stop ascribing meaning to the Hall itself.
I fudged up, readers. I fudged up bad.
How did I forget Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine will be eligible for the Hall several seasons ahead of Chipper Jones?
That was stupid. I made a list of these. I thought it out, wrote it out. This should have been caught very early.
Alas, by the time I really caught it, I had already written the preceding passage on Jones. I will not delete it, because I find Jones' Cooperstown candidacy more compelling and intriguing than either of these two.
Maddux is just boring for being so good, while Glavine is more of a mid-tier Hall guy who will go in on the first ballot for soft reasons. I could write a lot about those arguments, but they're pretty soporific, and it's late.
So, in lieu of all that, please accept my apology for mentioning Jones ahead of these two—plus John Smoltz, whose resume is most interesting of all but who might have a rougher road to the Hall.
This is more a comment on the state of the Orioles than an endorsement of Machado's status as an all-world prospect.
He is that, but really, who knows whether Manny Machado is headed to the Hall of Fame? He hasn't even escaped Class-A ball entirely, though reaching Double-A at age 19 (as he will do next season) remains impressive.
We're a long way from weighing him against Ozzie Smith or Robin Yount or—Cal Ripken, Jr.
The Orioles don't have anyone who will whiff the Hall (or who will make more than four All-Star teams) for the next 15 to 20 years, though, so there's no smarter bet than Machado to be found.
Martinez is one of the five best right-handed pitchers of all time.
At his best, he was a control artist, but also a strikeout master.
He was as much fun to watch as even the formidable Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens, and Martinez's peak—during which he posted seven seasons with a combined WHIP south of 1.00 and an ERA+ of 213—is better than those of either man.
People laugh at me when I suggest this, but I'm thoroughly confident in it.
Time heals. Whether we like it or not, time heals, and time makes people forget. Most of all, time lends perspective.
Before Sosa or a handful of others fall off the ballot, perspective will open the eyes of voters to a few key observations:
- You can't keep all these guys out of the Hall. If it's a bit shameful to let them in, it's downright absurd to pretend none of it happened. Those who do not learn (and embrace) history are doomed to repeat it.
- Pitchers used PEDs, hitters used PEDs. Great players used, terrible players used. There is not one kind of player who can fairly be punished for the era in question.
- The Hall is about the fun and joy of the game, and not morality or ethics or anything else.
No controversy here.
Thomas was huge seemingly from birth, needed no PEDs to become a superhuman slugger, and retired with an immaculate set of credentials.
He will be elected, if not on the first ballot then on the second or third, and it will be a good day for White Sox fans—maybe the only one in the next five years or so.
Larkin did not miss induction by all that much this past election season.
He could easily have paired with Roberto Alomar right then, and he should be enshrined next year.
Larkin is not the kind of elite hitter voters love, but he played such a slick shortstop and was such an on-base machine at his peak that he will overwhelm those biases in short order.
Thome had his best years in Cleveland—though he was always good.
It's a shame he can't go into the Hall with 30 caps on, because every true baseball fan and every team would love to claim Thome as their own.
He will probably retire this winter, and by 2017, Thome should be cast in bronze wearing the cap of the team for which he twice played in the World Series.
In making the case for the best all-around player in baseball, you can pick someone other than Tulowitzki, but you'd better make a really compelling argument.
It's hard to imagine whom any team would rather have. Tulowitzki's contract extension last winter ensured he will be with the Rockies for the lion's share of a decade, and his excellent skills ensure he will join the class of the new elite over the next few years.
Consider this chart:
On sheer value, Tulowitzki is already building as good or better a body of work as Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun and Robinson Cano.
What more can you ask?
This is actually bold, because the easy choice is Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera will reach the Hall someday, and he figures to do so as a Tiger.
Verlander's path to Cooperstown is less clear. He needs to hold on and win the AL Cy Young this season.
He needs to keep striking out batters at crazy rates, and he needs to continue to withstand a very heavy workload.
He could actually do all that, though, which sets Verlander very much apart from most guys who start so fast in their careers.
Verlander will not get hurt throwing even 230-plus innings per season, and that gives him a great look at the Hall.
Ramirez had a crummy 2011 season, one curtailed by injuries but also stunted by occasionally wanting effort and apparent lapses in dedication.
He has been a huge star and signed a six-year contract, but at age 27, he now faces a sort of career fulcrum this winter.
Here's a bet that Ramirez rediscovers the magic that made him one of baseball's most coveted assets a few years ago.
He might never be even an average defensive shortstop, but he can hit so much when healthy that it doesn't much matter.
Ramirez emulates Jose Reyes in many ways, but now he must prove he will not follow Reyes' injury-riddled path to mitigated glory.
Jeff Bagwell played just 15 seasons, retiring at age 37.
Two of those years were shortened by a strike—another saw him play only 39 games due to injury.
Nonetheless, he hit 449 home runs, posted a .297/.408/.540 batting line and drew walks in roughly 15 percent of his career plate appearances.
Bagwell was an all-time talent and gave as much to the game of baseball as did the guys who hung on in similar situations until age 41 so as to top a few more milestones.
What prevented him from getting widespread support his first year on the ballot is beyond me. What would keep him out in the future is beyond imagination.
Starling is ages from this kind of talk. He may never even play big-league baseball.
He's a major athletic talent but is raw and will not play for the Royals until at least 2014, probably meaningfully later.
In an organization rife with prospects but short on big-league talent, though, Starling stands out as the guy on whom to bet.
Eric Hosmer will be great, but it's tough to imagine a Cooperstown ceiling on him.
Same goes for Mike Moustakas, and for virtually all of the Royals' top pitching prospects. They may already be big-leaguers, but their ceiling has started to come down a bit, while Starling's is still sky-high.
The Dodgers don't figure to spend big money on any redefining franchise talent soon, so Kemp has little or no competition for this spot on the list.
He will, if the world has any justice left, win the MVP this season at age 26.
Kemp is a five-tool athlete, a true superstar, and he could end up with 500-plus homers and 300-plus stolen bases in his career.
Barring injury, nothing ought to hold back Kemp's long pursuit of an induction.
Guerrero actually played eight seasons in Montreal and just six for the Angels.
It was in his debut season with Anaheim, though, that Guerrero won his MVP award.
He had his best and winningest years in LA, and in an ambivalent situation like this one, it seems like Guerrero would choose the team with whom he had a more positive experience.
Braun is just 27, but he already has more than 150 career homers.
He also has a great chance to finish this, his fifth season, with more than 900 career hits.
He's leading the NL in both batting and slugging this year, and he could do that three more times before his career is over.
Braun profiles better for the long term than temporary teammate Prince Fielder, if only because he's leaner, more athletic and not yet a first baseman.
Through his age-28 season, Mauer has a career batting line of .323/.403/.471.
He has three batting titles, a rate-stat Triple Crown, an MVP award, four Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves already.
At 28. Mauer is a sure thing to reach the Hall of Fame. Now that Bert Blyleven is in the Hall, no Twin has a chance to beat Mauer to that punch.
Piazza might technically have been better in Los Angeles, where he won the Rookie of the Year and should have won two MVP awards.
He's better remembered, though, and hit over half his career home runs, for the Mets.
His post-9/11 home run received some renewed publicity recently, but it was a mere microcosm of what Piazza was—he captivated New Yorkers like few other Mets in history.
Random note—Piazza and Roger Clemens become eligible the same year. Awesome.
Andy Pettitte will probably gain entry to Cooperstown eventually, though he doesn't really deserve to be there.
Since it's totally unclear when or by what mechanism Pettitte will gain induction, Rivera is the safe choice to be the next Yankees Hall of Famer.
Jorge Posada has a case at least as tenuous as Pettitte's. Derek Jeter will be around two years after Rivera is gone from Yankee Stadium. He is the obvious choice, and the correct one.
Tejada has a really sketchy shot at reaching the Hall.
His defense always graded well in our pre-analytic defensive evaluations, but falters a bit by the estimation of modern systems.
He was dominant just for a five- or six-year stretch, and he actually had perhaps his best season in Baltimore.
No, Tejada is no dream candidate for enshrinement. But he's the best chance the A's have to put a man in the Hall for the next 20 years.
I'm reaching here.
Not wanting to discuss whether Halladay, Lee or Howard will retire first, and therefore win the race to Cooperstown, I elect to talk about a man who will almost certainly not reach the Hall.
He deserves to, though.
Abreu is a career .293/.397/.481 hitter. He had a sensational six-year peak with the Phillies, during which he averaged 24 home runs, 96 RBI and 31 stolen bases, and hit .308/.417/.530.
He will retire with more than 300 home runs and more than 400 stolen bases.
In nine consecutive seasons, he drew more than 100 walks. Abreu will never get enough recognition to reach Cooperstown, but that's not the same as saying that he doesn't deserve to be there.
For a guy whose 25th birthday is farther away than the end of the season, McCutchen already has a lot of skins on his wall.
He will finish his third season (the first was really two-thirds of a season) with more than 200 RBI, an OPS 23 percent better than league-average and ever-improving defensive numbers in center field.
If any current Pirate makes it near the Hall—they might not, but if they do—it will be Cutch-22.
Hoffman might have to wait a few years, but he should eventually reach the Hall.
It would be funny, although not necessarily fair to Rivera, if Hoffman and Mo ended up going in together.
Hoffman's 601 saves are impressive, and his longevity remarkable. After him, though, the Padres might not have another serious Hall contender for a decade or more.
A PED user and a jerk down to his core, Bonds is nonetheless a sparkling candidate for the Hall because of his prodigious skills.
He did everything but throw well in his prime, and once the forgiveness principle kicks in for drug users, Bonds and company will flow in fast.
Interesting fact—the Seattle Mariners have never retired a number of their own volition.
That will change soon. Eventually, the team will honor Griffey that way and acknowledge that he is the best player in Mariners' history.
A mere few years later, Griffey will be inducted into Cooperstown, the writers' favorite, vindicated by his own popularity without much pressure or any tough questions asked.
This was an easy choice. Griffey is the consummate Mariner, a great pro, and a graceful slugger nonpareil.
He was no spring chicken when he retired, but Edmonds' final two seasons had OPSes of .822 and .846.
His final batting record included a .284/.376/.527 line. It did not include:
- 2,000 hits (51 shy)
- 400 home runs (seven shy)
- 1,200 RBI (one shy)
- 1,000 walks (two shy)
Edmonds might not have the raw numbers the writers demand in exchange for votes, but his defense in center field is the stuff of legend, and he may have been the underrated hitter of the latter steroid era.
Edmonds will sneak in eventually, because in the future, sportswriters are going to be smarter.
When I grow up, I want to have an off-year in which I am 36 percent better than the average hitter at the plate and maintain my excellent defense at an important position—all at age 25.
Longoria is on the fast track to the Hall, and he will bounce back even from a season in which he has socked 28 homers.
Meanwhile. the Rays might wait the 20 years between now and the moment when Longoria is eligible for induction.
Carl Crawford was great and will be great again someday for Boston, but he's not Cooperstown-bound.
Nor are cornerstones James Shields, nor even probably David Price. Longoria is the magic man, and he's well-chosen for the job.
Although many view him as one of the great shoo-ins of the next decade, I have several issues with Rodriguez's candidacy.
We know he used PEDs, but worse, we can clearly mark where his career turned downward (prematurely, for a catcher), and it looks suspicious.
Through 2004, Rodriguez held a career batting line of .306/.347/.490, with 250 homers and 1,000 RBI, plus 13 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, an MVP award and 11 All-Star selections.
Thereafter, under increased scrutiny and at open risk for a punishable positive steroids test, Rodriguez has played for five teams in seven years. He has a batting line of .274/.301/.405. He has been a below-average hitter in each of those seasons, beginning at age 33.
That downturn in production also makes his overall body of work a bit shakier than a gradual decline might have done.
But Rodriguez was so good when he was good that it all figures to wash off him, and he will be the next Ranger to get the call.
It seems like a wholly different world in which Halladay was not a Phillies mainstay, but yes, it was once true.
He won nearly 150 games in Toronto, more than he will win in Philadelphia, and he snagged a Cy Young despite the vicious competition in the AL East.
Toronto posed a much tougher test for him than Philadelphia has done—yet he passed it, and Jays fans loved him dearly.
Halladay will do enough with the Phillies to bolster a Cooperstown resume, but will go in (if indeed he ever does) as a Jay.
Strasburg is a long way from Hall of Fame territory, but his general penchant for producing hysteria should help him in the long run.
As long as his arm doesn't fall off, Strasburg could be the best pitcher in baseball by 2013, and the Nats would have in him the first viable Hall of Famer since the team moved to town from Montreal.